CRISPR: Gene-Editing is Making Plants Better

 

Note: The National Horticulture Foundation (NHF) continues to seek out industry partnerships to support research providing a greater return on investment for the green industry.  With more than $500,000 in research support already awarded for projects in production, marketing, utilization and distribution, NHF’s mission is never complete. Revolutionary technology such as CRISPR: Gene-Editing technology could not be used to its full potential without continued interaction with the green industry and its financial support. 

With compliments of the UF’s Mid Florida Research and Education Center, NHF would like to share more information about this exciting new technology and provide a strong reason why your support is so critical.  NHF is steadfast in supporting the science that backs up the facts, and invites you to join our efforts.

By Heqiang Huo and Caroline R. Warwick

When Microsoft first released “Word”, it was a revolutionary technology. Suddenly the ability to freely edit text – inserting, deleting, revising and replacing words – was at your fingertips. A new revolutionary technology, called CRISPR, short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, has given scientists the ability to do the same – but with the plant genome. What exactly is CRISPR? CRISPR is a tool scientist can use to precisely cut and modify genomic DNA of many organisms. This means scientists can use different versions of CRISPR enzymes to do different types of gene editing, such as deletion of a gene to promote flowering, editing a gene to improve disease resistance of elite cultivar, or converting a single nucleotide from cytosine to thymine to make a herbicide resistant crop. Theoretically, scientists can use this powerful tool to reshuffle any gene in almost any organisms in very near future.

Just as CRISPR can knock out a gene in a plant to improve a trait, it also knocks out our concerns surrounding the safety and virtue of genetically modified organisms (GMO). Before the advent of CRISPR, plant scientists were trying to avoid creating GM plant varieties since these plants would have been subjected to strict and costly regulatory screening by both the USDA and FDA to prove their safety to human beings and environments. Why do people have a big concern on GM plants? Well, genetically modified crops generally contain foreign genes that do not come from plant species. For example, neomycin phosphotransferase II (NPTII) is generally used in selection of transformed plants. This gene was initially isolated from bacterium Escherichia coli K12, which can provide plant resistance to a range of aminoglycoside antibiotics such as kanamycin. Similarly, a bar gene from Streptomyces soil bacteria is also extensively used as selection markers, which can provide plants with herbicide resistance.  These foreign DNA fragment will stay inside plant genome together with the gene of interest that is responsible for improved desirable traits. After years of debating, publics are still skeptical of whether these foreign DNA will have deleterious effect on human health or whether herbicide resistance can be transferred into weeds for creating “Super Weeds”.

Unlike the traditional genetic modification tools, CRISPR allows researchers to edit existing DNA – similar to editing a Word document. CRISPR can be used like a keyboard, giving researchers the power to cut, paste and revise part of a plant’s genetic codes. CRISPR technology is quicker than traditional breeding techniques since it gives researchers the ability to precisely and quickly remove or add a specific plant trait. One of the complications with traditional breeding methods revolves round the thousands of years that humans have already selectively bred plants. Often, researchers struggle to “fix” problems since they cannot precisely target what needs to be changed. CRISPR technology changes all of that. Rather than spending years of working on crossbreeding plants to achieve the exact goal, researchers can simply analyze plant genomes and edit specific genes as easy as you can edit a Word document.

CRISPR methods allow researchers to utilize a guided, small RNA to precisely target a specific gene for editing - similar to you making changes to a sentence in a paragraph - which simply adds value without generating adverse effects on other traits. Plant breeding with CRISPR technology will be precise, affordable, and fast. However, challenges still exist for plant scientists hoping to utilize CRISPR in plant species genetic improvement. One of the biggest challenges is the delivery of this tool into plant’s genome. Unfortunately, current CRISPR introduction systems are only established for particular genotype of a limited number of plant species. Another challenge is how to remove CRISPR DNA fragments after they complete the editing process. CRISPR DNA fragments can be easily discarded through seed segregation for annual plants to create pure non-GMO plants without foreign DNAs. However, this is especially difficult when working with foliage or perennial plants that do not bear true seeds like orange. Lastly, understanding of a species’ genome, including the identity of genes that code for desired traits, as well as combating physiological conditions like seed production, are the other main hurdles to widespread use of gene editing. As DNA sequencing technology continues to advance rapidly, more genomic sequences will be available for a range of plant species. CRISPR can then be extensively used for plant breeding when more efficient delivery methods are developed.

