SMCC’s Outstanding Programs: Horticulture

Horticulture 2The Beacon stopped in to have an interview with David Palm one of the professors of the Horticulture program. Mr. Palm has been with the program for 6 years.

Mr. Palm says that the program was started in the mid-70s. The main emphasis at the time was teaching nursery skills and landscaping. Over the years, however, things have changed; there’s been a shift of student interest in hardscaping and landscaping side of things, to farming and agriculture.

Horticulture is a general two year degree, and Palm always jokes that they have their perennial and biennial students. Mr. Palm said with a laugh, “We have our biennial students who stay two years and go off, and then the perennial students who stay three years and beyond. A lot of our student do tend to be three plus years.”

Some of the classes that Hort (short for Horticulture) offer its students are: Nursery classes, Horticulture classes (where students learn about pruning trees and how to assess trees for any issues), they have one class on climbing trees, they offer a Sales class, they also teach an Integrative Pest Management class (their emphasis is to try to do as much organically as possible and environmentally friendly so they talk about pesticides but don’t use them here.)

They also offer classes around landscaping such as: Surveying and Mapping Landscape Design. Landscape Management classes where students learn how to properly plant trees, and how to do hardscaping (hardscaping is building land patios, putting in stone walls, and stuff that’s hard on the back Palm joked). Finally, they offer classes on how to put in irrigation systems as well. Professor Palm adds, “The program’s really well balanced in a lot.”
When asked how they utilize the greenhouse Palm said that they do Botany classes in the greenhouse and Greenhouse Management classes as well. They’ve also started doing hydroponics to suit the academic needs of their students.

One doesn’t have to be a Horticulture major to take Hort courses, there’s quite a bit of cross pollination as Cheryl Rich, head of the program, added in (the pun was intended). Because anybody can take courses with them they get a fair amount of students from Construction Tech, Culinary Arts, Architecture and Engineering design and even the Sciences. They also see a number of students from the Health Science program who take courses while they’re waiting to get into their nursing courses.

As to the jobs one can go into after graduation Palm says; some students are already working on farms, some have a family farm that they are going to go into after school, and a lot of people want to get back to the earth and grow their own food.

They have a nice group of multi-generational students, as well non-traditional students such as doctors and lawyers, Palm added. With the program being as small as it is, with only 89 students, Palm says they do become a family. As he explains “It’s not like some other programs spread all over campus, their building is their class room. They spend a majority of their two years there.” He teased that it was a dysfunctional family at times, but went on to say that students help each other out.

Finally, Palm says: Farming and having a greenhouse is a romantic business but in reality it is hard work. You really have to have a passion for plants, because this is a passion career not a get rich career. Being able to look at this tomato or that patio and say “I made that,” students find it very rewarding when they see that finished product. It’s a labor of love. You have to have dirty fingernails, and be willing to break a few; it’s a prerequisite! The work is hands on, intimate, and down to earth (no pun intended).

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