Kate Simpson, horticulture student, portrait

Kate Simpson “grows” awareness of horticulture program at Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge sophomore Kate Simpson is a Small Fruit Specialist who is using her knowledge of horticulture – as well as her own green thumb – to spread public awareness of the field while also growing her own knowledge of the discipline.

The 19-year-old is a Hendersonville native who will graduate from Blue Ridge in December.

“The difference between a horticulturalist and agriculturalist is that a horticulturalist is more focused on the quality of the plants and their sustainability, while an agriculturalist is more focused on production,” she said.

As a Small Fruit Specialist, Simpson is looking forward to helping the environment by learning new, sustainable practices for growing plants.

In addition to her field, she said there are countless other roles available in horticulture to suit a variety of interests. One such role is a Turf Grass Specialist, who would work with producing premium sod.

“Edible landscapes are really cool too,” Simpson added.

She explained how Blue Ridge’s horticulture program has taught her practical alternatives to common problems in relation to plants. For example, service berry trees produce flowers similar in appearance to Bradford Pears, while also providing a delicious, edible berry without the trademark fragility of Bradford Pears.

While her green thumb is evident, Simpson initially wanted to enter the medical field prior to starting college due to the promise of a dependable job; however, after serving in her school’s Future Farmers of America chapter and meeting with Blue Ridge horticulture instructor Carolyn Evans, Simpson changed her major to horticulture.

Growing plants is just one of several jobs a person can have in horticulture, which includes everything from cooking and teaching to producing disease-resistant plants.

At Blue Ridge, Simpson was under the tutelage of Evans, who helped explain the field to Simpson while also encouraging sustainable practices in her work.

Evans stressed to her students that first jobs following graduation are not simply grunt work, but can be rewarding, lucrative occupations leading to lifelong careers.

“People don’t really understand that horticulture isn’t just planting landscapes, it’s also working with crops you can’t produce en masse like squash,” Simpson said. “If you care about good quality foods, like organic practices and having nutrients in our foods, you should be pro-horticulture!”

Due to a lack of horticulture programs in the area, Simpson believes Blue Ridge is a prime destination for aspiring horticulture majors.

Also, while fields like healthcare are certainly offering jobs, Simpson said they may not offer the same level of job security as horticulture due to its higher exclusivity.

Related programs like hydroponics are also growing in popularity as scientists find soil depleted more each year.

“If you want a job that is moving forward scientifically, but also has plenty of opportunity, I’d say horticulture would be a good fit for you,” she said.

Following her graduation, Simpson plans to pursue a personal ministry in the Dominican Republic. While she’s not planning to start her career in horticulture just yet, she does plan to use the lessons her major has taught her to spread awareness of sustainability throughout her life.

When she returns to the U.S., she hopes to look for a job in any sort of research-based horticulture field, since she finds them all rewarding.

Simpson encourages anyone interested in science, the environment or general research to consider choosing horticulture as a major.

“Not only do you get a rewarding career, but you get to work in nature all the time! Plus there are plenty of white collar careers in addition to the blue collar ones,” she said. “Plants are just cool!”

Anyone interested in horticulture opportunities at Blue Ridge can contact Laura Baylor at lbaylor@blueridge.edu.