The Future of Horticulture

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IMG_0540Recently, we held a contest for college horticulture students. The grand prize was a trip to Chicago to the IGC (Independent Garden Center) Trade Show. Not only did two students get to hangout with the GrowIt! guys in Chicago, but they also got to explore multiple facets of the horticulture industry and meet industry leaders!

When they left, we gave them one final assignment. We wanted to know how their trip went and what were some cool things they saw? Here’s their take:

Sarah Swofford – Recent Graduate of Texas A&M University
“I saw a lot of fantastic stuff at the show, but these were the five things that seemed to standout:

1.LiveTrends
LiveTrends displayed a selection of easy-to-care-for plants that were in ready to go, fashionable containers. They offered a modern spin on your average houseplant.

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2.VeggiePOPS!
This product was cute, colorful, and kid-friendly. They offered a fun way to connect kids with the garden. Everyone has a kid in their lives, even if it’s their inner child!

3.Bentley Seeds
Buy a packet of quality seeds and another seed packet will be donated to a U.S. nonprofit organization. It’s a beautiful thing when a company considers its impact on the lives of others. What an awesome way to share the love, seed by seed.

4.Plantaflor USA, Inc.
In a sea of air plants, Plantaflor stood out with its unique selections and quality products. Plantaflor’s booth drew people in with it’s earthy, clean, and refreshing look.

5.C-bite
Tinker-toys for gardeners! These clips can be used to create all sorts of staking devices – plus they are a ton of fun to play with!

Summary of the IGC Experience:
I’ve really got to give a HUGE thanks to the GrowIt! app. GrowIt! was going to be at the top of my list of cool things I saw at the show, but I thought that might be a bit biased. Thanks GrowIt!, this experience was incredible.
Walking into the IGC show on the first day it opened made me feel like a kid in a candy store. The first thing I noticed, before the whirling colors, the people, and the plants, the plants, the plants… was the enormity of this show – it was almost overwhelming. The size of the show made it crucial for exhibitor’s booths to stand out from the crowd with that fundamental ‘wow’ factor.
And there was a whole lot of wow factor, that’s for sure! I was privileged to experience the IGC show in its entirety and the speakers, the garden center tour, and the exhibitors were all excellent. Something else that resonated with me was that the green industry is different. I saw competitors smiling at each other, shaking hands and catching up – that was a surprise! As a horticultural student just breaking into the professional world this made me think how lucky I am to be a part of this industry. All I can say is, it must be the plants!”

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Brett Weiss – Student at Ferrum College
“The 2015 GrowIt! IGC Experience: an award that started as nothing more than a comment mentioned off-hand by a professor; that became an incredible opportunity. At the end of last semester of my junior year at Ferrum College my horticulture professor brought it up that GrowIt! had released another scholarship, this one where by getting family and friends to download GrowIt! and follow my account, Brettyyyboi, I could have the chance to interview to get flown out to Chicago for the Independent Garden Center Expo. I did not act right away, but I spent my summer as a Pest Management intern under the horticulture program at Walt Disney World in Florida which definitely helped me gain the followers I needed; I even made a flyer to help! It wasn’t just about getting people to follow my account, it was about spreading the miracle of an app that allows people to garden socially.

Long story short, I came in 1st place with the amount of followers and was selected as one of two winners for the grand prize. So less than 24 hours after checking out of my apartment in Orlando, I drove home and boarded the plane in Richmond to Chicago. I met my fellow winner Sarah Swofford in the Chicago airport where we then got picked up and chauffeured to Ball Horticultural Headquarters where we met with Seth Reed and Mason Day, Co-Founders of GrowIt! We got a tour of the garden and facilities, and then headed into the city to check into our hotel.

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The next day Sarah and I woke up bright and early to attend an all-day Garden Center Tour with many other people that were in town for the convention. It was awesome to be able to critique and discuss topics that normally no one else ever wants to talk with me about! On the tour we also stopped at Klehm Arboretum and Botanic garden which was superb. We got back that night and had the pleasure of enjoying real Chicago deep-dish pizza with Abby Kleckler, managing editor of Lawn & Garden Retailer and Greenhouse Product News magazines. By the time we returned to the hotel Monday night we were ready for the show to begin.

