Endowment Honors Memory of Industry Natural

Jason Zala and family pup Kahlua. PHOTO COURTESY ZALA FAMILY

Jason Zala and family pup Kahlua. PHOTO COURTESY ZALA FAMILY

For Chuck Zala, his son, Jason’s memorial endowment with the National Horticulture Foundation serves as a bookmark in the story of a boy who grew up surrounded by the love of the industry.

 “To me and to the family, the endowment means a lot,” Zala says of his eldest son who passed away in 2004. “It’s a lasting memory of our son and it benefits people in a way that I think he would have been very, very pleased with.”

Chuck, who began working in horticulture at the age of 14, has worked in almost every conceivable facet – sales, growing, purchasing. The Cleveland, Ohio native and his wife raised their two boys in South Florida, where Jason and his younger brother grew up around the industry. Chuck tells the story with pride about how hard his boys worked for him during the years he ran his own greenhouse and garden center business on the side.

“My kids grew up filling flats, sticking cuttings, watering plants,” Chuck remembers with a fondness in his voice.

After graduating from Sandhills Community College's prestigious Landscape Gardening program, Jason went to work in the horticulture industry interning at the Mellon estate in Upperville, Virginia. Jason also served at Brookside Botanical Gardens near Baltimore, Maryland. But his father says it wasn’t long before Jason began to feel pulled in another direction – creative writing.

“Unbeknownst to us all these years, he had been keeping diaries and books on his life and his experiences,” Chuck says. “He loved to write short stories; that was his forte.”

In 2002, Jason relocated to North Carolina where he enrolled at Appalachian State University's creative writing program. Still, wherever he went, he took his horticulture roots with him.

And, in true Jason fashion, he put his all into his writing, the same way he did with every other new challenge he took.

“He always strove to be the best that he could be,” Chuck adds. “In anything he did, if he decided to move forward, it was 110 percent.”

When the Zala family lost Jason at the young age of 26, they could hardly see through their grief.

Soon after, Ed Rosenthal, the head of Florikan and Chuck’s boss at the time, came to him to ask if he could do something in honor of Jason.

“Ed immediately invested in this and opened the endowment in Jason’s name,” Chuck says. “Ed started it by making a contribution, and others through the years added to it. It just grew from there.”

Today, The Jason R. Zala Memorial Scholarship Fund endowment stands at more than $18,000. Each year, the endowment helps students realize their dream of entering the horticulture industry, according to Linda Reindl, NHF administrator.

"NHF is proud to help the family keep Jason's name and memory alive within the industry," Reindl says.

The fund also offers Chuck and his family some measure of peace knowing Jason’s legacy will live on and continue to help others.

“This would have kind of closed the circle for him, and given him the inner peace that I think he was struggling for,” Chuck says of Jason. “For him to finally have this lasting memory in our industry, I think he’d be extremely proud of that.”


NHF supports students creating sustainable food sources

Dylan Kovach displays the tomato plants he is monitoring in his lab at Cornell University. PHOTO COURTESY DYLAN KOVACH

Dylan Kovach displays the tomato plants he is monitoring in his lab at Cornell University. PHOTO COURTESY DYLAN KOVACH

NHF has been helping to train future industry leaders since 1996. Cornell University graduate student Dylan Kovach is one of those future leaders. 

Kovach is one of NHF's 2017 general scholarship recipients. 

In an effort to attract young people to the nursery and landscape industry, NHF provides scholarships each year to bright students with the hope they rise up in the industry to help solve future industry challenges.

A 22-year-old Ocala, Florida native currently studying in Upstate New York, Kovach is passionate about uncovering new methods for creating sustainable food sources for the world’s growing population.

One of three categories of scholarships awarded by NHF, the general scholarship seeks to equip bright new minds with the financial support they need so they can have a firm and successful footing when they enter the horticulture industry, according to Linda Reindl, NHF’s administrator, who added this program is offered to students attending academic institutions within and outside of the state of Florida. 

“We’re happy to lend support to Dylan as he continues to excel in his studies and we look forward to all he brings to the horticulture industry,” Wes Parrish, Scholarship subcommittee chair said.

Prior to making the move to Cornell, Kovach studied Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida.

The motivation to stay focused in his graduate studies in plant science, he says, is his dream of one day owning his own sustainable vertical farm.

We caught up with Kovach, who is currently working with tomatoes in controlled environments, to see what he’s doing these days to prepare for his horticulture career.

NHF: So, Dylan, tell us on what you are currently working:

Kovach: I am currently studying the effect of CO2 and light on juvenile tomato production in controlled environments. For the first half of my program, I will be growing [roughly] six-week-old tomato plants in growth chambers. The second half will be performed in a greenhouse. I am currently in a Master’s of Science program in Plant Science with a focus in Controlled Environmental Agriculture.

NHF: When did you realize your interest in pursuing a horticulture-related career?

