Delgado A-Z: Horticulture

by: Hilton Guidry
With the economic boom of the 1990s and the explosion of home improvement, it was the perfect time for Delgado Community College to offer a certificate program in horticulture technology. In 2001 the school hired Dr. Jerry Sisk from the LSU Agriculture Center to become its new program director. Before Dr. Sisk came on board, the school started offering a handful of horticulture classes in the 1970's, but Dr. Sisk was able to build a full program from a classroom and textbook setting to the hands-on training program it is today.
Dr. Jerry Sisk: "Founder" of the Horticulture Program
Outside the Horticulture Greenhouse
In order to provide students with the proper training to work in the green industry, the school built a garden learning center and purchased a greenhouse in 2003 with Carl Perkins funds. Young students who may have mowed lawns during the summers as well as older established professionals could now enroll in the program and learn landscaping design, irrigation, plant propagation and greenhouse management. Delgado also offered a standalone class for horticulture professionals who wanted to receive a state license in landscape horticulture.
Student & Jenny Wilson (Right), Lab Coordinator, Working in the Greenhouse
Student Watering Plants
 In 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and much of Delgado Community College needed to be rebuilt. The greenhouse made it through the storm relatively undamaged, but the garden learning centers were destroyed. Shortly after everyone returned to school, Dr. Sisk announced his retirement and turned to one of his former students, Bettie Abbate, to take over as program director. Abbate had recently graduated from LSU with a M.S. in Human Resource Education & Workforce Development with a Horticulture concentration in May 2005.
Greenhouse After Katrina

Greenhouse Today
 After Katrina the majority of students were taking online courses while the schools facilities were being repaired. It was at that time that Abbate decided to develop service learning around online courses as a way for students to participate in lab activities. One particular student went back to his elementary school and built a school garden with the children while others landscaped homes for Habitat for Humanity.
Garden Learning Center After Katrina
Garden Learning Center Today
 “The idea of giving back to the community is huge for goodwill and marketing,” Abbate said. “Word of mouth is how people market their business in horticulture. It’s very visual; when people see a really nice landscape they will stop and ask, ‘Who did your landscaping?’ So I like to use service learning as way for students to learn good business practices.”
Students at Habitat for Humanity
Students Working at Habitat for Humanity
 In a partnership with the LSU Agriculture center, 30 Delgado Horticulture students had the opportunity to help restore the coast after the BP oil spill. They took a trip out to the Louisiana barrier islands and planted plants in swats of bare sand for hurricane protection.
Students Helping to Restore Coastal Erosion
A Section of the Sand Levee That Needed Plants to Help Protect Against Hurricanes
Students also work at the school plant sale twice a year as a way for them to interact with the public, market plants and set prices. Many of the students in the program will go on to open their own business, so this type of training along with the program’s business management classes is very beneficial to a young entrepreneur.

“There are plenty of opportunities for businesses in horticulture,” said Abbate. “It’s a huge industry, particularly in this city. You can make as much money as you are willing to work. Some former students are making what engineers are making.”

The Delgado horticulture program is growing every year. According to Abbate, they usually have about 50 students a semester and they are always trying to improve the program by adding new classes and new technologies.

“I recently started teaching a new class called horticulture therapy. It’s totally different from anything else we have in the program. It shows students how horticulture can be therapeutic to people who have social, mental or physical disabilities. Studies have shown that if you put people in a typical rehab setting, they get frustrated, pain can overwhelm them, and once that happens, they don’t respond. But if you put them in a greenhouse or horticultural setting, they find it more peaceful and enjoyable and they are more likely to push through pain and move forward with their rehab.”

The school also recently purchased a software program where you can design a landscape and show a potential customer what the plants will look like five or 10 years into the future. Another computer program helps students to write estimates on maintenance of a lawn or landscape. “Students are coming in with laptops, where five or 10 years ago no one was doing that,” said Abbate.

Dr. Sisk planted the seed that Bettie Abbate cultivated into the horticulture program of today. He died shortly after retiring from the program and never had the chance to see how much it has grown. I am sure he’d have the same feeling as horticulture graduates would after just completing a beautiful landscaping job—standing there with arms folded, admiring their finished project and saying, “That turned out pretty good!”

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