AgPack Strong: The Young Professional

CALS alum David Hoffman

CALS alumnus David Hoffman comes from a family of winners. As his parents picked up a national award from the Perennial Plant Association (PPA), he also took home a prize: the Young Professional Award.

Hoffman graduated in 2012 with an NC State degree in horticultural science. Now, just six years later, Hoffman has begun to take the reins of his family company, Hoffman Nursery. Read on to hear about how CALS has influenced him, his family and his career.

Tell us about your relationship and history with CALS.

The horticulture community is tight-knit, and I’ve been a part of it because my parents are in the industry. They worked closely with local colleges, including those at NC State, while establishing their nursery business. Growing up, our family attended CALS tailgates where I got to know their colleagues. My entry into horticulture came when Dr. Denny Werner hired me to help at the JC Raulston Arboretum the summer after I graduated from high school. I had enrolled in the Department of Horticultural Science and went on to intern at the Arboretum the following year. After graduating I worked abroad for a few years, and joined the family business in 2015. CALS faculty and extension staff have visited our nursery for research and consultation. That’s allowed me to strengthen relationships with my former professors and meet new CALS faculty. Having them as both friends and colleagues enriches my career and our family business.

What did you learn from your experience interning at the JC Raulston Arboretum that you still use today?

Dr. Werner, Mark Weathington, and Tim Alderton all gave me a deep appreciation for plants. Their knowledge and patience in teaching myself and other interns about propagation, the diversity of the plant collections, and the history of each plant were some of the coolest things about working at the arboretum! We worked together to get the job done relying on each other’s strengths. I will always value that collegiality, and they will always be my friends. I learned about irrigation, greenhouse maintenance, propagation techniques, garden maintenance, and proper pruning techniques. The list could go on! I liked to ask questions and work with them because I knew they would have the answer or could find it.

What type of work do you do now?

I work at Hoffman Nursery, a wholesale nursery that specializes in ornamental and native grass liners for the horticultural trade. Until recently, I was involved with production, stock plants, and somewhat in growing. Most of my time was focused on building infrastructure for the future and coming up with more efficient ways for our team to operate. Most recently, I worked on a project to improve water quality and increase our growing spaces. Now I am transitioning to managing different departments, including our sales, marketing, and shipping teams.

What types of services does the Hoffman Nursery provide?

We produce ornamental and native grass liners for the wholesale trade. We grow over 140 species and cultivars of grasses, sedges, and grasslike plants, and ship to wholesale customers across North America. Our focus is on educating our customers about grasses and grasslike plants to help them be successful. We give them lots of information and encourage them to ask questions and give us feedback. It helps us continually improve and better meet their needs.

Tell us about the path that led you to receiving PPA’s Young Professional Award?

I’ve been attending PPA events for several years and met many different people through the organization. I received an international internship through connections my dad and I made through PPA. I ended up working for the same company for one year after my internship. I was also a part of the site committee when the PPA symposium was in Raleigh last year. It was a fun opportunity and allowed me to learn how these organizations work and how they host events.

Tell us more about what the PPA’s Young Professional Award represents.

The award is meant to encourage horticultural professionals early in their careers. It’s aimed at the plant industry, which like many horticultural fields, is struggling to attract younger people. The older generations are retiring, and they aren’t being replaced. This award recognizes those of us who are just getting started. I think it creates opportunities for us young professionals and helps improve the industry.

What do you foresee the future having for you and your career?

I plan on working at the nursery and staying involved with industry organizations like the PPA. These organizations allow us to network, visit other nurseries, and find ideas that will help us improve. I am excited about my new role working with the company. I’ll be learning about the inner workings of these departments and helping them grow. My background in the operations side of the business is a great foundation for working with customers.

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