Over the past three years, the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) has been running its ‘Grow Careers’ event to open up the diverse world of horticulture to schoolchildren.
The college has refined its event year-on-year to ensure maximum engagement and exposure to different horticultural fields as an option to further their education.
This year, every school in Northern Ireland with year 11 pupils was invited to attend the event at CAFRE Greenmount Campus on 20 and 21 June.
The key message was that horticulture and floristry are ideally suited to pupils who want an active, outdoor career that offers great local, UK and worldwide opportunities for employment – especially at supervisory or management level and for new business start-ups.
The annual event sows the seeds of interest through six practical interactive displays designed to showcase the many horticulture courses available at Greenmount.
New technologies in plant production
This display challenged students to compete to see which group could pot more plants in a specified time either by hand or by using the potting machine. It was an ideal method in demonstrating mechanisation and technology in horticultural production.
Soft landscaping in garden design
This stop focused on arranging a selection of plants with a given theme inside a frame to engage students with creativity and design.
Greenmount has a reputation for producing students in hard landscaping who have won at National, European and Worldskills competitions.
The visiting students had to assemble a tangram from basic information, thereby demonstrating teamwork, logic, visualisation and construction from a 2D plan to 3D reality.
There was a great buzz in the room as the students competed in groups to be the first to finish the puzzle.
Growing horticulture crops
Here students were able to connect science studies to practical horticulture. They learned about bio-controls and pollination in a strawberry trial and heard about the macro-and minor-nutrients needed for healthy growth. The activity was rounded off with a quiz to add a competitive element.
Managing green spaces and sports turf management.
This was another stop that linked science to practical horticulture, in this case, golf greens and grounds, along with a focus on the application of technology and machinery in sports turf management.
The students got to use a ‘Stimpmeter’ to test green speed and a ‘Cleg impact hammer’ to test the hardness of the surfaces, both of which impact ball behaviour.
They were also introduced to the concepts of the precise yet integrated management of turf pests, diseases and disorders, fertilisers and irrigation.
All of these activities were particularly pertinent in the current warm dry spell of weather. Students also got to practice putting balls for a bit of fun.
On the first day of visits, students were able to watch up close competitors in a World Skills UK regional heat for the UK Skills competition to be held later in the year.
On the second day, they had the chance to make an ‘impulse buy’ floral arrangement as an introduction to floristry – a micro practical exercise.
All in all, CAFRE believes that the annual ‘Grow Careers’ event is successfully challenging and slowly changing the perception of horticulture amongst local school teachers and pupils.
It is moving from one where horticulture is ‘just gardening’ to one more akin to the Chartered Institute of Horticulture definition that states:
“Horticulture is the science, technology, art, and business of cultivating and using plants to improve human life. Horticulturists and horticultural scientists create global solutions for sustainable nutritious food and healthy/restorative and beautiful environments.”
For more information about CAFRE visit: https://www.cafre.ac.uk/
By Alison Seymour, Horticulture Lecturer, CAFRE Greenmount