Urban Kid Finds Calling, Career Path in World of Agriculture

Josh Henry stands in the middle of the poinsettia crop he helped to grow last year at Ohio State ATI.
  • Ohio State student's story shows the reach of College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences programs across rural and urban Ohio.
WOOSTER, Ohio -- How does an urban kid with no background in agriculture discover a love for plants and a professional interest in horticulture? For Cleveland native Josh Henry, it started with a gardening class in elementary school.

A greenhouse and nursery management major at Ohio State University's Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI), Henry was a fourth-grader at Benjamin Franklin Elementary in Cleveland's Old Brooklyn neighborhood when he attended a gardening course offered by the Cuyahoga County Master Gardener Volunteer program.

The Master Gardener program is run by Ohio State University Extension, which along with Ohio State ATI is part of the university's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Learning about plants in fourth grade was a defining moment for Henry, so much so that he has been involved with the classes and the gardens at Benjamin Franklin ever since. He has helped kids look at plant parts under microscopes, taught them how to identify vegetables, assisted them with planting and harvesting vegetables, and talked to them about his history with the Master Gardeners and with horticulture.

"Since my interest in horticulture came from when I took that class, it is very important to me to think that I might get another child interested in the field," Henry said. "Even if only one student becomes interested, I still count my involvement as a victory."

Henry's interest in gardening and plants in general led him to Ohio State ATI, an associate-degree-granting unit of the university. ATI is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. among two-year institutions in the awarding of degrees in agriculture.

At ATI, Henry has left his mark since arriving in 2011. He has been president of the Landscape Club, vice president of the Greenhouse Club and treasurer of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He's also a student member of the Ohio Landscape Association, the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association, the Perennial Plant Association and the Ohio Floriculture Association.

Additionally, Henry has attended the past two Professional Landcare Network Student Career Days competitions at Kansas State University and Auburn University. In 2012, he was elected Ohio State ATI's homecoming king.

"I have been impressed with Josh's dedication to his studies and to his greenhouse tasks," said Robert McMahon, associate professor and coordinator of the greenhouse program at ATI. "He learns quickly and applies what he has learned from previous courses and life experiences to his present tasks."

McMahon said Henry is a role model for his peers and has provided leadership in his courses with group projects and lab activities.

"I have no doubt that Josh will be a huge success in the greenhouse industry due to his professional attitude, his passion to learn and how he has used his educational experience to his maximum benefit," McMahon said. "It has been an honor and a pleasure to be his instructor."

In addition to his academic work at ATI and extracurricular activities, Henry is also active in research projects at the university's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (also part of CFAES), whose campus is next door to ATI’s. For instance, he has been an assistant in a hydroponic lettuce project led by Robert Hansen, a research scientist with OARDC's Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

"Josh quickly learned to operate the technologically advanced systems that I use in my research, while understanding the importance of monitoring and measuring a number of operational parameters," Hansen said. "He has also measured final results and assisted with statistical analyses."

Henry will graduate in May from ATI and plans to transfer to Ohio State's Columbus campus to complete a bachelor's degree in sustainable plant systems, with a specialization in horticulture.

"After that, I would really like to continue on to graduate school, and would love to pursue a career in research, especially of vegetable crops," Henry said. "I've really loved my experience doing research at OARDC, and I have always been especially interested in vegetables."

You just never know what kind of impact an elementary school gardening class can have on a student, whether he is from the country or the city.


CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Robert McMahon

Josh Henry