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2023 Paul Thomas Floriculture Production Intern of the Year Announced

2023 Paul Thomas Floriculture Production Intern of the Year Announced

2023 Paul Thomas Floriculture Production Intern of the Year Awards
Recognizing Talent and Passion from Across the Nation

Each year through the Vic & Margaret Ball Internship Program, AFE has the opportunity to match promising future horticulturists with top production greenhouses across the nation. These students get to see first-hand what it’s like to work at top floriculture facilities, train under industry experts, and gain insight into their future career paths. Each intern is hand-picked and placed based on their wide range of experiences, perspectives, and unique studies. Students who successfully finish their internship, including completing a written report and multiple video blogs, are eligible for our Paul Thomas Floriculture Production Intern of the Year Award

Last year, one intern stood out from the rest for her limitless passion, drive, and curiosity in horticulture, which she exemplified in her internship. We are excited to announce that Emily Larsen of the University of Wisconsin – River Falls is our 2023 Paul Thomas Intern of the Year!

“In choosing the Intern of the Year, our committee deemed it necessary to recognize two other interns who shone exceptionally bright in their internships and demonstrated the key characteristics of the Paul Thomas Award—Hannah Kramer and Zach Rosenkrans,” AFE Vic and Margaret Ball Chairman, Dwight Larimer, AAF, PFCI, said. “We are happy to announce Hannah and Zach as Honorable Mentions for our Paul Thomas Award”

About the Paul Thomas Floriculture Production Intern of the Year Award

This annual award pays tribute to the late Dr. Paul Thomas, a retired University of Georgia Professor, a passionate supporter of student programs, and an advocate of AFE’s Vic & Margaret Ball Internship Program. Recipients of this award truly embody the passion Dr. Thomas displayed for student programs and keep his spirit alive by pursuing industry opportunities. 

This award provides recipients with paid hotel and airfare to Cultivate Conference, free registration to Cultivate, $500 cash, networking and a photo op with AFE representatives and Faculty members (if present) at Cultivate, and a feature article in AFE publications.

Emily Larsen, Paul Thomas Floriculture Production Intern of the Year
University of Wisconsin – River Falls
3-Month Internship at Altman Plants

Emily’s favorite thing about being in the horticulture field is that there’s never a dull moment – and there’s always something new to learn.

“Whether it’s making a prettier petunia, decreasing world hunger through grafting techniques, or studying bioremediation with sunflowers, horticulture spans a wide and diverse range of subjects and specialties.”

Emily’s passion for horticulture shines bright through her continuous involvement and experiences in the industry. As Leader of her high school FFA Floriculture team, she remembers fondly her team placing Silver at the National Competition and learning floral design, the importance of plant quality, plant identification, and problem solving in the industry. She also had the opportunity to work at a plant shop in Hudson, WI, serve as a seasonal horticulturist for the City of Woodbury Parks and Forestry, and even spend time doing freelance gardening. 

Now, Emily is a junior at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls, studying Horticulture with a minor in Crop Science. In 2022, she spent three months at Altman Plants in Peyton, Colorado through our Vic & Margaret Ball Internship Program. 

While on her internship, Emily really got to see first-hand what each step of the process looks like for large-scale crop production. She spent dedicated time in each department, including propagation, growing, Integrated Pest Management, availability, transportation, planting line, and maintenance. 

“Every day, I was working hands-on in the greenhouse, doing jobs like taking EC and pH readings, pinching young plants, sticking cuttings, and collecting chrysanthemum height data,” Emily said. She was also one of the main workers in the Altman Plants trial garden, which she was able to take pride in inventorying, planning, and tending to the garden throughout the summer. The 2022 Colorado Nursery and Greenhouse Association Barbeque was held in the trial garden at Altman Plants, and attendees got to see the trial garden Emily had worked so hard on.

One of the perks of the Vic & Margaret Ball Internship program is the chance to have your Faculty Advisor visit you on site, with the cost covered by AFE. Dr Sonja Maki, Emily’s Internship and College Advisor, was able to visit in August and spend the day at Altman Plants. While there, Emily had the chance to give her a tour of the facility, showcase her special projects, and introduce Dr. Maki to the expert growers Emily worked with. They also had the chance to talk about irrigation, crop development, and how they handle the extreme weather in Peyton, Colorado with Assistant Head Grower, Andrew Melton.