This powerful and transformative technology attracts eyes from everyone ranging from academic research scientists to giant agricultural and pharmaceutical companies. Even Bill Gates understands the potential impact of this technology saying, “Gene editing to make crops more abundant and resilient could be a lifesaver on a massive scale.” Gene edited crops including corns, wheats, tomatoes, soybeans, mushrooms and rice have been developed and will be commercialized soon. The USDA recently announced that gene edited plants will not require any additional regulations or labeling since they are as safe as those produced through conventional breeding approaches. Overall, using CRISPR technology is a revolutionary way to breed plants, and, much like Word was to writing, will change the path and capabilities of plant scientists around the country.

Heqiang (Alfred) Huo is an assistant professor and plant breeder at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center. He is currently using advanced biotechnology tools including CRISPR technology to improve drought and heat tolerance, herbicide resistance in annual horticultural crops.

Caroline R. Warwick is an agricultural communicator at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center. She is a professional writer in research and extension of horticultural plant science.

NHF Graduate Assistantship Program – Meet Shea Keene

In 2010, NHF’s graduate assistantship program generated the level of funding needed for its first graduate-student project. NHF’s Board of Directors serves as an advisory committee and provides direction and supervision to each graduate student and faculty member involved.  

Shea Keene is a Ph.D. student in the Environmental Horticulture Department at the University of Florida. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of South Florida. Originally planning on entering medical school, Shea followed a pre-medical track throughout her undergraduate career. During her final semester, however, she realized she was not happy in the medical field. She decided to scrap her medical school applications and instead applied for several horticultural internships, as she found a love for plants and gardening in preceding years.

During the fall of 2014, Shea lived on the island of Kaua’i and completed an internship at the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Upon her return to Florida, she gained employment at Bok Tower Gardens and worked full time as a gardener for all of 2015. While there, the Director of Horticulture introduced her to UF professor Kimberly Moore, Ph.D, who recommended graduate school and the Environmental Horticulture Department. Shea applied and was accepted as a graduate student by Thomas Colquhoun, Ph.D, and completed her master’s degree in Environmental Horticulture in December of 2017.  In January of 2018, Shea started her doctoral program focusing her research interests on floral volatile analysis and consumer preference studies.

About Shea’s work

Shea describes her work focus as follows:

"Flowers have intrigued and enchanted humans throughout history and across cultures. Fragrant flowers in particular have inspired verses and songs of praise by poets and playwrights such as Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Byron. Moreover, modern consumer preference research has found that buyers prefer fragrant flowers. One of the flowers whose scent has been venerated throughout history is Viola odorata, also known as the Sweet Violet. This unassuming purple violet is said to have an intensely sweet fragrance, something nearly unheard of in modern viola and pansy hybrids. The sweet violet was especially popular during the late Victorian era. Perfumes and cosmetics were imbued with its scent, and it featured prominently in floriography the use of specific flowers to send coded messages between suitors.

While Viola odorata is said to possess a unique strong aroma, surprisingly its fragrance profile has not been fully elucidated through modern headspace analysis. As part of Shea’s doctoral research, she will characterize the floral fragrance of Viola odorata (wild type species and cultivars) using a dynamic push-pull headspace collection system and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Additionally, she will analyze the headspace aroma of modern pansy and viola hybrids popularly used as bedding plants, as well as an assortment of other Viola species. The volatile characterization of a variety of violet species and hybrids will contribute to the body of research on floral fragrance, and it will set the stage for the breeding component of Shea’s future doctoral work. This component will focus on the selection of fragrance traits in a breeding scheme with the objective to develop a fragrant Viola hybrid cultivar."

