Lawn & Garden
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Consumer horticulture is one aspect of the agricultural sector where nearly every household in the country is involved.
According to Kerry Smith, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds team co-coordinator and Master Gardener program coordinator, consumer horticulture includes everything from vegetable gardening to playing in a park, strolling in a public garden or growing plants in a windowsill. For this reason, the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH) was born.
“We started as a multi-state group of Extension agents and specialists wanting to bring attention to consumer horticulture as a major segment within the larger arena of agriculture,” Smith said.
She said what began as a push to gain traction and attention for grant funding within the industry, became a publicity and educational effort to bring awareness to the multifaceted consumer horticulture sector.
The NICH seeks to promote the numerous benefits Americans receive through plants at home and in their communities.
“We support human health, community beautification, environmental stewardship, local food and so much more,” Smith said. “Consumer horticulture provides jobs and revenue in all aspects of growing, marketing and managing plans. All of these aspects are integral to our Auburn University horticulture department curriculum, as well as the focus of what our Alabama Extension home grounds agents do on a daily basis.”
As experts worked across state lines to develop talking and teaching points for public education, Smith said the need for promotional materials became apparent. There are now six publications available for use and viewing. These publications categorize some of the sector’s benefits.
“Of course, we see strength and value in research data,” she said. “We compiled these literature reviews from world-wide studies, as proof of our segment’s value to the agricultural industry. Not just dollar value, but we included social and health-related values as well.”
After extensive research compilations, the team decided to focus on six benefits.
- Schools and communities
- Individuals and families
- People and plans
- Housing and residential areas
- Businesses, workplaces and employees
Each publication was designed by a land-grant university partner in the project. Specialists from Auburn University, the University of Georgia, the University of Tennessee, the University of Nebraska, Louisiana State University and the University of Kentucky were contributors.
Smith said consumer horticulture is much more than lawns, mailbox flowers and garden vegetables.
“It’s literally all around us—city parks, retail shopping areas, outdoor classrooms, community gardens and walking trails,” she said. “Because these people-plant interfaces are all within built landscapes, we must recognize their critical roles in sustainable cities, towns and neighborhoods.”
Smith supports and encourages the goals of the NICH on an Alabama level.
- Recognizing consumer horticulture as an economic driver within the agricultural industry.
- Restoring, protecting and conserving natural resources through consumer horticulture research.
- Using consumer horticulture to cultivate healthy, connected and engaged communities.
By recognizing the value of consumer horticulture, society bolsters the funding opportunities that support research related to the diverse realm the sector encompasses.
“Knowledge gained through research is not only Extension’s foundation; it is critical to society’s successful future,” Smith said.