One fun, unexpected skill Emily learned during her internship was how to weld. As someone with many talents and interests, Emily said, “If I’m not in the greenhouse or garden, you can find me playing the drums, petting my guinea pigs, or learning a new skill.”

When asked what inspires her about the industry, Emily said it’s the way in which we cultivate plants to suit society’s needs; and the influences that plants have on society in return. “I am drawn to the constant creation of new technologies to achieve our goals and motivated by the continual innovations in the horticulture world. The challenge lies in keeping up with these advances.” 

With an eye for technology and a passion for research, Emily’s internship experience proved eye-opening, exposing her to different areas of greenhouse production and allowing her the chance to figure out what she truly enjoys. She learned that while large scale greenhouse production isn’t the career path she wants to focus on, the time she spent collecting data, taking measurements, and working with the trial garden showed her that she wants to pursue a research-based career path. In the months following her internship, Emily has been working at a seed testing lab and will be completing an internship at Ball’s Plant Pathology lab this summer. 

Part of being chosen as the Paul Thomas Intern of the Year includes a paid trip and registration to Cultivate, the premier event for the horticulture industry. “I’m looking forward to being connected with the brightest minds and the newest technologies in the horticulture field,” Emily said about the event. “Cultivate will help me get closer to accomplishing my goals by connecting me with leading people in the research and development sectors, as well as inspiring me with new technology.” 

Emily’s work and her experience at her internship showcases the drive, endless passion, and promising future that the Dr. Paul Thomas award was created to recognize. We can’t wait to see what Emily goes on to do in the future and the positive impact she is sure to have on the industry!

“I want to extend my most sincere thanks to all of the people at the American Floral Endowment who have made this experience possible,” Emily said. “The Vic and Margaret Ball Internship Program has been instrumental in my career in horticulture, and for that, I am forever grateful.”

Hannah Kramer, Honorable Mention
Iowa State University
6-Month Internship at
Tagawa Greenhouses 

Ever since she can remember, Hannah has been interested in plants and gardening.

From picking out plants with her mom at the local plant nursery to tending to her family vegetable garden, she has always been drawn to the world of horticulture.

She remembers being at the point in her life where she needed to decide what kind of career to pursue, and one of her friends introduced her to the concept of horticulture. For Hannah, there was no question—it was everything she liked to do. “Ultimately, I’m in this industry because it’s been one of my hobbies and passions my whole life, and I realized I can turn that into a career.” 

Hannah is currently finishing her senior year at Iowa State University, where she is pursuing a degree in Horticulture with a newly-added minor in Entrepreneurship. Before her internship at Tagawa Greenhouse, she worked at a garden center in her hometown, Wagner Nursery, and a public botanical garden, Reiman Gardens. Both of these experiences helped her hone her horticultural skills that led her to her success in her Vic & Margaret Ball Internship. 

“Over this six-month internship, I truly have learned crucial greenhouse skills. Beyond that, I have gained a perspective of the process from start to finish,” Hannah said. “I have met incredible people who were all more than happy to teach and share their piece of the puzzle with me.”

Starting her internship in the seed room at the Brighton facility, Hannah learned the importance of keeping new seeds strictly organized upon receiving young plant material. Next, she moved to the operations department in the Tagawa Foothills facility in Golden, Colorado, where she worked on the sticking line and completed germination and inventory counts prior to shipping. From there, she moved to a different facility in Golden, Tagwa Table Mountain, where she worked in production to learn crop management. After that, she got the chance to go to Estancia, New Mexico, to Tagawa Southwest, where she worked with irrigation and growing teams to learn more about crop management.

Next on the list, Hannah shifted to learning more about the retail side of production, working with Costco, Home Depot, and Tagawa’s retail center, Tagawa Gardens. For the last step of her internship journey, Hannah was able to work with administration staff to see how the process works on the business side of things, learning more about marketing, finance, sales, and transportation/distribution.

