This bowl of blackberries represents the importance of horticulture. The importance to our families, our communities, and our state.
On the surface, we might sometimes be tempted to boil down our impact as horticulturists to something like the following statement:
“Through educational programming, this family learned the appropriate fertilization and pest management practices to grow blackberries in Kansas, resulting in an increased yield and higher productivity.”
That’s great. But does it tell the whole story? I would argue that it doesn’t remotely touch on the whole story.
This bowl of blackberries is from a variety that was bred and selected for heat tolerance and thrives in our Kansas climate. It represents a wide range of trees, flowers, grasses, fruit, and vegetables that have been developed for the harsh climate we live in. We may live on the prairie, but there is still a value to our community in having beautiful green spaces, safe athletic fields, shade, and healthy produce. We shouldn’t have to move to Oregon, Michigan, or Maine to enjoy these things. Even knowing that water quantity and quality is a current and future concern, we can still find a way to have a green world around us through a commitment to horticulture science and research. A commitment to these things helps keep young families in our community, adds value to our properties and landscapes, and makes this a better place to live. This is community vitality.
This bowl of blackberries is about $50 worth of fruit. (Probably another $10 worth was already eaten!) That is $50 that I do not have to spend on groceries this week, which I can save for another purpose or use to buy higher quality food. It represents family resource management and nutrition.
This bowl of blackberries is a healthy snack for my kids that enables them to eat fruit when they want it, rather than having it portioned out or eating crackers for snacks. We are supposed to make half our plate fruits and veggies – we are well on our way at this point! It represents health and nutrition, as well as healthy habits that are for a lifetime.
This bowl of blackberries represents learning by doing, an appreciation for our food system, and how food is grown. My kids learn practical skills like watering and harvesting, but also that some bugs are good for our garden – that we should protect and care for them. They learn about the circle of life, that actions have consequences and sometimes bad things happen – with a dead bird in the netting covering the fruit.
This bowl of blackberries teaches my children about family time and relationships. We work together to reach a goal and learn about patience and persistence. This is part of our family culture.
This bowl of blackberries teaches my kids about community service and giving back. That our bounty is to be shared with neighbors and friends. It is part of being in a community and in relationship. These are some of the key 4-H life skills.
For those that lack a green thumb, this bowl of blackberries represents a local farm that they can visit with their family to still gain some of the same benefits of growing the fruit themselves, while supporting our local economy in a way where the money will benefit another family business and be reinvested in our community. This is part of global food systems and community vitality.
These blackberries were grown in my backyard, but they could have been grown at a school, in a community garden, or on a local farm. The value and impact of just this one “act of horticulture” can have wide-ranging and diverse benefits to a family, a community, and our state.
Underpinning it all is the basic science of horticulture, explored and taught by horticulture scientists, researchers, and educators for decades as part of the land grant mission at state universities across the country. While yield, productivity, and resource conservation are important, they aren’t the whole story and we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t share the bigger story of why horticulture.