Local Youths Learn About Horticultural Career Opportunities from Pi Alpha Xi

Pi Alpha Xi Faculty Advisor Ryan Contreras explains his ornamental plant breeding research to CSC Youth Garden members.

In the Tissue Culture Lab in the Agricultural and Life Sciences Building on OSU's campus, six members of the Community Service Consortium's Youth Garden program carefully inspect slices of plant matter that are being coaxed into plantlets in the lab's controlled environment. Brooke Getty, one of the tour's leaders, Pi Alpha Xi's volunteer coordinator, and a junior focusing on Ecological and Sustainable Horticultural Production, encourages the students to look more closely.

"There are so many interesting experiments going on in each of these Petri dishes and test tubes," she explained.

Community Service Consortium (CSC) serves Linn, Benton, and Lincoln Counties by educating and advocating for those in need in the Willamette Valley. The youths serving in the Youth Garden Program are responsible for caring for over 40 raised beds of herbs and vegetables without the use of herbicides or pesticides. They also sell what they grow and produce at local farmers markets, and donate the excess to the Linn Benton Food Share. Members of the the program are extremely interested in horticultural production and growing crops in a sustainable way.

Brooke Getty, along with horticulture graduate students Jason Lattier and Jimmy Klick, took the reigns on showing the youths the numbers of career options open to those interested in horticulture. As members of Pi Alpha Xi (PAX), the national honor society for horticulture, the OSU students are trying to make the community aware of what's going on in horticulture at Oregon State. Ryan Contreras, assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture and ornamental plant breeder, is the faculty advisor for PAX. He also presented a brief presentation to the CSC members on the importance of ornamental plant breeding to Oregon's economy, and its prospect as a career.

"Nursery plants are Oregon's top agricultural crop," Contreras said. "And every homeowner is looking for a beautiful plant that flowers 52 weeks a year, requires no water, and won't spread to other parts of a garden. There's a lot of demand in the ornamental plant world."

The youths visited the ARS-USDA Hops Yard on Electric Road in Corvallis, as well as the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture near campus, where they explored the Center's organic garden. On campus, the youths were shown some of Contreras's research in the Ornamental Greenhouse, and they explored the science side of horticulture in the Cytology Lab and Tissue Culture Lab.

"We're trying to spark an interest in youths planning to enroll in college in the near future, " explained Getty. "There are lots of career options out there for people fascinated by plants."