Ag Pride 2022: Ag Proud from Roots to Leafy Greens
What began simply as an elective for college applications has literally and figuratively blossomed into a completely new career path for Eden Mayer of Oak Creek, Colorado.
She’s what most of her peers refer to as a townie, but Eden Mayer’s legacy at SoRoCo High School will last more than a lifetime. With no intentions of pursuing a career in the industry when Mayer first signed up for agriculture classes as a freshman, now she couldn’t imagine working in anything else.
“My ag teacher likes to say he took me as a ball of clay as a freshman and shaped me into an agriculturalist,” Mayer said. “It’s crazy to think about. Now as a senior, I’m looking at the rest of my life and I know I’m going to be pursuing something related to horticulture or floriculture. I joined FFA and my career path has changed because of it.”
Jay Whaley has molded more than just Mayer during his 25 years leading the SoRoCo FFA. He’s developed a well-rounded program that invites students from all walks of life to dive into agriculture.
Mayer isn’t unique for the fact that she doesn’t have a background in agriculture. Her story is different because of the opportunities she’s sought out in the last four years.
The greenhouse was Mayer’s SAE project as a freshman, but by the next year she was managing all aspects of it. Essentially, Mayer took over managing the greenhouse from Whaley and now it wouldn’t bloom every spring without her.
“I organize, manage, run and operate everything,” she explained. “I start ordering perennials and annuals in the fall and they arrive in February. Until then, I communicate with everyone I have contracts with so I make sure they get everything they need in the spring.”
All the hanging flowers in the town of Oak Creek come from Mayer’s greenhouse. She also started ordering plants for The Foundry Treatment Center and other local businesses.
As the teacher’s assistant for the horticulture class, Mayer has students at her disposal to help with the transplanting in February. That was her first introduction to horticulture just a few years ago and evidently it was a pivotal moment in her life.
“When plants arrive, I take the class into the greenhouse and we transplant everything,” Mayer said. “Then we fertilize so everything will be in full and blooming when people come to buy from the greenhouse in May. Our goal is that our customers will get to enjoy their plants and all the colors from May until August or September when it starts to frost.”
Blue Jacket Map
When Mayer began her FFA career, she was taught by Reece Melton. He was student teaching alongside Whaley.
“It’s cool that I was able to teach Eden as a freshman and now I come back and she’s a plant expert,” Melton said. “I admire her a lot because she didn’t grow up on a ranch, she grew up in the suburbs just like me, but she fully immersed herself and now she’s teaching me everything about the greenhouse so I can take it over when she graduates.”
Even though students typically lead the charge in FFA programs across the country, it’s the advisors opening doors and fueling the fire from behind the scenes that keep it all moving forward.
“Jay has helped me exponentially by giving me every opportunity out there and handing me all that I needed to run and organize the greenhouse,” Mayer said.
Although Melton is teaching Mayer again, he’s mainly been helping her explore what comes after graduation. Mayer’s accumulated more than 50 concurrent credits and is more than qualified to attain a degree in horticulture, but Melton is also showing her some other options.
“My number one goal has been trying to find an opportunity for Eden to go work in the industry that might lead to a work study or a company paying for her degree,” Melton said. “She’s incredibly studious and has such a passion for horticulture. People don’t think an 18-year-old is going to have enough experience right out of high school to run a nursery, but there’s no doubt in my mind that she does.”
Her experience managing the school greenhouse helped Mayer land a job as a gardener at The Foundry Treatment Center in Steamboat Springs. If Mayer hadn’t acquired so much experience with the greenhouse, she probably wouldn’t have gotten the job.
“As the summer progressed into fall, I realized I wanted to continue working there through the school year,” Mayer said.
Twice a week Mayer leaves school and is at The Foundry, engaging in horticulture therapy.
“Gardening is therapeutic, it’s soft and gentle and we try to channel that into healing and rehabilitation for these guys in addiction therapy,” Mayer said.
The horticulture therapy at The Foundry is organized and run by Kimberly Brooks and Mayer is her assistant. The program is a bit easier to execute during the summer months, but after receiving a grant to build a greenhouse, horticulture therapy will be in full force all year round.
“The program’s very unique to the treatment center in Steamboat. It’s genuinely one of a kind,” Mayer said. “I had never heard of it before, but after participating in it and seeing how relaxed and at ease the guys are after an hour of garden therapy every Monday, it’s incredible.”
There’s nothing more natural than getting your hands covered in dirt. Thanks to her time with the SoRoCo FFA, Mayer intends to do exactly that for the rest of her life as she pursues horticulture therapy as a career. Mayer wants to thank her community for all the support, both her ag teachers – Whaley and Melton – and Kimberly Brooks for giving her the tools to pursue and explore what she loves.