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Sep 14, 2023
HRI Leadership Academy inaugural class establishes Endowment Fund, Welcomes Class of 2024

The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI), the research and scholarship foundation of AmericanHort, has announced that the inaugural HRI Leadership Academy class has completed the program. The class spent the past year honing business acumen, building a toolbox of leadership strategies, diving deep into advocacy issues, learning the art of negotiation, and more.

The members of the Class of 2023 include: Susannah Ball, Ball Horticultural; Melanie Bedner, Bedner’s Farm and Greenhouse; Sander Brooks, Palms & Pahoke Growers; Hamza Daour, Dan & Jerry’s Greenhouses; Kyle Fessler, Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas; Matthew Foertmeyer, Foertmeyer & Sons Greenhouse; Christine Fortman, Berridge Nurseries; Jonathan Jasinski, Microplant Nurseries; Andy Klittich, Otto & Sons Nursery; Adam Kobes, Kobes Nurseries; Denise Mullins, Smith Gardens; Tyler Richardson, DeGroot; Jacob Stidman, Yew Dell Botanical Gardens; and Ryan Watkins, Brownswood Nursery.

“We would like to congratulate each member of the inaugural HRI Leadership Academy class and recognize their exceptional achievements this year,” says Jon Reelhorn, AmericanHort immediate past chairman, a past president of HRI and champion of this initiative. “Witnessing the tremendous growth of each member of the class throughout the year underscores the importance and value of the HRI Leadership Academy. Investing in leaders like these graduates is critical to the vision AmericanHort has for the industry.”

On behalf of the entire class, Matt Foertmeyer and Jonathan Jasinski announced the establishment of the HRI Leadership Endowment Fund. The fund aims to empower even more aspiring leaders. Over time, the fund will make sure that the HRI Leadership Academy becomes a permanent opportunity for green industry leaders, ensuring a strong future for generations to come. All class members contributed to the fund, which currently has more than $33,000 in support. You may back future leadership development of the green industry by making an online donation to this new endowment by clicking here.

HRI and AmericanHort enthusiastically welcome the class of 2024, who are meeting this week in Denver, Colorado, for their first in-person class focused on authentic leadership and business strategy. The class is made up of the following industry members:

Tabatha Beier, A+ Garden Center. Tabatha is the owner and president of A+ Landscaping, a certified woman-owned business. She and her husband started their company soon after they married, beginning with small landscape and spring cleanup jobs, and worked up to selling finished annuals, floor pots, hanging baskets, and some trees and shrubs. Today, they have 1 acre of greenhouse space, 13,000 square feet of garden retail space, and a five-acre nursery where they grow trees and shrubs for their landscape business. Tabatha’s hard work and entrepreneurial spirit are keys to her success, earning her nominations for industry awards. Today, she is on the board of the Entrepreneur Fund, where she serves on both the executive and finance committees.

Jennifer Broersma-Neujahr, Profile Products. Jennifer has over three decades of dedication to the industry and is currently senior director of new business development at Profile Products. Her career spans three continents, where she honed her expertise in ornamental horticulture, soil substrates, and the cut flower industry. Recognized for her prowess in implementing successful go-to-market strategies, she excels in managing multimillion-dollar accounts, successful new products, and advising C-level executives. Broersma-Neujahr’s colleagues regard her as a highly organized and creative problem solver who is an expert at guiding teams through challenging projects.

Mark Daniels, Bonnie Plants. With 18 years in the industry, Mark currently serves as a regional operations manager for Bonnie Plants, a national supplier of vegetable and herb transplants. Mark grew up on his family’s fifth-generation dairy farm in northern Michigan, where he raised Holstein dairy cattle and grew corn, wheat, oats, hay, and soybeans. Mark participated in FFA and 4-H, where he competed in contests and leadership development events, resulting in him serving as the state vice president of the Michigan Association of FFA. During college at Michigan State University, Mark developed his fascination with all things greenhouse thanks to working in a plant pathology lab. This work led him to Bonnie Plants, where he has spent his career working in sales and operations. Today, he leads the Bonnie team from 15 growing facilities and 176 sales representatives.

