The Charleston Parks Conservancy will recruit and train a new crop of horticulture professionals with an emphasis on people who are not often seen in top jobs at parks, gardens and public spaces in South Carolina. | Photo by Chelsea Grinstead

The Charleston Parks Conservancy will recruit and train a new crop of horticulture professionals with an emphasis on people who are not often seen in top jobs at parks, gardens and public spaces in South Carolina.

The Conservancy has started a $2.5 million effort to fund the first five years of a Community Horticulture Fellowship Program. Six fellows will be selected annually for professional development, on-the-job training and eventually management-track positions.

The program’s selection committee will look for fellows from South Carolina colleges and universities with an emphasis on recent graduates from technical colleges and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Fellowship program manager Shanice Chesney, a Brooklyn native with an interest in urban farming, said the effort is “an opportunity for Black and Latinx individuals to be the people designing and dictating what their community looks like.”

Brooklyn native Shanice Chesney is the fellowship program manager for The Charleston Parks Conservancy

“Imagine the possibilities,” she said. “The potential beauty of a garden, landscape and parks, if the people who were actual representations of the community were the decision makers and not onlookers.” (charlestonparksconservancy.org)

The first class of fellows will be announced in December. In South Carolina, a mid-level landscaper should be able to earn about $23 per hour, or $47,660 per year, according to CareerExplore.com.

A Horticulture Fellows Impact Fund has been created in response to an anonymous challenge grant for $100,000. The campaign to raise $100,000 will be open from June 22 to Aug. 31. Bank of America will donate $150,000 over three years.

“As an organization dedicated to protecting and improving public spaces, we know the power of parks and the role they play in our community,” said Tom McGuire, the Conservancy’s executive director. “We have always understood the vital importance of biodiversity in our gardens and parks and have intentionally worked to nurture it.

“We’ve been less successful at recognizing and nurturing the vibrant diversity in our community, organization and industry,” he added. “It’s time to change that. The Community Horticulture Fellowship Program allows us to do more.”

Mark Munn, president of the Bank of America in Charleston and Hilton Head Island, said the bank’s partnership with the Conservancy could “provide increased representation and access to opportunities for individuals from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

“Bank of America remains committed to helping drive progress here in the Lowcountry, where protecting our natural coastal resources underpins the viability of our local economy, from tourism to trade,” he said.

During the year-long fellowship, participants will engage in skills training, leadership and professional development courses in the parks and program partners. Each fellow will complete a project to refine their horticultural knowledge and skills.

Chesney said she hopes the fellowships can shine a positive light on horticulture as a viable career where practitioners get to “play in the dirt” while working with plants. “There are countless ways you can make horticulture your own, from working with pollinators, native plants conservation, horticulture therapy, plant pathology, landscape architecture, botanical gardens, urban farming and plant curation,” she said.

Dr. Oliver Freeman, a regional agent with South Carolina State University (SCSU) in Orangeburg, said the university hopes to “partner with the Conservancy to help restore its parks in addition to promoting educational programming on community and urban gardens to bring even more awareness to the Charleston area on the importance of horticulture and its role in our food systems.”

S.C. State is one of 19 HBCUs created under the Second Morrill Act of 1890 that supports research, extension and teaching in the food and agricultural sciences. Freeman is an agent with SCSU’s 1890 program. The university has a regional educational center in Charleston.

Abra Lee, an Atlanta-based storyteller, writer and horticulturist, said the Black horticultural history in Charleston is unmatched in the South. As the former landscape manager at the Atlanta and Houston airports, Lee owns a garden consultant company, Conquer the Soil, and she taught a graduate-level course on the history of Black gardeners at Auburn University.

“I am excited to hear about this program in Charleston,” she said. “The South needs it. We have a rich cultural and horticultural heritage, especially in the Black community,” she said. “Black people have a historic legacy of leading in this discipline, and now we are returning to our roots. This is the time to build that next generation of leaders and there is no better place to do this important work than in Charleston.”

NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the number of people involved in horticulture and landscaping in South Carolina and overstated the potential average salary. We apologize for the error.


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