National Horticulture Foundation “All in” at TPIE!

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With the theme “Are You in?” at the 2019 Tropical Plant International Expo (TPIE), the National Horticulture Foundation (NHF) was “IN,” present and positioned to tell its story! From actively selling raffle tickets at the NHF booth, to Charlie Hall’s presentation and finishing with NHF’s annual fundraising reception, NHF board members took every opportunity to share their mission of supporting both industry research and education. 

Charlie Hall, Ph.D, speaks at TPIE’s 2019 Elevating Expectations session. Photo Courtesy FNGLA

Charlie Hall, Ph.D, speaks at TPIE’s 2019 Elevating Expectations session. Photo Courtesy FNGLA

An Afternoon with Dr. Charlie Hall

Economist Charlie Hall, Ph.D, presented TPIE’s Elevating Expectations session sponsored by NHF, ‘The Forecast for 2019 - Bright Skies or Storm Clouds?’ In his presentation, Hall, who serves as Ellison Chair in Int'l Floriculture for the Dept. of Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M University, shared his recession outlook, highlighting an overall favorable market to sell in 2019, but also cautioned increased costs due to trade and inflationary effects. Hall implored green industry firms to monitor contingencies closely (e.g. the government shutdown, trade war effects, interest rate changes, etc.) and begin contingency planning for the impending downturn when it does occur. There is a 50 percent chance of a recession for 2020 and that prediction goes up to 80 percent in 2021, according to Hall. Being prepared is good advice.

NHF President David Liu (Foliage Design Systems), speaks to guests at the NHF Reception at the 2019 Tropical Plant International Expo. Photo Courtesy FNGLA

NHF President David Liu (Foliage Design Systems), speaks to guests at the NHF Reception at the 2019 Tropical Plant International Expo. Photo Courtesy FNGLA

An Evening with NHF Endowment holders

NHF President David Liu, Foliage Design Systems, served as host for the NHF’s annual fundraising reception. It was an evening of celebrating students and thanking NHF’s dedicated endowment holders for their continued support.   The reception is always a great opportunity to recognize those who have contributed to the Foundation’s portfolio over the years and share the message of NHF’s annual support for both scholarships and research projects. More than $39,000 was raised in contributions, pledges and sale of the annual raffle tickets. 

Virginia Frazier, executive director of the Collegiate Plant Initiative, speaks to attendees at NHF’s Reception at the 2019 Tropical Plant International Expo. Photo Courtesy FNGLA

Virginia Frazier, executive director of the Collegiate Plant Initiative, speaks to attendees at NHF’s Reception at the 2019 Tropical Plant International Expo. Photo Courtesy FNGLA

Virginia Frazier, executive director of CPI, served as the reception’s guest speaker to share with attendees all of the exciting things happening with University of Florida’s Collegiate Plant Initiative (CPI).  Virginia has played an integral part in the success of this program from writing grants to the development of CPI’s strategic and business plans.

NHF is proud to provide funding for the University of Florida’s Collegiate Plant Initiative, a student-run nonprofit organization at the University of Florida inspired by an introductory horticulture class taught by Dr. David Clark called Plants, Gardening, and You (PG&Y).   

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 “All in” with the students at TPIE

NHF welcomed 31 UF students to the NHF reception. Steadfast, in keeping the scholarship program strong, NHF will continue to support young people pursuing a career in the nursery and landscape industry.  In addition, NHF looks for ways to support educational initiatives such as UF’s Environmental Horticulture Club’s international trip. Along with funds earned through plant sales and club activities, NHF provides $5,000 to the club to help offset the cost. Through the years, more than $425,000 has supported more than 300 students who have advanced their education with the help of the NHF. 

