Plant Science Day Delivers

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Last week, I attended Plant Science Day in Hamden, CT as a representative of the CT Horticultural Society (www.cthort.org).  This event is held on Lockwood Farm, a property serving as a research facility for the CT Agricultural Experiment Station (www.ct.gov/caes).  Station scientists and staff conduct field laboratory experiments on many different plants at this farm to learn how to control pathogens and insects.  Large test plots of various herbs and vegetables sit on the property consisting of about 75 acres, some grown with the goal to choose the best varieties for CT. Fruit trees line the fields and there are a couple old barns on the property as well.  A well-maintained beautiful bird and butterfly garden is onsite for anyone wishing to browse it.  All of this is surrounded by rolling hills seen in the distance.

I remembered this farm can be a very hot location in early August from when I attended Plant Science Day several years ago as an attendee, so I packed my large patio umbrella for the CHS display table, a cooler with lots of ice for my water bottles and snacks, and hit the highway around 7 am, making it there in 40 minutes.   Luckily, I missed the morning rush hour traffic.  Setup was easy alongside the other varied vendors from NOFA (www.organiclandcare.net) to OSHA (www.osha.gov), and the attendees quickly started arriving for the days educational and research based presentations. Soon the seats began to fill under the big white tents as the speakers began.  And eventually people came to the vendor area to check out our offerings and information packets.

You may wonder what type of people would attend this event held mid-week, on a Wednesday, in the midst of summer.  You would also be surprised to see how many people attend.  (FYI, last year, over 1,000 people were there).  It was quite active throughout the day, yet someone mentioned they thought the turnout may have been a bit lower this year.  There were visitors of all ages, or perhaps better said, from one end of the age spectrum to the other.  In fact, when I arrived home at the end of the day, I told my father that there were many attendees of his age, some that had run agricultural businesses for years, or were former farmers, and even a couple retired scientists. He replied with, “Of course, there ‘are’ no young farmers today – there’s only us.”

I thought, well, maybe on some level this is probably true.  On the back of a bumper sticker I picked up during the day which reads, “No Farms No Food ®” by the American Farmland Trust, it states that “American loses two acres of farm and ranch land to sprawling development every minute.” (See www.farmland.org).  In fact, my Dad, at the healthy age of 80, still owns 100 acres of land, which no longer has his cows roaming upon, but is now used to grow hay.  He was picking up bales of hay that very day.  He tried to sell his property with no luck – so far.  Perhaps due to the economy woes – or perhaps there are not many young interested farmers these days.  However, it seems to me not selling it has worked out for him as he still enjoys every second on tending to his land.  And selling bales of hay has become quite profitable.

However, I did not talk with only the retired agricultural types or farmers at Plant Science Day.  There were many young students around as well and young kids of the 6-8 years of age range too.  I also met two young teachers, guessing in their early 20’s, from regional Agriscience Programs of local schools.  A few students were tagging along with them.  And an occassional college students on their summer break attended with their parents.  I started to wonder, how did attendees hear of Plant Science Day?  What lead them here?  How did the older generation know about it – versus the young?

When I asked the older generation this question, all of them responded with, “I’ve been coming to this for years.”  One gentleman told me he sold the farm equipment used on this very farm when he ran a business.  Another told me he is a scientist, and scolded me for saying I only had a two year degree as a response. Like a good educational champion, he strongly insisted every learning experience is one to be proud of – even if you don’t end up as a scientist! I also had a comical fellow tell me that I would never find what he has in his backyard in any yard in CT.  So, of course, I had to ask.  Well, low-and-behold, he has been building volcanoes – yes, volcanoes on his property amongst his gardens.  Odd or interesting?  You decide!  Yet, I have to admit, I did find his story entertaining, and his motivation different from any other gardener I’ve encountered!  And there were also a few other retired folks that were the garden-traveler types.  They enjoy learning about hort, and visiting gardens or events like this one throughout the year, thus they were very interested in hearing about the travel programs offered via the CHS.  But in general, all of them were very happy to be attending the day’s activities.

