Floriculture not just for the gardener at Westmoreland County Community College

Class in flowers works for everyone

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For many college students, classes comprise papers, exams and a grade.

But for students in Xuri Zhang's floriculture class at the main campus of Westmoreland County Community College in Hempfield, an additional result is cold, hard cash.

That's part of the curriculum, according to Mr. Zhang, because "the class is to train students to run greenhouses." To that end, it's sponsoring its annual sale of the flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables that class participants grew during the school term. The plants will be for sale from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today at the campus greenhouse behind Science Hall.

While it may initially appeal to people with green thumbs, the class is as much about management as it is about growing things.

"Within the class they are economists," said Mr. Zhang, who holds a doctorate in horticulture from Penn State University and has taught at Chatham University.

At the beginning of a term, generally a dozen students -- "our classes are typically small, and that's nice" -- are given a bit of space in the campus greenhouse to learn how to grow plants using seeds, bulbs and cuttings. Most live in the county, but a few travel from Pittsburgh, Mr. Zhang said. "The selling part is the finishing project. The proceeds ... go to horticulture scholarships and class activities, field trips and things of that nature."

That's not all that happens, however.

In the summer, the college offers a pruning class and installation classes, in which the homeowner buys the materials and students do the work -- including installing retaining walls -- for credit.

"We run it like a business," Mr. Zhang said.

He noted that the horticulture program at the Westmoreland County college also includes concentrations in landscape design and turf grass management -- the latter of which would lend itself to the maintenance of golf courses and athletic fields. The classes tend to attract older, nontraditional students with a zest for learning, he said.

"Our students have been very successful," Mr. Zhang said. "They become business owners and golf course superintendents. We have more jobs available in the field than we can fill. These jobs cannot be outsourced in any way."

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Rick Nowlin: rnowlin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3871.


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