July 2024
Investing in the community By Kim Anders-Luber

Grow the future by giving back and influencing the next generation

It’s the summer of 2000, I grab my bike and head out the door for my first summer job. The air is hot, humid and the excitement of summer brings a rush of adrenaline. I get to Indian Creek Nursery in Erwin, Tennessee, walk in the greenhouse doors to the smell of soil and fertilizer, the sounds of the cash register dinging, there’s the hustle and bustle of workers prepping the benches for Mother’s Day on the horizon and the sounds of sprinklers in the distance. In that exact moment I knew this was my place, where I felt a sense of community and eagerness to learn. Like many of you, in that moment I had pinpointed my passion and belonging in horticulture.

Fast forward 23 years, a degree in plant science and 17 years in horticulture sales. I’m honored to be included in the class of 2023 GPN’s 40 under 40. Most importantly, it was the influential teachers, business mentors and horticulture programs that I was exposed to at a young age that allowed me to dig deeper into the industry, turning it into a career. It’s so important to continue paying it forward to reach the next generation that will continue to push forward the innovation, uniqueness and leadership in our industry.

Does your company have a program in place that encourages employees to give back and get involved? To help your business start thinking of new ways to get involved, I would like to highlight some programs, individuals and businesses that have been influential in my career. They are invested and involved in their local community to grow the future of horticulture.

Lisa Rotenberger, garden/eco club coordinator for Dommerich Elementary, continually seeks ways to partner with businesses and organizations. The club has developed a great rapport with Towns’ Garden Center in Maitland, Lowe’s in Casselberry, Lukas Nursery in Oviedo for various supplies and Vaughan’s Horticulture has beautifully enriched the garden with the addition of annuals, perennials and vegetables.

The Garden Eco Club and all school gardening initiatives are funded through the PTA and partnerships with OCPS Green Schools and other various grants. The club submits a yearly entry into the Green School Awards and other contests have included the Golden Shovel Award, Duke Energy Grant and Winter Park Earth Day Grant. Being able to document the local community partnerships is very valuable in the grant writing process as they are looking for innovative projects, partnerships and connections.

“Opportunities and experiences within a school gardening, ecology program provides first hand exposure to the importance of growing and eating healthy food, the importance of the biodiversity of the insects, birds, plants and trees in the area, and the connection to want to protect it for a healthy world,” Rotenberger said.

In celebration of American Education Week each November, local school administrations have National Teach-In Day where the Foundation brings in businesses and leaders into the classrooms – in a fun and engaging way – to talk with students about academics, careers, and the future. With my Florida Agriculture Education certification, I am an advocate for Education and the importance of Agriculture in the classroom. This year I was able to share with my son’s kindergarten class all aspects of Horticulture Sales and the production of Unrooted Cuttings from international farms. Bringing in plants for all the kids to take home to their families made it an interactive learning opportunity.

Helping the students find what they are passionate about, whether it’s marketing, design, sales, construction, genetics, innovation, production, or management – there’s something for everyone in horticulture; we are a multi-faceted industry. By reaching out to your county’s school administration you can be matched with a grade or classroom as a presenter.

In 1996, Bonnie Plants initiated the 3rd Grade Cabbage Program in and around the headquarters of Union Springs, Alabama. The mission was to inspire a love of vegetable gardening in young people, teach the kids where the food comes from and grow the next generation of gardeners. By 2002, the program had grown to become a national endeavor that included the 48 contiguous states. This has continued, as now Bonnie sends more than one million free “oversized” cabbage plants to third grade classrooms across the country. Teachers sign up for the program, and if properly nurtured, the kids can cultivate and grow cabbages that tip the scale at more than 40 pounds!

“Learning how to grow healthy food at an early age teaches kids to value the fun and hard work that goes into gardening. We’re always thrilled to share the appreciation and excitement of a bountiful harvest with our students and believe the joy of gardening is something you never outgrow.” Mike Sutterer, president and CEO of Bonnie Plants, said.

Garry Menendez, professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee worked closely with many businesses to support the horticulture program on campus and the trial gardens. Companies would donate plants and supplies as well as contact Menendez for a pipeline of students to recommend for positions in the workplace. They would also make monetary donations to be distributed among selected students as a scholarship for study abroad trips to Europe. Many students expressed that the trip changed their lives, through these partnerships it afforded the students these life enriching opportunities.

The University of Tennessee also hosts an Ag day in the horticulture department gardens, it brings aspiring high school students to the campus to see design, technology, installations, and production. Interested students can see the beginning of the process, to the design projects at the end of the program and have a tangible output of the employable, professional skillset acquired during those four years.

“Whenever I went to high schools to recruit (aka – tell young minds about the coolest profession in the world) I would inevitably be asked how much money can be made in this area. I would respond as such: ‘wealth can be measured in other ways than money. Creativity, flexibility, travel and recognition for being a true professional are also forms of wealth,” Menendez said.

I encourage every business and employee to get involved in your community, volunteer time, supplies, education and support. You never know whose life you will influence and make an impact on. They may also one day be in the class of GPN 40 under 40. The horticulture industry is always changing and evolving but many things stay constant, it’s all about relationships, hard work, innovative thinking and teamwork.

For an enhanced reading experience, view this article in our digital edition.

Kim Anders-Luber

Kim Anders-Luber is key account sales representative at Vaughan’s Horticulture. She can be reached at [email protected].