And as for the younger visitors to my booth, I asked them if they were a student?…and then asked, “high school or college?”  High-school students were flattered.  But I wanted to find out why they were there.  Many are in that phase of just starting to be interested in agriculture, plants or horticulture in general.  So when I let them know, for the first time ever, the CHS is offering free memberships to students, they immediately perked up with interest – especially the college students. I informed them, they would receive the CHS monthly newsletter packed with horticulture information, tours dates, and interesting plant related articles as a member – and perhaps they could eventually make it to one of CHS’s program meetings, held monthly in West Hartford when in town.  Every month, CHS offers amazing, regionally known speakers of varied gardening and horticulture topics.  Our focus is also on education. (www.cthort.org)

As for the even smaller, younger children attending, they were running around with chaperones, stopping at several educational booths offering kids a challenge where they received a stamp once completing a specific task.  If they received all stamps in their book, they won a prize at the end of the day.  It gave the youngest generation a window into the future career of agricultural studies.  Check out www.soundschool.com, also featured at Plant Science Day.

It was nice to see the mix of people attending presentations which included everything from Beekeeping Basics (with free honey samples included) to the Mosquitoes and Transmission of West Nile and Eastern Equine Viruses in CT, and many more.  There were talks on the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and Bed Bugs, and many guided walking tours by pathologists and entomologists of selected field plots reviewing their studies, and other technical demonstrations.  In the old barns, technical displays of various studies to view and learn – one about the functions of charcoal in soil, which I found interesting, by Dr. Joseph J. Piganatello and Dr. Charisma Lattao. I’ve used charcoal on top of some of my container gardens, so I had to read about this one.  And in the vendor area, where I was hanging out, lots of packed resources on things like invasive plants, arborists licensing, soil tests, farm programs, timber producers, energy and environment protection, forestry, organic farming, plant health inspection, farm related products, and more. The gist of this event is it is very research based, technical, and educationally focused.

Cathy T with Nancy Brennick

As for me, Plant Science Day offered me a chance to recharge my fuel and share what the CT Horticultural Society (www.cthort.org) has to offer interested members of all ages and interests.  From monthly speakers to garden related travel, I was enjoying, very much, sharing the information and letting visitors know it is out there as a resource and a way to learn and network with other enthusiastic plant people.  Sure I would have liked to attend the Plant Science Day presentations or go on their wonderful guided tours, but you know, I didn’t mind one bit staying at my post all day to talk to the people who came to ask about the society.  Many enjoyed entering CHS’s free raffle for a compost bin.  62 people entered – and the winner was very happy at the end of the day!

On my breaks from my table, which were short and fleeting, I picked up information on the Census of Agriculture Lesson Plans (www.nass.usda.gov), Honeybee Pollinator Information (www.nrcs.usda.gov/pollinators), a pamphlet on the Experiment Station Association (www.ct.gov/ caes), Web Soil Survey (http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov), Arborist License Information (www.CTPA.org), Bulletin on Invasive Plants in CT Lakes (www.ct.gov/caes), and a book on CT’s Land Use Value for landowners – just to name a few items.  The last item, landowner land use value assessment book, is to share with my Dad. Cathy T

  • As noted on their website, the CT Horticultural Society is an educational organization dedicated to encouraging and improving the practice of gardening and the dissemination of  horticultural information to its members and the public.  In 2011, Bill Cullina, Lee May, Michele Owens, Stefan Cover, Charlie Nardozzi, Doug Tallamy and many more were in the CHS line up of their presentations!  Check us out!  Grow-Learn-Travel with CHS.  www.cthort.org
  • What is the CT Agricultural Experiment Station?  They make critical scientific discoveries and their scientists do a lot for CT!  See www.ct.gov/caes for details about all they do. Click on Experiment Station Associates. 
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