After hearing about all that she got to see, there’s no doubt Hannah received a well-rounded perspective on greenhouse production in her 6-month internship!

“I cannot thank Tagawa and AFE enough for this incredible opportunity to gain industry experience before I graduate. It has made me not only a better employee but a better person,” Hannah reflected. “This has truly been an invaluable experience that I recommend anyone with a strong interest in greenhouse do.”

In the fall, Hannah will be pursuing her Master’s at Iowa State. After graduation, she hopes to have a promising career in floriculture greenhouse production where she can use what she’s learned from these experiences every day. 

“I think the biggest thing [about receiving this award] is that it helps recognize me as a true member of the industry,” Hannah said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get a foot in the door with these things, and AFE has really helped to connect me to different people and organizations that are doing exactly what I want to do.”

Zach Rosenkrans, Honorable Mention
Kansas State University
6-Month Internship at
Olive Hill Greenhouses

“I want nothing more than to use my passion for plants and people to reconnect society with nature and bring joy to others through plants and landscapes.” 

From an early age, Zach has always been creative and passionate about plants. He took an early interest in his high school’s FFA Floriculture Development Event, where he practiced flower and foliage identification, created floral designs to compete at the national level, and studied common practices in the greenhouse and floral industry. Now at Kansas State, he studies Horticulture with an emphasis on Production with a minor in Business. 

Before his internship at Olive Hill Greenhouses, Zach had already gotten a taste of horticulture from working as an intern at Frese Ornamental Nursery in Quincy, IL, and an intern at Rock Cobble Farm in South Kent, CT. As for his Vic & Margaret Ball Internship, he was ready to try his hand at a different climate after spending time in the Midwest and Northeast. This led to him being placed at Olive Hill Greenhouses in sunny southern California. 

Not a single day looked the same at Olive Hill Greenhouses. In the mornings, Zach would review a list of pending projects and tasks for each day, like watering benches or updating records. Some days, new plants and cuttings would arrive that would take priority over other projects, keeping Zach thinking on his feet and adapting to what each day needed. He also got to work on a few special projects during his six months there, including conducting an audit of the irrigation system, performing quality tests, and working on expanding their scouting program. 

“Olive Hill Greenhouses proved to be an excellent host for me. Their facilities and operations allowed me to apply knowledge from my classes as well as learn and develop new skills,” Zach said.

Reflecting back on his internship, Zach definitely feels at home in the horticultural industry.

“I chose this field because I’m repeatedly awed by the beauty of plants. It’s my favorite part of this field. Every day I get to work with something I find fascinating, and every day I learn something new,” Zach said. “I’m inspired by my friends, who also happen to be my future coworkers. Everyone in this field holds such a personal passion for plants; it’s almost impossible not to feed off that energy.”

As for the future, Zach’s career plans focus on botanic and public gardens. “After my internship, I feel less nervous and more excited to graduate,” he said. “I know that wherever I land, I’ll get to grow amazing plants or use them to create something beautiful.”

 “Throughout my career, I want to be regarded as the coolest and sweetest person to work with,” Zach said. “This award tells me that I’m on the right track, and I hope it says the same thing to others as I look to start my career in the horticulture industry.”

AFE’s Internship Programs

Throughout all of AFE’s programs, there is a focus on empowering and uplifting young professionals. Investing in the industry’s next generation ensures that we will have a strong, vibrant workforce in the coming years that will continue to make strides toward advancement and progress. Our Vic & Margaret Ball Intern Scholarship (production) and the Mosmiller Intern Scholarship (retail or wholesale) offer young professionals like Emily, Hannah, and Zach the opportunity to contribute to the industry beyond the classroom meaningfully. We are proud to support these individuals, and all our interns and scholarship recipients, to help facilitate a stronger future for floriculture.

If you are interested in being an internship host, please reach out to AFE’s Program Coordinator, Candice Musgrove at cmusgrove@afeendowment.org

Students/Faculty: Learn more about AFE’s internship and scholarship opportunities at endowment.org/students. Scholarship applications are due May 1st, and Internship applications October 1.