James Hines, Hales & Hines Nursery, TN –James has spent his life working and developing his family farm into the successful nursery it is today. He graduated from Tennessee Tech University with a degree in Nursery and Landscape Management. He has worked in all areas of the business before becoming a key manager in the large family operation. Hines has been described as community-oriented, helping to secure housing for people experiencing homelessness and is now serving as a County Commissioner. He is dedicated to ensuring a bright future as the fourth generation of the family looks to work in the family’s 1000-acre business.

Jared Hughes, Groovy Plants Ranch. Jared is the owner and head grower of Groovy Plants Ranch in Marengo, Ohio, a company he started in 2015 with his wife Liz. Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, his first position in the industry was a seasonal greenhouse position in a small nursery. He later joined Foertmeyer & Sons Greenhouses as a seasonal greenhouse technician. Jared has been involved in several industry organizations, including serving on the OFA (AmericanHort predecessor organization) Retail Committee and leading several other important industry projects. Hughes has been described as creative, innovative and a breath of fresh air in the industry.

Joel Kempfer, Express Seed. Joel, a U.S. Army veteran and a valedictorian both in high school and at Texas Tech University, has had a stellar career in horticulture. His early fascination with gardening in his grandmother’s garden laid the foundation for a journey that began with a job at the Wal-Mart garden center after high school. Kempfer has consistently performed at a high level, contributing to his strong performance at large national companies such as Greenleaf Nursery and Fred C. Gloeckner. He currently serves as the national sales Manager at Express Seed, leading a team of 20 sales managers.

Eric McKie, Green Oak Garden Center. Eric is a motivated leader with over 10 years of experience in the green industry. Two years ago, he became the owner of Green Oak Garden Center, representing the third generation in the company’s 63-year history. McKie currently serves on the AmericanHort Interior Plantscape Community Connector group and is a Board Member of the Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association. He was recognized as one of the Top 40 under 40 by the Mississippi Business Journal in 2022.

Jennifer Moss, Moss Greenhouses. Jennifer is a fourth-generation co-owner of a wholesale bedding plant grower operation in Jerome, Idaho. She earned her stripes in every role on the farm. Her journey began with learning the essential skills needed to take on a leading role, establishing that merit is the key to success. Moss gives back to the industry by volunteering for the AmericanHort Generation Next and Greenhouse Community Connector groups and the Cultivate decorations team, as well as having served in leadership roles with the Idaho Nursery & Landscape Association. Alongside her brother, she now celebrates 71 years in business after taking over the company from their parents, Kevin and Dana Moss. Her efforts have been recognized as she was named to the 2020 GPN 40 under 40 class and was awarded the Horticulture Industries Leadership Award (HILA) earlier this year.

Alfredo Rios, Loma Vista Nursery. Alfredo has worked in nearly every position at Loma Vista Nursery throughout his 22 years at the company. Currently, as Nnursery general manager, Rios oversees a host of responsibilities, including the application of plant protection products, fertilization, scouting, and irrigation. Additionally, he was integral to creating the metrics and tracking systems that helped Loma Vista evaluate success in their landscape distribution center business. Alfredo is a proud father of a 21-year-old son and is described as someone who embraces challenges and seeks out ways to identify and solve business obstacles.

John Terhesh, Goodmark Nurseries. John started in the industry at 16 years old, working at an independent garden center loading mulch, watering plants and landscaping. His educational path led him to Southern Illinois University and from there, he gained experience at various nurseries. He eventually became a container production manager, propagation manager, and head grower. Today, he is President at Goodmark Nurseries, where he oversees all aspects of the business. Terhesh has volunteered as a member of the AmericanHort Generation Next Community Connector Group and is now a member of the Nursery Community Connectors. In 2019, he was awarded the “Young Grower of the Year” award recognizing his innovative contributions as head grower.

“AmericanHort and HRI created the HRI Leadership Academy because we knew strong leaders and strong ongoing leadership development are mission critical for green industry businesses,” said Ken Fisher, president and CEO. “We are pleased to honor our first alumni class alongside the Class of 2024 members. We look forward to helping them grow and watching their positive impacts on the industry. ”

Applications for the Class of 2025 will be accepted starting later this fall. For more information and to download an informational brochure on the HRI Leadership Academy, go to or contact Jennifer Gray at [email protected] or 614.487.1117.