Plant Power Trends - An Epic Green Journey

Plant Power Trends - An Epic Green Journey

July was a remarkable journey. From Madison, WI – to Columbus, OH – to Fort Wayne, IN – to Las Vegas – to Sun City West, AZ, I had the opportunity to experience the cycle of plant education in a way that parallels our lives. As the executive director of the Seed Your Future movement, people were asking me – are we curing plant blindness (and plant apathy), are we inspiring people to love plants and gardening, are more people studying horticulture, are more people pursuing green-collar careers, are we appreciating what plants can do to improve physical and mental health, do people care one way or the other? Here’s what I learned…


Beginning at the American Horticultural Society’s National Children and Youth Garden Symposium, I met and strategized with dozens of K-12 educators. The energy was palpable. These are often the first people to introduce children to the power and wonder of plants. What’s the trend? While there are still too many disappointing stories of kids and families who are unable to explain, for example, where their food comes from (tomatoes come in plastic from a store..), the positive news is that school, camp, community, indoor, container and backyard gardens are growing in number and reach.

It was on to Columbus, OH for Cultivate - the horticulture industry’s largest annual gathering of business, industry and allied organizations. Robust professional development sessions, focus groups and special events targeted the same issue – the trend has not reversed (yet) there simply are not enough qualified applicants for all of the open positions across the art, science, technology and business of plants.

A stop at a thriving summer camp in Fort Wayne, IN reaffirmed my personal motto of “think outside, no box required” when the campers were chomping at the bit (or chewing as it turns out) waiting for an epic thunderstorm to stop so they could get outside to their camp garden and harvest their camp-grown vegetables and greens for me to try.  Youth gardening tip of the day – the weirder looking the veggie, the more most kids want to grow it and try it.

Then, the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) found us at their annual conference in the hot-as-Hades Las Vegas desert.  A mind-boggling array of research on the entire plant-world was presented and (in some cases) passionately debated. It was impressive, joyful and optimistic (spinach to replace human organs, increased disease resistance in trees, the mental health impact of plants, new varieties of foods, and more). While I don’t have a horticultural science background and often found myself lost in scientific terminology, I got it immediately when I could see how the research presented could impact the future of the planet – increased, and more highly nutritious food yield, better plant-based ways to combat air and water pollution, more robust and beautiful flowers, and my personal favorite – tomatoes that are high in Vitamin D – because I love tomatoes and hate talking my vitamin D supplement ever since I prematurely became a *woman of a certain age.* The trend – incredible plant-based research continues to grow and thrive (pun intended).

But, the question remains, who will feed the world with food that is safe and nutritious; preserve native habitats; imagine landscapes and bring them to life; tend to landscapes that welcome us home and invite us outdoors to play; soothe and delight with flowers and foliage; wonder and experiment; and to ensure the future of our planet? 

I’m here to tell you, that while the number of students studying plants is not yet growing, at least the decline is leveling off (check out the data presented by Dr. John Dole of North Carolina State University at ASHS for Seed Your Future).

Header.JPGThat said, here’s where I’m most jazzed. I had the opportunity to listen to 57 students present their research, each in 3-minute rapid-fire sessions.  This “Scholars Ignite” event was the most inspiring and exciting part of the ASHS conference. These scholars clearly represent the diversity of America. I couldn’t help but put together a short video of these 57 faces of the future.  The trend? Pursuing plant-education resonates across all cultures.  See for yourself – check out the video.  These are our #FutureGreenCollar pros, and the future looks amazing.

Finally, how does Sun City West, AZ fit in this epic journey? While driving my elderly, inner-city-raised, outdoors-adverse mother home from a medical appointment, she says to me “Look at those new condos (in an over 55-only community), none of them have balconies or any access to the outside.  They might be beautiful inside, but what kind of life is that if you cannot enjoy nature and the outdoors?” Bam!  Her plant-apathy cured. Now that’s a trend to celebrate.

Have a plant-trend to share, or a comment about this BLOG post?  Share your thoughts here.

- Susan E. Yoder, IOM is the executive director of Seed Your Future.