“If you had asked me to pick a career for the apocalypse, horticulture is exactly where I'd want to be. I feel like my knowledge is in high demand right now, and I am ready to help anyone I can.”
It’s true. During this COVID-19 quarantine, we have become pioneers, sewing our own face masks, baking loaf after loaf of bread, and turning to our gardens for peace and sustenance.
“I love being a resource for people to better understand plants and to get joy out of what they have and connect with their plants inside and outside,” says MPS in Horticulture student Laura Mathews. “I give guidance and help people flourish on their own.”
Mathews is now the go-to person in her family and friends for insight into all projects related to horticulture, from growing produce and herbs to maintaining house plants.
“Quarantine seems to have really boosted people's interest in plants!” she says. “As a horticulture nerd, I see that as a beautiful thing in the midst of this crisis.”
Mathews majored in Urban Studies as an undergraduate, with a minor in Sustainability at the U of M. The job market in 2010 was tough for recent graduates. She worked for a local organic hair and skin care company for years, then as a landscaper. The economy started to rebound, and Mathews wanted to shift her focus from personal care back to plants.
"I feel like my knowledge is in high demand right now, and I am ready to help anyone I can.”
She sought out a graduate program to gain more practical horticulture skills. “The CCAPS program was perfect because it was shorter and reasonably priced. I was excited to go back to school. I got a great education at the U, and they have wonderful professors and facilities.”
At the time University courses went fully online earlier this semester, Mathews was taking two classes that transferred to the new format relatively easily (HORT 5023 Public Garden Management and ENT 5341 Biological Control of Insects and Weeds).
“I was looking forward to commencement, but I will still be just as happy to know I've successfully completed my degree, even without being able to walk across the stage. I have a lot of friends and family that have supported me while I've been in school, and I know they will still be celebrating with me in May.”
From ages 9 to 13, Mathews was a “student” at Youth Farm, an organization where young people are taught how to grow, prepare, and distribute produce to local communities, and to become future leaders and problem-solvers.
“It was a great part of my life,” she says. “It really shaped my focus today.” Mathews went on to teach at Youth Farm until she was 18.
“It’s very important for people to be able to see where their food comes from,” she continues. “It helps people be more mindful of what they are eating and the impact on the environment.”
Which seems like a common refrain, especially now, when we are realizing just how much we rely on farms, local grocery stores, delivery services, and supply chains.
While we are not at the apocalypse stage, Mathews did have to postpone her wedding due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, she is remaining positive. She will soon start a new job at Tangletown Gardens (owned by two Horticulture alumni) as part of the team that plants and maintains outdoor containers and other small-scale projects for homes and businesses, as well as working in the garden center itself.
“In so many ways, plants are the basic building blocks of our lives, providing basic necessities like food and oxygen, but also providing beauty, comfort, and a reminder that growth and renewal continue, even when times are tough.”
“Scheduling Crops for Protected Environments with Neil Anderson. It’s about growing plants in a greenhouse setting; it’s very hands-on. It was practical and useful. I also loved being in the greenhouse in the winter.”
Advice for Future Students
“There are so many classes to choose from. Think about what interests you; take the time to tailor your class selections to your interests, because you can keep engaged and continue learning.”
Laura Mathews is a recipient of an Ingrid Lenz Harrison Scholarship.