Kovach: I first realized my interest in horticulture when I first started working in my backyard garden during middle school. It was originally my dad’s project, but I gradually took it over and always had something growing! My dad is not a horticulturist by trade, but we share a common green thumb. My mom is in charge of all of the butterfly plants around the house and my dad does vegetables! 

In high school, I became even more interested when I learned about food security and the potential of high density greenhouse production! This was the deciding factor that led me to attend UF and graduate school at Cornell. 

NHF: How did earning a scholarship from NHF assist in your career goals?

Kovach: The NHF scholarship has been instrumental in my transition to graduate school and my travels. I am looking forward to attending conferences regarding my work and making connections for opportunities in the future! It also provides me with the funds to ease the burden of moving costs from Florida and keeping in touch with family back home. The scholarship funds also will help me in my future quest to provide sustainable food options for our growing population.

NHF: What are your future career plans?

Kovach: Upon finishing my masters, I have yet to decide whether to continue into a Ph.D. program, although I will definitely be entering the industry after graduate school. My aspiration is to first work for a company that specializes in controlled environment agriculture. With enough experience, I would then like to have my own business running a vertical farming operation! At the end of the day, I really do love Florida and I still call it home. Regarding my future, I foresee myself going where there is a prime market for vertical farming. If it brings me back to Florida, I will definitely be happy! 

The Good Which Has Been Done Through NHF

As a $3 million foundation, NHF is steadfast in supporting the science which backs the facts. But, it could not do the work it does without the dedicated contributions from its supporters:

Gold Builder ($50,000 +)

Silver Builder ($35,000 - $49,999)

Builder ($25,000 - $34,999)

Benefactor ($20,000 - $24,999)

Patron ($15,000 - $19,999)

Founder ($10,000 - $14,999)

Endowment ($5,000 - $9,999)

Sponsor ($2,500 - $4,999)

Giver ($1,000 - $2,499)

Contributions under $1,000

Answers to industry questions lie in understanding how the brain reacts when the body is gardening, or how live plants on a living green wall can change students’ attitudes, moods and academic performance. To find these answers and others, NHF depends strongly on FNGLA chapter and individual contributions. 

With such contributions, NHF has emerged as one of the most trusted sources of funding for Florida’s environmental horticulture industry. In total, NHF has given back more than $1.3 million in research and scholarships.

For more information on the National Horticulture Foundation or how to contribute, visit NHF's website, or email Linda Reindl.

NHF Accepting Research Proposals

NHF is currently accepting research proposals aimed at enhancing green industry development from academic institutions across the country.

In line with FNGLA’s research priorities, NHF has since 1987 continued its strong presence of underwriting research. NHF may be small in terms of a foundation but, over the years, the foundation has carved out its niche as one of the trusted sources of funding for Florida’s environmental horticulture industry. NHF has given back more than $500,000 in research support for projects in production, marketing, utilization and distribution. 

Whether seeking to understand how to improve plant quality and longevity during transportation, or how to spur purchasing motivation of consumers to increase demand for foliage products, NHF seeks to support research with positive outcomes and a greater return on investment for the green industry.

Through research, the green industry can tap into unique resources and find the keys to things like reducing carbon footprints, understanding how one's brain can be affected by gardening and ultimately creating more sustainable lifestyles.

To apply for an NHF research grant, fill out an application on visit NHF's website or contact Linda Reindl via email at lreindl@fngla.org, or by phone at 407-295-7994. The annual deadline for applications is December 31.

NHF Scholarship Spotlight: Jennifer Parrish

Looking back over the four years she spent studying horticulture at the University of Florida, Jennifer Parrish credits the National Horticulture Foundation with helping her explore just how diverse and special that industry is.

A four-year recipient of the James H. Davis Scholarship, Parrish in 2003 earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Landscape and Nursery Horticulture. During her time at UF, Parrish also served as a member of the university’s Environmental Horticulture Club where she attended class trips to Costa Rica, California and Italy touring public gardens and nursery operations.

“The nice thing about NHF is they also provide monetary support for the student trip at UF,” Parrish said. “I think that’s invaluable - to travel to other countries and see how they are doing things as well.”

Named in honor of the late founder and owner of Davis Tree Farm, the James H. Davis Memorial Scholarship aims to provide career paths for qualified students in need of financial support to help them become part of the horticulture industry.

The scholarship is awarded nationally to 10-15 students each year, with award amounts ranging from $500 to $3,000, according to Linda Reindl, NHF’s executive director.

“NHF wants to help foster young people in the industry as the Board understands students will be the next generation of leaders,” Reindl said. 

To qualify, students must be or plan to enroll full-time in a horticulture program or related field and maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average. The annual deadline to apply is January 15.