Plants Through the Eyes of Students

Photo Courtesy Collegiate Plant Initiative

Photo Courtesy Collegiate Plant Initiative

When talking about how to create a love for plants, you can’t help but smile at what is happening on campuses across the county.  The National Horticulture Foundation (NHF) is proud to provide funding for the University of Florida’s Collegiate Plant Initiative (CPI). CPI is a University of Florida student-run nonprofit organization inspired by an introductory horticulture class called Plants, Gardening, and You (PG&Y).  

PG&Y, taught by Dr. Dave Clark, introduces almost 600 students a year to various topics designed to cure “plant blindness” and increase interest in plants as a hobby and career.

Virginia Frazier, of the University of Florida’s student-run CPI, says the non-profit organization’s goal is to turn people on to plants and gain insights into which plants are most popular. Starting with the students on campus first.

CPI has completed its 12th and final experiment of the semester, asking the 352 students enrolled in PG&Y to choose their favorite plant from a display. CPI has also introduced new surveys, which has allowed their team to collect demographic information as well as purchase patterns, family backgrounds, and opinions of the horticulture industry.

Plants this semester have been photographed individually and added into a database of plant pictures that will be used for future experiments. The CPI team have also partnered with Dr. Charlie Hall, Texas A&M University, who is showing his class replications of experiments conducted at the University of Florida. Results from both classes will be compared to see if there are differences between the two regions and to see if this model can be expanded to other universities.

Breaking new records this semester at UF’s Plant Drop, the CPI team gave away 1,000 plants in 2.5 minutes. The planning for next semester’s events is already underway and will include Plant Drops at the University of Florida and several universities across the country. The CPI team hopes to make a significant impact on the future of the horticultural industry.

Building a Strong Foundation for Industry's Next Generation

The National Horticulture Foundation’s (NHF) scholarship programs make a difference in students’ lives.  NHF has been helping to train future leaders of the industry since 1996.  One of its primary focuses is to support educational programs and provide scholarships that will attract young people to the nursery and landscape industry so that they will become a part of the solution to future industry challenges.

Within NHF, there are three scholarship funds that have been established: James H. Davis Memorial Scholarship, NHF’s General Scholarship fund, and Bob Hoskins and Sandy McDougald Scholarship. 

The James H. Davis Memorial Scholarship was started through a generous contribution to the National Horticulture Foundation.  As an FNGA member, James Davis actively served his association through committee and trade show activities along with dedication to his industry. Davis Tree Farm is a recipient of the prestigious FNGLA Grower of the Year award. It is hoped that the James H. Davis Memorial Scholarship will give students the opportunity to develop into a new generation of dedicated individuals for the horticulture industry of tomorrow.  James H. Davis was not a straight “A” student and believed as long as the student maintained a 2.0 grade point average that he/she deserved an opportunity for a good education.  This scholarship is for incoming freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors planning to attend a community college, state college, university or other program in Florida.

NHF’s General Scholarship Fund was created to allow graduate, out-of-state or non-traditional students the opportunity to apply for a scholarship. 

The Bob Hoskins and Sandy McDougald Scholarship was established by the Palm Beach Chapter of the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) to commemorate the dedication, enthusiasm and many years of service contributed to the horticultural industry by Bob and Sandy. Numerous industry members have generously supported the fund which helps to educate the next generation of industry professionals.

Every day there is an opportunity to change someone’s life.  NHF needs your help to continue to make a difference in students’ lives.  The annual deadline for applications is January 15. For more information about applying for scholarships, visit NHF’s website or contact Linda Reindl, lreindl@fngla.org.

Congratulations to the University of Florida

Research took center stage last week during the 50th Anniversary celebration at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (MREC) in Apopka, FL.  More than 150 attendees were treated to walking tours showcasing the projects being conducted.  It was a day filled with many opportunities to highlight the quality of work taking place at the center. 

Over the years, NHF’s consistent financial contributions have laid a solid foundation for its partnership with MREC researchers and has become one of the trusted sources of funding for Florida’s environmental horticulture industry.

