Karen Litts teaching her gardening practices and techniques class on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (Photo by Adam Terro)

Agriculture and gardening aims to provide opportunities for students

The Mesa Community College sustainable agriculture and landscape horticulture department offers an associate degree in applied science, as well as multiple certificates of completion during the 2023-2024 academic year for students looking to pursue a career as a gardener, business owner in a wholesale or retail nursery, a florist, landscape design and construction operation, a landscape management company, and much more.

The program is located in the green house and land lab building, TC 51, along the southern border of the Southern and Dobson campus.

The Center for Urban Agriculture is also located along the southern border and includes organic teaching gardens, an organic urban farm, a teaching greenhouse and vertical farm.

The garden area consists of multiple rows where students are designated to have their plants grow.

The greenhouse is used for plant starting and hydroponics.

An area north of the greenhouse is used specifically for plants growing with fish and water and is known as the aquaponics system.

The plants on the tables outside the class and to the south of the big potting table are plants used for demonstration of propagating techniques.

Big potting tables are used for demonstrating propagating techniques, with potted plants being prepared to be sold at a plant sale in the future.

“With the horticulture program, you’re typically going into design where plants are going to go, anywhere from apartment buildings to big downtown buildings,” said laboratory technician and adjunct faculty at MCC Karen Litts. 

Other skills developed in the horticulture program include becoming a greenhouse manager, plant identification and propagation, as well as greenhouse construction according to Litts.

“With the agriculture, you’re doing more crop production, there’s a hydroponics course, an aquaponics course, a gardening course. That’s more in the field where you are going to either have a large scale or small scale farm,” said Litts.

The programs work together to teach students the techniques necessary to enter the agriculture industry. 

Karen Litts working with her students during a gardening practices and techniques class on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (Photo by Adam Terro)

Litts began her involvement in the department as a student, looking to start her own landscaping business. After taking every class available in both the sustainable agriculture and landscape horticulture programs, an opportunity to become a lab technician arose and Litts was eventually hired for the role.

A similar situation occurred when a teaching position opened up, and Litts saw it as a great opportunity to further her connection to the college and students looking to learn about the same things she found herself to be so passionate about. 

The Arboretum is a large project on campus that both programs assist in maintaining and growing.

“Once a month there is a volunteer [event], any student can come and volunteer and it helps with the Arboretum. We use those volunteers to help beautify the campus, plant trees, they’re gonna redo the labels on plants and trees. That’s one of the things where we work with the biology department,” said Litts. 

“Distinct from a forest, nursery or park, it is in a sense an outdoor museum of trees. It is a place where many varieties of trees and shrubs are grown for research, educational, and ornamental purposes,” according to the MCC website

Litts also serves as the advisor to the agriculture club, which is looking to pick back up activities after suspending them due to the pandemic.

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