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Inaugural Horticultural Science Summer Institute is an activity-packed success

This summer, 15 high-school sophomores and juniors found out what it’s like to study horticultural science at N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The teens spent a jam-packed week sampling various academic areas of study and research projects presented by CALS faculty members in the classrooms, labs, greenhouses and field facilities – including the JC Raulston Arboretum — of the Department of Horticultural Science. They also toured a number of horticultural businesses and learned about career opportunities in the field. The inaugural Horticultural Science Summer Institute, supported by an endowment funded by nurserymen and longtime JCRA supporters Bill and Libby Wilder of Knightdale, was co-sponsored by the CALS departments of Horticultural Science and 4-H Youth Development and Family and Consumer Sciences, as well as the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

Dr. John Dole (right) leads a session on floriculture.

Held July 8 to 13, the camp began on Sunday with a cookout and a keynote talk from Bryce Lane, along with welcomes from Liz Driscoll and Dr. John Dole, all of the CALS Horticultural Science Department. Then Monday’s sessions at the JC Raulston Arboretum included lessons in plant collection/identification and post-harvest management in floriculture, along with tours of the annual trial beds and Lath House, which shelters rare plants. That afternoon the group traveled to Juniper Level Botanic Gardens and Raleigh’s Plant Delights Nursery, where owner and CALS alumnus Tony Avent entertainingly led the tour against the backdrop of a threatening thunderstorm.

On Tuesday morning, in Kilgore Hall’s classrooms and labs, the campers attended separate sessions on ornamentals, vegetable production, sweetpotato production and breeding and weed management. Even lunchtime was a time for learning, as the teens ate while a panel told them about the work at Goldsboro’s Center for Environmental Farming Systems. After an afternoon plant identification scavenger hunt on the N.C. State campus, the group traveled to Pender Nursery, hosted by owner Jim Deal, and then to a tour of  Bob Kellam and Susan Wyatt’s Kellam-Wyatt Farm.

Students record their findings in the rain gardening lab.

Wednesday morning began with sessions on careers in vegetables, explorations in the science of growing peaches and lessons in bramble breeding and production. Lunch again was a learning experience as it included a discussion of food safety. The early afternoon included a trip to Vollmer Farms in Bunn, John Vollmer’s organic production and agritourism business. Later the students returned to campus to hear about cut flower arranging and post harvest care.

On Thursday, at the NCSU horticulture field lab, the teens learned about sustainable landscape gardening and rain gardening before heading over to CALS landscape design instructor Will Hooker’s home backyard for a permaculture (permanent agriculture living organically) tour. After lunch, back at Kilgore, the students created landscape design projects for the Kilgore back lawn area. The later afternoon was given over to lessons in community gardens and a tour of the Highland Methodist Church Community Garden in Raleigh, hosted by Cullen Whitley.

Will Hooker (right) appraises one of the landscape designs created by the campers for the area behind Kilgore Hall.

Just how much the young campers experienced and learned was made vividly clear on Friday, July 13, the camp’s final day, as the youngsters made group presentations about what they’d learned during the week.

This was our first year for this program, and we had a good time, great presenters and amazing field trips,” said Driscoll, explaining that the final student presentations were intended as “a way for them to debrief, reflect and talk about what they will take with them – their perspectives on what went down this week.”

Among the impression-making moments the students noted were learning about mildew-resistant cucumbers, growing peppers that have no heat, rain-gardening, weed-management, vegetable and sweetpotato production, sustainable planting, bramble tasting, peach grafting and testing how long flower cuttings last in various solutions – not to mention some vivid (or as they described them “gross”) food safety lessons. And they were enthusiastic about Hooker’s lessons in self-sustaining in his garden of fruits and vegetables and his chickens that provide not only eggs but also pest control on his grapevine: The chickens shake beetles out of the vine and eat them.

The waterslide at Vollmer Farms was a hit with the HSSI campers.

They noted the intricate irrigation systems at Plant Delights, the solar-panel systems at Kellam-Wyatt and the underground beehives at Vollmer Farms. Another underground attraction at Vollmer’s was a particularly big hit: It was a waterslide that took the teens on a wet ride from a hilltop down through the hill.

Some campers also spoke about why they came to the camp. Coleman Simpson of Sampson County said he learned about the camp when his Lakewood High School agriculture teacher Elizabeth Gray (a CALS agricultural education alumna, with a minor in horticulture) “emailed my mom and said I would love this.”

A group prepares to learn about post-harvest management and processing of cut flowers.

Kayla Parker of Catawba County, who wants to be a landscape architect, also credits her agriculture teacher for giving her the link to the camp website, and Kimrey Dillon, who hails from Guilford County, came because her family owns a nursery. Jordan Malone of Concord wants to go into floriculture, and Matthew Powell from Camden County learned about the camp through his activities as part of a 4-H horticulture team. He plans to come to N.C. State to become a physicist or aeronautical engineer, but also wants to take horticulture classes.

Earlier on Friday, many parents arrived to join the campers in Kilgore for a session called “Making College Decisions,” led by Driscoll, who is a 4-H horticultural science specialist; Lis Meyer, horticultural science lecturer and CALS graduate, who was an N.C. State Caldwell Scholar; and Katie Pound, a CALS horticulture alumna who teaches at Fuquay-Varina High. They told the group about the student experience at N.C. State, including scholarship opportunities, clubs, student research opportunities and extracurricular activities.

In reference to the instructors, as well as the horticulture and green industry career-opportunity tips given to campers, Driscoll said, “All of our people believe they have the best job because they’ve found their passion. Our graduates can always find a job and success in their jobs because they are following their passion!”

The inaugural HSSI campers proudly display their certificates. Shown with them at right are Liz Driscoll (kneeling) and Lis Meyer.

In addition to those instructors mentioned, camp session leaders from CALS included Dr. Ted Bilderback, Tim Alderton, Mark Weatherington, Ingram McCall, Alicain Carlson, Dr. Chris Gunter, Dr. Craig Yencho, Ken Pecota, Dr. Joe Neal, Dr. Katie Jennings, Dr. Nancy Creamer, Dr. Michelle Schroeder-Moreno, Dr. Julie Grossman, Bernadette Clark, Dr. Gina Fernandez, Dr. Ben Chapman, Dr. Barbara Fair, Dr. Helen Krause and Dr. Lucy Bradley.

Also joining the campers and their families on Friday were camp benefactors Bill and Libby Wilder, along with Ross Williams, executive director of the N.C. Nursery and Landscape Association, who is a CALS horticultural science alumnus.

Bill Wilder speaks to the campers at their final session of the HSSI.

“Congratulations,” Bill Wilder told the inaugural class of HSSI campers. “We’re happy that you’re the first 15.”

– Terri Leith

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