FNGLA and UF/IFAS are better problem solvers when we can bring together people who look at a problem from different angles.
At UF/IFAS we have a built-in variety of scientific perspectives with 14 academic departments—soil scientists talking to environmental horticulturalists, plant pathologists talking to entomologists, and so on.
We also seek to bring in people from different backgrounds. Diversity of people fosters diversity of thought. We need that to address complex challenges.
At the FNGLA Annual Convention in June, I was reminded diversity can come in many different forms. What really drove it home to me was to see your organization is currently being led by people who don’t grow plants.
Sarah Spatola, whose family business manufactures fertilizers, root zone moisture management materials, biostimulants, and the like, handed the president’s gavel over to Eric Smith, national sales manager for a company which manufactures organic crop protection and water treatment products.
The leadership which comes out of FNGLA's Allied Division also demonstrates the wide range of businesses the green industry supports. Faculty in our Department of Food and Resources Economics, which has documented the economic impact of the green industry, might say Sarah and Eric are walking examples of the multiplier effect.
Businesses which grow plants are not just sellers. They buy—chemicals, greenhouses, and irrigation equipment, for example. That supports businesses and jobs far beyond the greenhouse. The companies which sell to plant growers populated the Biz Zone at the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek during FNGLA's Convention.
I couldn’t agree with Sarah more when she says diversity among leadership helps assure various viewpoints get expressed in decision-making. Eric says that reflects the myriad aspects of the industry. A plant grows with the help of crop insurers, health insurance providers, credit card processors, and payroll services.
Even within Allied, there are different FNGLA paths. Eric brings experience as a present or former member of three FNGLA Chapters. As a former employee of Ed Bravo, Eric was steeped in chapter activism through the Frontrunners before he left Ed’s Big Trees Plantation. He now leads his own team at BioSafe Systems. Spatola did state-level FNGLA committee work in between duties as director of marketing for Ecologel.
This big-tent approach is not new. After all, it was 18 years ago the “L” was added to what had been FNGA. Next year, an L guy, Phil Buck, is in line to become your president, and yet another L guy, Phillip Hisey, is in line after Phil.
But I would argue it’s more important than ever because the problems we face today are more complex than ever. No one person can solve them. By inviting to the table people who think differently— Allied, Woody and Garden Center, Agricultural & Biological Engineering and Agronomy—we’re more likely to harness the wisdom of crowds than to fall into the trap of groupthink.
Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).