Toronto Star column – published February 14, 2015
It was a while ago that Albert Einstein famously said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” Whenever I need a good quote of the linear world I can count on Albert.
Just because he said it does not make it true; this thought is, however, worth pondering for a moment. He did alright in this world as both a scientist and as a sailor (he loved to sail his own craft). I Googled ‘get an education’ and all references on the first page sent me to the world of finance: “Learn how to invest” was the general theme.
There is a metaphor here for the topic of the day: getting a horticultural education may just be the best investment that you can make. I will tell you why.
Of the more than 130,000 full time employed people in the horticultural ‘industry’ in Ontario and about twice as many country-wide, there is a remarkably common thread among a host of them: they love their jobs.
How many ‘industries’ can say that? I have done my time on Bay Street, meeting with lawyers, accountants and the like, in the comings and goings of running my own businesses over the years. Every time I leave the towers in that storied neighbourhood I say to myself, “I am so glad that I chose to be a gardener.”
Is it the fresh air? The physical part of the work? The fact that I will never know all that there is to know about the world of horticulture? Indeed, I will never know more than a fraction and the more I learn the more I realise how little I know about it. Perhaps it is the people, who are generally honest, open and happy. Perhaps they are happy on account of the fact that they love their work. Alas, I have come full circle.
Before you jump into the ‘industry’ (my, how I hate that word) of horticulture as a career choice, I suggest that you consider the options in the world of formal education. You do not have to be a recent grad from high school to qualify as many colleges accept mature students. If you are a frustrated lawyer in mid-life, this may the answer to a fulfilling professional future.
Here is a brief overview of the 12 educational institutions in the province with a specialty in horticulture:
University of Guelph.
Horticultural Science and Landscape Architecture.
University of Toronto
Masters of Landscape Architecture (and Forestry, though arguably, not exactly ‘horticulture’).
Niagara Parks Commission
A 3 year full-time apprenticeship experience where students earn their diploma through a combination of academic courses and a highly regarded practical curriculum. Students learn through a hands-on experience by maintaining the grounds at the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens. Maximum 12 students per year.
The only 3 year Landscape Design diploma program in the province.
Also, a 2 year Horticultural Technician Diploma program. Both programs use the Cuddy Gardens facilities and the College grounds for training.
St Clair College
A 2 year Horticultural Technician program.
Two year Hort Technician program where one semester is spent in a practical curriculum in the outdoor classroom.
One of the first colleges in Ontario to offer a 2 year Landscape Technician program and still in high demand.
A 2 year Horticultural Technician diploma program with a focus on food gardening. One of the newest on the block and off to a good start, by all accounts.
A 2 year Environmental Landscape Diploma course at the King campus.
A 2 year Horticultural Technician program.
A 2 year Associate Diploma in Horticulture program (through the University of Guelph).
All of these are full time programs. According to Tony DiGiovanni, Executive Director of Landscape Ontario, there are many other programs that offer opportunities on a part time basis and online. Check out the Horticultural Technician Apprenticeship program organized through Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU), which is an “excellent vehicle for people already working in the field to earn a designation from the Province of Ontario” (according to Tony).
‘Love Your Work’
As you contemplate your own life and what a change to horticulture might mean for you, let us focus on a couple of people who are steeped in the world of education in this field.
Richard Zoltek is the program coordinator for the Landscape Technician course at Humber College here in Toronto. He has recently negotiated a deal with Dalhousie University in Halifax whereby grads from the Humber diploma program will be granted direct access to the third year of the Landscape Horticulture degree course at Dalhousie.
He is about as passionate an educator as you will find anywhere.
Richard reports that each year Humber hosts a job fair for all program students. There is room for 40 companies to display their best side and solicit new hires from the cadre of students. He explains, “Each year there are far more jobs in every area of the landscape industry than there are Humber graduates to fill them.”
Interested in having good, viable companies fight over the chance to hire you?
“Our programs are all ready and geared to grow. We just need to improve enrolment.” Richard explains.
He adds that there are now greater opportunities for scholarships as the Horticultural Trades Foundation has recently announced that it is more than doubling scholarship funds to ALL full time horticultural trades courses. It is possible to apply for a $2,000 one-time scholarship at all 12 post secondary schools listed above. For details go to http://www.horttrades.com/scholarship-application-2. You will find over $60,000 worth of free money available for qualifying students.
Another educator who deserves good press is Shane Jones of the recently hatched Food and Farm Diploma and the Horticulture Technician Diploma courses at Durham College. I particularly like the focus on food as this is, as I have said before in this column, ‘the future’ of gardening as I see it.
Shane is excited by the quick take-up of the programs at Durham. While they are nearly fully subscribed to at the moment, he urges parents of student-aged children and high school guidance counselors to speak to young people about the potential for them in this ‘vibrant industry’.
It was hard for Mr. Jones to hold back his enthusiasm during a recent interview: “I have the wonderful privilege to help impassion people to develop their careers in an industry that thrives on passion. We work in an industry that is full of people that are doing exactly what they love.”
As for readers who are sitting on the fence, unsure of a vision of life out of doors, working with living plants, connecting with people who share an intense, lifelong interest, his advice is simple: “I would urge them to get their hands dirty. Get out there and find out that you can’t live any other way.”
Still not convinced? Please look for my column next week when we look at career opportunities and I connect you with some superstars who have made it big in the field of gardening. You will learn that success in this case is not always about money, it is about quality of life.