After spending more than 30 years teaching students about the green industry, Martha Hill is calling it a day. But the chair of the Landscape Management Department at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi, and 2014 Lawn & Landscape Leadership Award winner says she won’t be leaving the industry completely.

After starting Hinds’ program from scratch in 1986 and spending countless hours helping students and promoting the industry as a career to them, Hill will take some down time. Then she’ll look for part-time work in the industry and stay active with the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP).

Photo courtesy of Martha Hill

“I’m not going be sitting on a beach,” Hill says. “I’m going to take about a year off. My mother is 95. I need to spend some time with her. I have four nieces and nephews getting married next year and three of them are in the same family, so my brother and his wife are pulling their hair out.”

L&L caught up with Hill to find out why she is moving on from education, what lessons she’s learned and her thoughts on the state of horticulture programs.

Lawn & Landscape: Why did you decide to retire now?

Martha Hill: I know that there is a lot of opportunity in this state for training our industry. I’ve had quite a few of my colleagues and former students who own companies – they would be interested in hiring me to do training in their business.

I think that would be a great opportunity because I stay in the loop with education.

Also, I’m looking forward to working with NALP’s accreditation teams – visiting teams that go and visit with schools when they want to be accredited.

There are site teams that go into colleges and review curriculum and meet with administrators and advisory committees and faculty and students.

I’m looking forward to doing that with NALP because I’ve been through accreditation a few times myself.

I know what is involved in it and I assisted with rewriting the accreditation guidelines for NALP along with Randey Wall and a committee. I still believe in that. I’m still fired up about the landscape industry, not only in Mississippi, but nationally.

One of Martha Hill’s goals as an educator was to show students that landscaping could be a career and not just a job.
Photos courtesy of Hinds Community College

We’re at such a critical point with a lot of educational programs to grow them, but to also provide what the industry needs as far as employees, so the need is out there. Our phones are ringing off the wall with job opportunities.

L&L: What’s been your favorite memory from your career?

MH: I’ve always said when you have a student that comes in your program that really doesn’t understand what the industry is about and what the potential is, and when they go to conventions and seminars and they start learning what the industry is about and the light bulb comes on.

It’s so rewarding. You’ve made an impact on a student when that happens.

We hosted our first reunion of our graduates and former students this past February and that was a phenomenal event.

Those former students got up at our dinner and talked about the impact that this program has had on them from taking them to places they never would’ve dreamed of going like to the (National Collegiate Landscape Competition) or the GIE+EXPO. There was a 65-year-old man who got up at the dinner, an African-American man, and he talked about how he grew up on the plantation and he never dreamed he would get a college education, but again, he never dreamed that he would get to go to Washington, D.C., and stand in front of the White House.

Apparently when we were in the (NCLC) competition one year, we toured D.C. and he got to do that and that just blew his mind. Never in a million years did he dream that he would do that.

L&L: What have you learned from your students?

MH: Sometimes you have to sit back and realize you don’t know what happens to that person sitting in your classroom right before they walked into your classroom.

They have lives beyond the classroom and educators sometimes have a hard time remembering that.

But through counseling students through all kinds of issues from marriage problems to work problems to employee problems, financial problems, even abuse and drug and alcohol abuse, you never know what someone goes through before they walk in your classroom.

That’s one lesson that I learned early on and to be flexible and to be supportive of those people because sometimes they may not have the support anywhere else.

L&L: What would you have changed or done differently in your career?

MH: I don’t know that I could’ve personally done this. I mean we tried, but I wish we could’ve had more options in our department for students like horticulture, golf and sports turf management.

We didn’t pursue those when we probably should have and we missed the boat. Not that it’s not too late to bring them on now, but I wish we had done that years ago.

“... You never know what someone goes through before they walk in your classroom.” — Martha Hill, Hinds Community College

L&L: What would you say about the state of horticulture programs in 2017?

MH: I think it is very bright. I think that we have an opportunity ahead of us to grow the industry.

The sky is the limit still and with some concerted efforts from our professional organizations that I’m seeing, I think we’ve got a lot of potential to grow the industry and find those niches that we can get students funneled to our programs in education and ultimately to our company.

Not everybody is cut out to be in college or go to school and there’s still a place for them in the landscape industry. That’s one thing if I had stayed here, and I hope that Mississippi will do this, we need to develop a vocational program, a career certificate program for the non-high school graduates to come in and just get some basic knowledge and some life skills and get them out to work.

That could be a one semester 15-hour program where they can maybe even work with an internship or an apprenticeship program.

I think that would be a plus to the educational side and then a plus for the companies that hire those folks as well. I think we’re past the lowest point of that downturn. I think we’re coming back. Just in looking at the number of people who have inquired about our program ... and we ask them their top three majors.

When I get that report, my numbers are going up on that report every month, so that’s a good sign.

I think that the industry finally stepped up to the plate and we’re seeing some changes and some focus finally be put on our industry that are going to help us in education.

Social media the right way

Two industry contractors give some tips on how to use the communication tool to attract employees and clients. By Brian Horn

Timothee Sallin was sitting at home one night watching TV and working on his Chromebook when a message popped up via his Facebook Messenger. The message said “Hola.” One of his Hispanic workers found him on Facebook and shot him a message.

That one message opened a whole new way for the president of CherryLake, a landscaping company and nursery based in Groveland, Florida, to communicate with his H-2B workers in the offseason. “We don’t issue email addresses to them, but they are all on Facebook,” Sallin says. “They are active on it.”

Sallin and Rick Orr, owner of APL Lawn Spraying in Tampa, were part of a panel discussion on social media at the annual meeting for the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association.

They were joined by Brandon Richey, superintendent at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando and Matt Bruderek Orlando City FC head groundskeeper. Orr, who also operates, says he jumped into the social media world to help the public with lawn care questions they had.

He approaches social media and the website in a similar way to advice he once received: if you want to make money off the internet, then give away something for free.

“The one thing I could give away was information,” he says. After people read the articles on his website, “The phone calls that came in weren’t ‘how much do you charge?’ It was, ‘I read your website. When can you start spraying my lawn?’ It served as a great customer filter.”

Not only have Sallin and his marketing team used social media to develop relationships with his workers, but they’ve also used it to promote the professionalism of the company.

He wants potential employees to look at his company as more than a landscaping company, so they post photos of strategic meetings and standing desks to showcase that.

“The phone calls that came in weren’t ‘how much do you charge?’ It was, ‘I read your website, when can you start spraying my lawn?’” — Rick Orr, APL Lawn Spraying

“That’s made a huge difference,” he says. “We have completely changed the profile of the people that come and apply for a job. It’s huge.”

While Sallin has a marketing team to help him manage social media, Orr is on his own, and that means it’s up to him to deal with those who attack him. He’s gotten criticism from people who want to remove lawns and replace them with places to grow food.

But Orr must remember that the way he responds to these critics will be seen by everyone. It also sums up the way he approaches all communication online.

“It’s social media. Have conversations with people,” he says. “No name calling. Be respectful.”