In today’s world of science and technology, the nursery and landscape industry has an opportunity to seek out more proactive ways of bridging the gaps between academia and the commercial world.  What if through research the industry could grow bigger or stronger plants or identify ways to make plants grow slower or faster depending on application? What if we could develop different colors in plants that are normally green? What about more disease resistance for plants in the landscape? Got your attention, yet? What if? Why not? The fact is with modern technology the possibilities are endless. 

NHF is proud to support the researchers at MREC. With the financial support of NHF, research can provide the industry with valuable results and targeted ways to enhance production and utilization of plants. NHF is currently funding the following projects at MREC: 

  • Development of Begonias with Enhanced Heat Tolerance for Florida Nurseries being conducted by Alfred Huo, Assistant Professor, Ornamental Plant Breeder, Mid-Florida Research and Education Center

  •  Development of New Pothos Cultivars for the Foliage Plant Industry being conducted by Dr. Jianjun Chen, Professor, Mid-Florida Research and Education Center

Whether you are an industry member seeking a solution to your industry problem or a researcher seeking financial support, NHF needs your help to identify what the next projects should be. Research proposals are accepted from academic institutions across the country. If you wish to apply for an NHF research grant, please fill out and submit the forms to the National Horticulture Foundation. The annual deadline is December 31.  For questions, please contact Linda Reindl at lreindl@fngla.org or by phone at (407) 295-7994. www.nationalhorticulturefoundation.org

NHF to Sponsor Breathing Room, Home Décor Trends Session at TPIE

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As the connection among people, plants and wellness continues to gain traction, Suzi McCoy and Katie McCoy Dubow of Garden Media Group will present insights on the Breathing Room movement at the upcoming Tropical Plant International Expo.

A fad which involves dedicating a room in one’s home to connecting with plants, the movement has emerged as one of Garden Media Group’s 2018 Garden Trends.

The Exceeding Expectations Session, Breathing Room – The Home Décor Trend Connecting Nature and Wellness, is sponsored by the National Horticulture Foundation.

McCoy Dubow, who serves as creative director for the Pennsylvania-based PR/Marketing Communications firm, said she and Founder Suzi McCoy plan to zero in on home décor and other timely horticultural trends at the session, which will take place at 3 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18 at the Broward County Convention Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Admission is free with the purchase of a show badge.

Dubow offers a sneak peek at what one can expect at the session:

NHF: What are some key take-aways you’re planning to impart at the session?

Dubow: By disconnecting from digital media and reconnecting with Mother Nature, you will pick up new tricks to garner loyal fans, create new brand ambassadors and ultimately increase sales.

NHF: How did this trend of nature and wellness come about?

Dubow: In today’s world, it is almost impossible to escape social media, instant news, 24/7 connectivity and the mental exhaustion that follows. We’ve talked physical wellness in years’ past, and while we still know gardening helps us achieve that, it isn’t just about keeping the body healthy anymore; it’s about keeping the mind and spirit healthy, too.

The 2018 report introduces seven industry trends that inspire a cleaner, more relaxed state-of-mind. It shows when we disconnect from digital media and reconnect with Mother Nature, we can make steps towards rebuilding mental wellness. The report highlights new ideas, styles and colors to help clear the mind and step away from the infinite connectivity that is wearing people out.

NHF: What is the process at Garden Media Group for seeking out trends?

Dubow: It is a lot of work and takes us about a year to complete. For example, we just wrapped 2018 and are already thinking about 2019. Our process starts on a global scale and we review every industry from home design to fashion. We then interview our trusted media sources and garden experts. And then there is a little tea leaf reading and connecting the dots. When you’ve been predicting trends successfully for almost 20 years, like Suzi has, you learn to trust your instincts.

To register to attend TPIE 2018, visit the event registration site.

NHF President David Liu Looks Back on NHF’s Progress

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Dear Industry Friends,

I have had the pleasure of serving on the Board of Directors for the National Horticulture Foundation (NHF) for 14 years now. Looking back, I have taken note of a few important matters in my life. I just turned 60, have been in the industry all of my life, my wife, Lisa, and I have a daughter who we are proud of, and I am finishing up my first year as President of NHF.

