Education from the University of Minnesota Department of Horticultural Science isn’t just for enrolled students. Last spring, the Minnesota horticulture department started offering free public-friendly seminars on Wednesdays; the speaker changes every week, and you can sign up to receive an email with a list of speakers, which many area garden clubs opt into. “We pick about four seminars per semester,” says Echo Martin, communications coordinator for the department. “We choose educators who can speak to people who don’t have a Ph.D. in horticulture.” Interested people don’t have to register for the seminar—just show up.
One of the university’s biggest horticultural outreach efforts is the “capital E extension”, as Echo puts it. It would be surprising to find someone who loves plants but doesn’t know of the great work of the U of M Extension Master Gardeners. A couple initiatives that stick out to Echo is Dr. Mary Meyer’s efforts to get high school students interested in horticulture and Julie Weisenhorn answering gardening questions on the WCCO Talks radio program. “There’s a big effort to get people outside of the U involved in horticulture,” says Echo.
On March 29, the department will host its HortSci Grows event, which is a full day of U of Minnesota horticulture. You can attend a faculty research talk to hear about research happening in the department related to greenhouse and ornamental horticulture. Talks will feature Neil Anderson, John Erwin, Stan Hokanson and Mary Meyer. This year, the Kermit A. Olson Memorial Lecture and Awards Ceremony will feature Royal Heins, the inaugural recipient of the Horticultural Science Outstanding Alumnus Award. He will speak on what happens to a plant grown in a greenhouse from beginning to end.
The lecture is followed by a reception that features a student poster competition; students in the undergraduate and graduate program categories present their research in poster form, which is a typical final project for their classes. The posters explain the student’s methods, what they discovered, how the results can be applied to the field of horticulture and photos. “When I was working on my undergrad degree in English at the U, my roommate was in the Department of Horticultural Science, and she was really stressed out, but eventually proud of, her poster project,” says Echo. “It’s a big deal for the students.” The first place winners from each category receive a monetary prize. The undergraduate category prize is sponsored by the Soil and Sunshine Garden Club, which awards the winner a $1,000 scholarship. “We’re always looking for ways to get the students more involved in the event, and money is a good motivator for college students!” says Echo. The department is open to other clubs sponsoring the graduate category. Good luck students!
The department endeavors to connect to the larger community through the work of their students and educators as well, of course. The undergraduate Food Systems degree focuses on looking at food systems holistically. “The program teaches students how to make food systems that benefit the whole community and not just the grower,” says Echo. Students must complete a capstone class that is based in service learning—students work with an organization that deals with food systems, such as Frogtown Farm, The Good Acre and Urban Roots.
One thing that has impressed Echo as she’s worked for the department is the university’s commitment to its ongoing mission of learning, discovery, and engagement for the common good.“Our students will be the next generation of the horticulture industry,” she says. “We work with the industry to see what they need so our students are properly educated.” MSHS has had a long history with the Department of Horticultural Science, and we’re so lucky that the university continues to put its research out in the world.