Helping Horticulture Find its Niche

NICH leaders and advisors met at the Denver Botanic Gardens in June 2016 for the 2nd NICH strategic planning retreat.

From left to right, back row: Cyndi Haynes (Iowa State University), Shannon Spurlock (Denver Urban Gardens), Lucy Bradley (NC State University), Susan Mahr (University of Wisconsin), Tom Underwood (American Horticultural Society), Casey Sclar (American Public Gardens Association).

Front row: Rusty Collins (Colorado State University), Ellen Bauske (University of Georgia), Jessica Romer (Denver Urban Gardens), Dave Close (Virginia Tech), Tom Bewick (USDA-NIFA), Gail Langellotto (Oregon State University) and Suzi McCoy (Garden Media Group).

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Digger, published by the Oregon Association of Nurseries, and is available in its original format as a PDF.

Additional reprinting is permitted so long as credit is given to all the authors and the above statement is included.


The National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH; pronounced “nitch”) is a movement whose intention is to provide a unified voice to promote the benefits and value of horticulture to policy makers, decision makers and the general public. NICH brings together academic sectors, government, private industry and nonprofits with an interest in consumer horticulture.

NICH’s mission is to “grow a healthy world through plants, gardens and landscapes.” In short, NICH seeks to cultivate a passion and appreciation for plants, while increasing a universal demand for gardening.

NICH aims to echo and capitalize on the success of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance. This alliance — a national coalition of more than 120 organizations representing growers of fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, nursery plants and other products — was organized in advance of the 2007 Farm Bill to ensure that Congress heard the message, loud and clear, that specialty crops were important and that federal funds were needed for research and extension in specialty crops.

Representation came from across the specialty crop sector and included United Fresh Produce Association, AmericanHort, U.S. Apple Association and many others. As a result of the alliance’s efforts, the 2007 Farm Bill allotted $230 million (later raised to $320 million) for specialty crops.

The alliance continues to have a huge impact on the production of commodities such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, nursery crops and floriculture. While the alliance benefits horticulture production, NICH represents the end-use side of horticulture, ultimately serving the general public (consumers).

Since its inception, NICH has aligned dozens of organizations, crafted a mission and vision statement, and developed a working set of core values, goals and associated objectives. NICH’s vision is to “use stakeholder partnerships to increase the percentage of U.S. households participating in consumer horticulture to 90 percent by 2025.” Three goals were crafted to address the potential benefits consumer horticulture will have on community, economic and environmental systems. Specific objectives were also developed to guide work on each goal (Table 1).

Our organizational structure (Table 2) allows us to recruit nationally known leaders including researchers, extension agents, master gardeners, nonprofit directors, growers, retailers and industry providers. Three goal committees (Community, Economic and Environmental) interact with three advisory councils representing different consumer horticulture sectors. The goal committees prioritize and plan work to fulfill the initiative’s mission.

The councils (Land Grant, Commercial and Non-Profit) each provide industry- and sector-specific input and guidance. The Executive Committee manages the general business of the organization and ensures equality and open communication to all stakeholders, sup- ported by marketing expertise.

Tom Bewick from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture serves as an external advisor.

How will NICH benefit the retail garden and nursery industry?

NICH aims to grow a culture where plants are considered a necessity rather than a luxury. Envision a society where people of all ages garden or engage with plants for their well-being every day of the year. More gardeners and consumers of garden-related goods and services will mean an increased demand and sales for plants and related products.

By developing a cohesive voice, NICH will position consumer horticulture to be more successful in leveraging public fund- ing from USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative and other sources, thereby grow- ing the entire industry. NICH will conduct comprehensive industry-wide research; implement prioritized research objectives; document economic impacts; and articulate the social and environmental benefits of consumer horticulture.

NICH seeks to build a strong case for continued support that will benefit university research and extension personnel, as well as school gardens and community green spaces.

Ultimately, NICH aims to raise the profile of consumer horticulture and esteem for those who work in the trade including landscapers, growers and suppliers to the industry.


There are many ways, big and small, that members of the nursery industry can become involved with NICH.

First and foremost is to join the organization. If you are unable to commit to more active efforts, you could be involved by monitoring future growth and successes via the listerv, or you could recommend someone who should be involved in an industry grant review panel.

Other opportunities include helping spread the word about NICH, offering your expert advice, or getting involved with a group of like-minded passionate leaders with a committee or council that suits your time and talent. All have major impacts on the effort.

To join NICH or learn more about the initiative, visit for more information.

Gail Langellotto is an associate professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University. Contact her at

D. Casey Sclar is executive director of the American Public Gardens Association. Contact him at

Ellen Bauske is a public service senior at the Center for Urban Agriculture, University of Georgia. Contact her at

Tom Underwood is executive director of the American Horticultural Society. Contact him at

Susan McCoy is the owner of Garden Media Group. Contact her at

Tom Bewick is national program leader in the Division of Plant Systems-Production at the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Contact him at