Tuesday morning Seth, Mason, Sarah and I walked to the Navy Pier Convention Center where the show was taking place. Sarah and I listened to the Keynote speaker and wow did he have an amazing tale. He preached how business is about telling a story, and asked all of us when our story began. Thinking back to the time in 7th grade when I half-heartedly agreed to go with my grandmother to a class at the Epcot Flower and Garden Show , I can recall how learning about the Bald Cypress being a deciduous evergreen tree completely enthralled me, and how to this day plant physiology is still my passion. Leaving the Keynote speaker we were so pumped and filled with passion for the field that we are all in and it was phenomenal. Sarah and I were both wearing GrowIt! shirts and so just a couple tables through the expo we had our brand pitch down to a science; so much so that she would start talking and pick up in the middle of my sentence!

I had never been to a convention of this magnitude before, and even though the size was daunting at first, the products and supplies being offered became a bit redundant. Being in this industry as a wholesaler must be tough having to deal with the competition. Every market has competition, but when eight booths in one aisle are all selling the same Fairy Garden statuaries, I can only imagine that it must be slightly difficult to claim your product as superior to the rest. That leads to my overall top 5 companies/displays of the IGC show.

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1. Key To Life™
This company which is based out of Denver Colorado is all about organic, sustainable, fertilizing options. With products such as micronutrient mixes to mycorrhizal fungi inoculant, this business’ views and styles stem from a belief that I fully support. According to their pamphlet: “Grow the way Mother Nature wants us to, with microbes and earthly elements.”

2. Sungro Horticulture®
Sungro had a much larger exhibit than a lot of the other booths, which right away hits you with distinction. Claiming popular brands such as BlackGold, Fafard, and Sunshine as their own backs the distinction up. On top of the quality the products represent, I spent quite some time talking with a representative about their patented RESiLIENCE™ Silicon Enriched potting mixes. They have the research to support the claims they make regarding the benefits, and obvious supports to back it up.

3. Wonder Soil®
These people take 3rd place simply because of how they presented their ingenious invention, and that it is innovative compared to the competition. Wonder Soil is composed of coconut coir fiber, worm castings, water saving polymers, mycorrhizal fungi, kelp and humate. With this mixture they claim that plants achieve twice the growth three days faster than when grown hydroponically, and that it is significantly lighter than traditional bagged soil. They gave us sample plugs to take with us, and had a wheelbarrow filled with their product to play in!

4. ecoscraps™
Here’s the issue: Americans throw away over 30 million tons of food waste a year. In America nearly 40% of food goes uneaten. Currently less than 5% of food waste is recycled. These are the statistics ecogrow are trying to combat. This company which recently came under the acquisition of Scotts Miracle-Gro, collects food scrap from large industrial companies and turns it into natural and organic potting mixes and plant food. The mission they are trying to accomplish is daunting, but that makes it all the more respectable.

5. Plantlink™
I had heard about this gadget online just a couple days before coming to the expo, so being able to talk with the creator about the process behind it was an amazing opportunity. The plantlink comes with a Basestation that up to 64 Links can connect with. Each Link can be placed into a pot and will report watering needs through an app on your phone. Though the technology and idea is not the maximum it could be, it sure is an impressive start!

Tuesday’s ending was about as phenomenal as the entire day. We attended a free concert where the Gin Blossoms performed and while I was at the front of the stage I got the lead singer to wear a GrowIt! sticker which he then put on his mic stand for the rest of the show. After the concert Sarah and I went on a Nighttime Architecture Boat Tour where the history of Chicago left me awe-struck.
Wednesday and Thursday were just as eventful of days, in a whirlwind of activities such as breakfast with Shawna Coronado author of Growing a Living Wall, dinner with CEO Anna Ball, a tour through Lurie Garden, and a stop in Millennium Park to see The Bean. By the time I left Thursday evening, it really was a sad goodbye. I had been immersed into a side of the industry I had yet to see before this trip, and it let me make so many wonderful connections that I hope for the future it was not a goodbye, but a see-you-later. “

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