GAINESVILLE, Fla. – University of Florida professor David Clark has given away enough plants to fill a stadium. On Thursday, Jessica Finkel a senior public relations student in the UF marching band was the lucky recipient of the 50,000th plant: turf grass from Florida Field’s north end zone where the band sits.
Former Florida Gators head football coach Steve Spurrier was the special guest who gave Finkel her own little piece of The Swamp.
Clark began teaching the Plants, Gardening and You course 10 years ago as an elective to gain the interest of non-science majors in the plant industry. As part of an effort to increase student awareness and appreciation of the subject, Clark began passing out plants to students at each class.
The Collegiate Plant Initiative, a student-run nonprofit, sprouted from the Plants, Gardening and You course. The organization’s mission is to help “cure plant blindness,” said the organization’s public relations director Abbie Clark, a UF public relations senior.
Last fall, the Collegiate Plant Initiative class handed out more than 1,000 free plants in six minutes at UF’s Turlington Plaza. The publicity might be why this semester, the Plants, Gardening and You course has more than 300 students enrolled, which is about 80 more students than the previous semester.
“We want to show other students that you don’t have to be a plant science major to enjoy plants and get involved in the industry,” Abbie Clark said.
After hearing about the Collegiate Plant Initiative’s need for someone to work on the organization’s online presence and communication goals, Abbie Clark volunteered. After participating in the Plants, Gardening and You class as a teaching assistant the last three semesters, she has found her career goals as a communicator have shifted to working in the plant industry. This summer, she will be interning with Ball Horticultural Company in West Chicago.
“I don’t think I would have thought about working as a communicator in this field until I got involved with the Collegiate Plant Initiative,” she said. “I’ve noticed there is a huge void in the horticulture industry when it comes to millennial involvement. There’s also a need for good writers in this industry, and I’d like to explore that opportunity.”
After seeing how well UF students responded to the plant giveaways over the years, the Collegiate Plant Initiative has spread to other land-grant universities. These universities include The Pennsylvania State University and Texas A&M University. Abbie Clark said the organization is currently working on forming more chapters at additional universities.
If students are interested in becoming involved with the Collegiate Plant Initiative, they can contact the organization’s officers through the www.collegiateplantinitiative.org website and social media (@collegiateplantinitiative).
The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution. Visit the CALS website at cals.ufl.edu, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.