Pencils And Green Thumbs: Learning Horticulture On The Prairies

The horticulture industry in Canada is thriving. In 2008 it represented $5.78 billion in agricultural cash receipts – 14 per cent of the total – and $3.85 billion in exports, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

On the Prairies, horticulturalists work in greenhouses and nurseries, help to improve fruit and vegetable production, and tackle landscaping and beautification projects, just to name a few.

Currently, 76 per cent of Canadian horticultural operations are in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, which means that it’s a field with substantial opportunities for growth in the Prairie provinces. It’s also a field with a lot of learning opportunities.

If you’re thinking about business prospects in the industry, want to learn the science of growing plants, or are just looking for somewhere to channel your love of gardening, there is probably a program to help you get started.

HORTICULTURE CERTIFICATION

To meet the needs of the horticulture industry, four postsecondary schools have jointly developed a Prairie-focused program for growers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Prairie Horticulture Certificate (PHC) is a homestudy program offered co-operatively through Assiniboine Community College, the University of Manitoba, the University of Saskatchewan and Olds College. It’s designed to give students a solid foundation in the science and business of horticulture in the region.

“The Prairie Horticulture Certificate program is a series of courses with a Prairie perspective,” says Marilyn Klatt, the continuing education program manager at Olds College. “It’s done through distance learning so it can really fit into the lifestyle of our students, and they don’t have to relocate to do it.”

Participants complete the program at home, and choose from four streams of study: fruit and vegetable production, greenhouse crop production, landscaping and arboriculture, and nursery crop production.

The PHC program takes three to four years of part-time study to complete. Program costs include registration fees ($50), course fees ($450-$640 per course, with nine courses required), plus textbooks.

PHC students come from all walks of life, including gardening hobbyists and those who just love to learn. Klatt says that the program is most popular with people who are working in related fields, and who are looking to expand their skill set and develop new career opportunities in the horticulture industry.

“Some of our students even take the program because they want to set up a greenhouse or another horticulture business on their land to help supplement their farm income,” Klatt says.

For the many hobby gardeners who aren’t looking to start a new career, or just aren’t able to spend several years studying the science of growing, there are other options available. For those who love to garden, and who want to share their hobby with others, a master gardener certification may be the solution.

BECOMING A MASTER GARDENER

“We get a variety of applicants in every class,” says Mary Peterson, the program co-ordinator for Assiniboine Community College’s master gardener program. “Some are people who have been gardening for a number of years, and some of our students are new to gardening and just want to learn more and become involved.”

Master gardeners volunteer their time to assist with gardening and horticulture in their communities. The first master gardener program was started at Washington State University in 1972, and has since expanded across the United States and into Canada.

The 2010-11 academic year is the first time that the program has been offered in Manitoba. Master gardener programs are also offered in Edmonton, by the University of Alberta, and in Saskatoon and Regina, by the University of Saskatchewan.

Students purchase a homestudy book, participate in seven required workshops, complete 40 hours of community volunteer service and write a final examination to receive their certification. Once certified, master gardeners are required to complete 20 volunteer hours per year and participate in an update workshop every three years.

“There are a lot of options for completing the volunteer work,” Peterson says. “People can earn their volunteer hours by helping neighbours to identify bug infestations and advise on remedies for that. They can help to teach kids at local schools about plants, and even help local seniors with their gardens.”

Some workshops from the University of Saskatchewan are currently offered via distance education, though at this time no institution offers the program exclusively by home study. In Manitoba distance education options are under consideration, but aren’t likely to be an option for students in the next few years.

“We’re hoping to have satellite sites throughout the province at some point,” Peterson says. “The program is still new though, and our first goal is developing a strong program in our first two sites – Winnipeg and Brandon.”

Program fees for the master gardener certification are $975 at the University of Alberta, $920 at Assiniboine Community Col lege, and $600 at the University of Saskatchewan, not including textbooks.

Most students can finish the workshop portion of the program in less than a year, and University of Saskatchewan students have the opportunity to complete all of the in-class workshops during the school’s annual Hort Week event. The popular event had more than 900 registrants in 2010. Hort Week 2011 takes place from July 9 to 11 in Saskatoon.

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“Someofourstudentseventaketheprogrambecausetheywanttosetupagreenhouseoranotherhorticulturebusinessontheirlandtohelpsupplementtheirfarmincome.”

– MARI LYN KLATT, OLDS COLLEGE

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