It’s the most colorful beyond-the-classroom experience at UF, and it starts and ends with the support of the green industry.
In August, a truckload of thousands of rooted cuttings donated by Syngenta, Ball Horticultural and Dummen Orange arrived at the greenhouse behind Fifield Hall on UF's Gainesville campus. Four months later, FNGLA Frontrunners Chapter President Mike Gianikas came to the same greenhouse and bought enough poinsettias at the UF Environmental Horticulture Club’s fundraiser to cover most of the cost of a students' weeklong horticulture tour of Brazil.
In between, the club members tended to some 4,000 plants. The greenhouse empties in a 36-hour frenzy, the annual Poinsettia Sale.
Each year the club hosts a student-led greenhouse tour for FNGLA Frontrunners. They talk shop—when and how much growth hormone to apply, regulation of light, data on which cultivars are performing best.
Past FNGLA President Ed Bravo has been attending these tours for years and says, in addition to being a great teaching tool, the Poinsettia Sale is a four-month research project on what cultivars look, grow and sell best.
After touring the greenhouse, the club hosts the Frontrunners for dinner to talk careers. Students ask professionals what it takes to make it in the green industry, what kinds of jobs are available, and what employers are looking for in job candidates.
In short, says Bravo, they’re looking for people like club members who graduate with a solid background in horticulture and some hands-on experience in the greenhouse. But most importantly, employers are looking for employees with a demonstrated capacity to learn. Because the opportunities in the green industry are so diverse, Bravo says, students can’t prepare for them all and will go through a great deal of on-the-job training.
In fact, at the time of this writing, Bravo was planning to reach out to club adviser Erin Alvarez to help him identify and recruit a designer for his company. And two years ago, Gianikas hired that year’s head grower, Juliahna Robbins, right after she graduated.
When my wife, Kay, and I visited the greenhouse, this year’s co-head grower, Jieli Wegerif, greeted us as if we were established acquaintances. In fact, we were. Kay and I had hosted Jieli and her colleagues in our Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences chapter for lunch at our home weeks before.
During the lunch, Jieli invited us to the greenhouse. I jumped at the chance to see the spectacle of blazing colors. But I also wanted to witness the confidence and competence of students getting real-world green industry experience.
Jieli, a plant science major in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, knew her cultivars, explained the pricing, and sold us the “princettia” she had directed us to during the tour.
My VP Promise program is a pledge that every CALS undergraduate will have the opportunity to participate in a meaningful beyond-the-classroom educational activity. I count the Sale, the Brazil trip, and dinner with the Frontrunners as among those activities.
They’re much more meaningful thanks to FNGLA’s involvement.
The Team Behind the Sale
Jieli Wegerif, co-head grower
Amanda Decker, co-head grower
Michael Hutchinson, president, UF Environmental Horticulture Club
Joey Benjamin, assistant grower
Katelin Alcock, assistant grower
Rebecca Poole, data analyst
Erin Alvarez and Brian Owens, co-advisers
Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).