You may think putting my involvement with the NHF up there with my lifelong career and family to be a bit extreme, but it really belongs there. Here’s why: The green industry employs thousands of people who are better off in life than most. What job can you have that allows you to breathe fresh air (you do know plants clean the air, right?), spend your time around the beauty of nature, indoors or out, and get plenty of exercise? OK, at times perhaps too much exercise - if that’s possible!

The horticulture industry is the livelihood of thousands of people who in so many ways are just better off in life. For me, I have had a lifetime to decide if I want to do something else and the answer is always no, this is it. And now I want to share this opportunity with the next generation, and all generations thereafter. For so many of you who have helped build this industry from tin cans, dirt, Ford Econolines (with three on the column, of course) to automation, potting machines, planting media, bio controls and biophilia, this is your legacy.

Over the last year, thanks to our donors and a strong market, our main fund has grown from $3 million to $3.3 million as of December 29, 2017. I also credit our board members, savvy players, every one of them, who are forward-thinking yet cast a critical eye upon the management of our portfolio and the use of its funds.

Currently, we are watching the advance of two important research projects. One is entitled, Development of New Pothos Cultivars for the Foliage Plant Industry conducted by Jianjun Chen, Ph.D, to bring new Pothos cultivars into the market within the next three years. And, Identifying the Best In-store and Trade Show Displays and Promotions for Green Industry Stakeholders conducted by Hayk Khachatryan, Ph.D, which utilizes state-of-the-art E.T.T. (eye tracking technology) to scientifically track how consumers are influenced by in-store retail displays and signage. This is a fascinating project and I encourage you all to take a look at this and other projects by visiting NHF’s website.

While you are there, you can learn about one of our most important endeavors, and what amounts to the industry’s most important matter: the future of our industry rests squarely in the laps of the next generation. This year, the NHF granted more than $25,000 in scholarships to students pursuing a career in horticulture. It is our mission to ensure through our young people the legacy we have all helped to build, so they can discover and enjoy this rewarding, important, vital industry that means so much to all of us.

Please become a part of the NHF by joining me and so many of our friends in contributing now. Remember: the legacy is alive, in you.

Sincerely,

David Liu,

Foliage Design Systems

NHF Scholarship Deadlines Approaching

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Each day, there is an opportunity to change someone’s life. And, in providing financial support to aspiring industry newcomers, NHF is seizing the opportunity to shape the future of our nursery and landscape industry.    

NHF’s scholarship programs continue to establish pathways each year for qualified students pursuing careers in horticulture or related fields, and are in need of financial support.

The application deadline for scholarships is January 15.

Since its inception more than 20 years ago, NHF’s scholarship program has awarded more than $400,000 to students in need through its three scholarship funds:

James S. Davis Memorial Scholarship Fund

James Davis was the founder and owner of Davis Tree Farm from 1978 until his death in May 1995. As an FNGLA member, Davis actively served his association through his committee and trade show activities, and through his dedication to his industry. 

Full-time undergraduate students attending a community college, university or technical institution within Florida may apply for this scholarship.

Hoskins/McDougald Scholarship Fund

The Bob Hoskins and Sandy McDougald Scholarship was established by the Palm Beach Chapter of the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) to commemorate the dedication, enthusiasm and many years of service Bob Hoskins and Sandy McDougald contributed to the horticultural industry. Numerous industry members have generously supported the fund which assists in funding education for each new generation of industry professionals.

Students applying for this scholarship must have been a Florida resident residing in one of the following counties for a minimum of one year: Palm Beach, Broward, Okeechobee, Martin, St. Lucie or Indian River.

General Application Fund

Full-time undergraduates, graduate students and non-traditional students attending community college, university or technical college outside of Florida may apply for NHF’s General Scholarship.

For more information, visit NHF’s website.

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