A native of South Florida, Parrish grew up in the horticulture industry working alongside her parents, Wes and Vickie Parrish at the family’s nursery. But it wasn’t until she arrived at UF that she realized just how unique the industry was.

“Looking back now, I realize how special the nursery industry is, as far as being more like a family,” Parrish said. “Obviously, that was just normal for me.”

In addition to providing funds for her to pursue her education, Parrish said she also made invaluable personal connections each year at FNGLA’s Landscape Show, an annual trade show based in Orlando. UF’s Horticulture Club each year travels to the show to update NHF’s Board of Trustees on what students gained during their annual class trips.

Upon graduation, Parrish, who lives in Apopka, worked for five years at Agri-Starts as part of that company’s sales team. She then took a position at Farm Credit, where she has for the past eight years served as part of the company’s crop insurance team.

“We provide insurance for nurseries, citrus, blueberries, hay and some vegetables,” Parrish said. “It’s neat to be able to work with all the different industries.”

For more information on the James H. Davis Scholarship, visit NHF’s website.

UF Students Grow Industry Experience With Netherlands Trip

The University of Florida’s Environmental Horticulture club had the chance to tour international nurseries during a recent 9-day class trip through The Netherlands.

During their trip, which took place in March, students toured mills on bicycles, and ended one of their days surrounded by flowers at Moerkapelle's 'Spring' garden.  

Students also had the opportunity to visit the Royal FloraHolland Auction in Aalsmeer, and tour a floating floral market in Amsterdam.

And, the trip just wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Heineken’s brewery in Amsterdam.

Students worked hard to make the trip a reality. A large portion of the funding for the trip was raised by students through poinsettia sales with plants grown right in University of Florida greenhouses.  

“The National Horticulture Foundation also believes in providing students with both scholarships and industry experiences and is proud to be a sponsor for the students’ trip, donating $5,000 annual to the educational endeavor.”  Linda Reindl, Executive Director for NHF. 

NHF Funds Pothos Research

The National Horticulture Foundation has awarded $50,000 to fund a University of Florida research study aimed at developing new pothos cultivars for the foliage plant industry.

The national Foundation will award the funds over the next three years to the ambitious endeavor, which will be headed up by Jianjun Chen, Ph.D, a professor with the Department of Environmental Horticulture. Chen is based at UF's Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka.

"Pothos has been an important foliage plant in the industry," Chen stated in his funding request. "Pothos new cultivar development, however, has been hampered [by] the lack of a functional reproductive system. Thus far, there are only six cultivars in the market."

Chen added the research study intends to develop several new cultivars for this, one of the most popular foliage plants in the foliage industry.

NHF President David Liu explained the recent increase in green wall popularity also played a part in the Foundation's decision to fund the research project.

"Today, thousands of pothos and philodendron (along with many other plant varieties) are being grown for the Green Wall market," Liu explained. "With this in mind, we are supporting Dr. Chen's research in hopes that new, exciting cultivars will be brought to the market within a reasonable time frame."

The study is expected to complete in December 2020.

Giving Isn't Just Rewarding, It Can Also Be Fun!

Sometimes the fun lies in saying, “It’s time to go fishing!”

For 33 years, Jim, Rick and Sue Fuhr have been keeping their father’s name alive through the Dick Fuhr Memorial Fishing Tournament. The tournament hasn't just brought industry members together for a day of fun, but also connects the world of fishing with research and education - one angler at a time. Whether it's for the love of fishing, spending time with industry friends and family, or being committed to furthering NHF's mission, those who take part each year are helping to make a big difference.

"The National Horticulture Foundation would like to thank the Dick Fuhr Memorial Fishing Tournament for the continued support of the Foundation’s effort," Linda Reindl, NHF's executive director said of the event. "More than 112 industry friends chartered boats and positioned their fishing poles for the big catch."

The annual event took place on June 2.

The annual proceeds from the tournament have helped raise the Dick Fuhr Memorial Fishing Tournament’s endowment to the Gold Builder Level with $183,250.00 under its name, Reindl said. 

These days, many may not know Dick Fuhr was most notably remembered for his instrumental role in the production of Lerio pots. In the 1960’s, egg can containers were used in most greenhouse productions. With the help and persuasion of Dick, the metal containers were developed and mass produced. The metal containers were then converted into the plastic-style pots which are widely used today. 

"Dick built his business with strong business ethics. “Customer Supreme” were the words not only spoken but a philosophy he ran his business with," Reindl said. "Whether you were a friend, associate or business acquaintance, you were always treated the same."

Even 48 years later, Fuhr's children continue to practice the same ethics as their father. Through freezes, depressions and other economic hardships, Universal Enterprise Supply Corp. has been there to share knowledge, expertise and service to the industry. 

"NHF thanks Dick for setting the great example and his sons for carrying it on," Reindl said. 

If you would like to join those that have started their journey of giving, contact Linda Reindl, lreindl@fngla.org or donate now