Blue Ridge Community College is growing strong with its new Horticulture Program Faculty, Rachel Meriwether, a long-time plant enthusiast with an extensive background.
Originally from southern Louisiana, Meriwether attended the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as a resource biology and biodiversity major.
From a young age, she knew she wanted to work with plants in some form or another.
“Even as a child, I kept plant collections in my room,” she said. “Growing up in Louisiana, we have beautiful plants everywhere, so my room was always filled with bark, lichen, flowers, you name it.”
She then attended Auburn University to earn her master’s degree, where she focused on plant propagation and studied how various forms of horticulture can be used to help communities with little economic opportunity.
Following her graduation in 2009, she and her husband Phil McGlynn moved to North Carolina after discovering a mutual love of the area. She then got a job as the Farm Manager at Green River Preserve, a children’s outdoor adventure summer camp.
“My husband and I both got jobs initially at Green River and we loved it. We worked with so many cool programs, like one we made called K.A.L.E., or Kids Agricultural Learning Experience, which was a great way to get kids outdoors and learn where their food comes from!”
Meriwether started teaching as an adjunct horticulture instructor at Blue Ridge in 2014, and is elated to begin her new role as a faculty member.
In this role, she now has far more horticultural resources at her disposal, and said she’d love to start a more organized and clear job board for students to display available horticulture jobs in our area. She also hopes to foster relationships with local companies that can offer horticulture and sustainable resources to the community.
This semester, she will be teaching permaculture, fruit and vegetable production, nursery operations and plant propagation.
“I’m excited to be teaching these courses that range from aesthetics to sustainability and functionality.”
The College’s horticulture work-based learning program is also something Meriwether hopes to improve upon. She cited the hands-on nature of horticulture jobs as the perfect opportunity for students to get field experience.
She’s excited to continue renovating the College’s greenhouse as well, and said the greenhouse should be yet another beautiful addition to the campus, joining sites like the lake, arboretum and nature trail.
She said many students go into horticulture fields because they already have an interest in plants, but there is a common misconception that horticulture careers don’t pay enough.
“Jobs in horticulture – of all kinds – can offer you a steady income in a field you love and that you are passionate about. There are a lot of opportunities with an education in horticulture,” she said.
Experience in horticulture allows professionals to not only work outside on a regular basis, but also gives them the chance to start their own businesses, such as lawn maintenance or landscape installation.
In addition to its expansive horticulture programs, Blue Ridge’s new Brighter Future Scholarships, which offer free college for eligible students, are a significant benefit for students, Meriwether said.
She believes horticulture offers career prospects that are suitable for many different backgrounds, including people with very little spare time, numerous life expenses or who already have children of their own.
“How do you pay for college while juggling all those other responsibilities? These scholarships have attracted countless people who previously thought they couldn’t afford an education,” she added.
For students who are apprehensive about choosing horticulture as their major, Meriwether encourages everyone to consider the vast diversity of professions you can begin with a degree in horticulture. Not only that, you also learn about various other fields of study such as entomology, soil science, plant identification, even cultivation and care of your own home gardens.
In her spare time, Meriwether enjoys reading, gardening, cooking, kayaking and canoeing, hiking and hosting jam sessions with her musician husband’s band “Sycamore Flats.”
To learn more about Blue Ridge’s horticulture program, visit blueridge.edu/horticulture. You can contact Meriwether at (828) 694-1840 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.