The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown affected everyone involved at WSU. For the Horticulture Club, the immediate concern centered on having around $53,000 worth of plants growing in their greenhouses on campus. Their largest sale of the year, what was then called Mom’s Weekend, was cancelled.
“That would have bankrupted us if we hadn’t been prepared,” said Jaime Holden, the club’s co-advisor. “I’ve always told the students to be prepared for a crop failure and keep a safety net. I just didn’t know COVID would be the crop failure.”
Like many student-run clubs across the WSU system, the COVID-19 pandemic was a huge financial strain on the Horticulture Club. It staved off bankruptcy after Holden got an agriculture exemption to be on campus. He tended greenhouses, kept plants watered, and was able to hold sales in the spring of 2020 by appointment. Those sales kept the club solvent, reducing their losses from $53,000 to around $30,000.
The Horticulture Club has been a club without any students. Since the shutdown, Holden has done most of the planting, watering, and much of the sales by himself. In the Spring 2021 semester, Holden’s Hort 358 lab course, which met face to face, planted many projects for the spring sales. Co-advisor Carol Kawula and Ade Snider, from the Department of Horticulture, helped the club during the appointment sales. Thankfully for Holden, normalcy mostly returns for the Fall 2021 semester.
This fall, the club has students. The downside is, none of them are returning from the previous version.
“Everyone involved in the club from the spring of 2020 has graduated or moved on,” Holden said. “Many of our members are transfer students who aren’t here for four years, so we have pretty fast turnover in membership.”
To get back up to speed, this year the club’s officers aren’t elected. They were chosen after expressing interest in the club, including new President Cora Borgens.
The senior Landscape Nursery Management major was interested in the Horticulture Club since enrolling on the Pullman campus as a freshman. But she had other commitments and never made it to meetings.
“I’ve only been on the side of buying plants at Mom’s Weekend in Beasley (Coliseum),” Borgens said. “The Horticulture Club is pretty high-profile on campus because everybody knows about the various plant sales. We really want to keep the tradition going, even though we’re all going to be new this year.”
Selling plants again
The club’s first sale this year will be a planned succulent sale on Terrell Mall Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Borgens hopes to use the event as a recruiting tool for new members as well.
“We’ll talk to students who are interested and let them know about the fun we have and the benefits we provide,” she said.
Those benefits include scholarships earned by participation in club activities. The club uses income from sales to pay for pots, soil, seeds, and other expenses. They also save for a potential crop failure. After that, all remaining money goes to student members.
“We average between $12,000 to $15,000 per year that is spread out among the students in a normal year,” Holden said. “We keep track of the number of hours they volunteer and the money is distributed based on those hours.”
Another perk is free pizza, paid for by the club, at work parties where students can earn scholarship hours. From seeding to planting, transplanting, growing and selling, everything is done by the club.
“There’s a very real chance the club could have gone under during the past year,” said Holden, who has been the club’s advisor since 1999. “We teach the kids that the club is like a small business, so they learn more than just how to grow plants. But that is the main skill and there are always students who enjoy that process.”
The Horticulture Club dates back to the 1890s, so there’s a lot of tradition to keep alive. It was largely based on tree fruit for a long time, with greenhouse plants becoming more prominent in the early 1970s, Holden said.
Currently, the club’s main sales are a poinsettia sale in December, a flower sale before Valentine’s Day in February, and the spring plant sale that was traditionally held in Beasley. That location may stay different in 2022, based on the state of the pandemic, but the sales will happen.
“We have such loyal customers who were concerned about the sales and the club during the shutdown,” Holden said. “We sell high quality plants and help students. It’s a win-win all around.”
And now, a new batch of students gets to take over.
“I’m so excited to get started,” Borgen said. “We want anyone who may be interested in plants to come join us for a meeting. We’re going to keep the legacy going that all of our previous members would be proud of.”
Learn more about the Horticulture Club and how to join at their website.