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Building On a Legacy

As I sit here typing this article, I’m struggling to find the words to convey just how honored and excited I am to be leading the American Floral Endowment’s research program. I’m humbled to follow in the footsteps of the remarkable Dr. Terril Nell, and I know I have some big shoes to fill, quite literally! Since August 2022, I’ve had the privilege of working closely with Terril, whose dedication and passion have left an enduring mark on me, AFE, and the floral industry as a whole. I know that Terril has personally touched many of you reading this article. His mentorship and guidance have been invaluable, and I am profoundly grateful for the foundation he has laid. I am also extremely grateful to AFE for the significant amount of time I had to work with him before his retirement, which was crucial in setting me up for success in this role.

A little bit about me – since returning to school for horticulture (my first degree is in music performance!), I have been fortunate enough to work in a variety of positions that have guided me in understanding the multifaceted and multi-disciplinary nature of floriculture research. I’ve reared insects, cultured and identified pathogens, performed controlled crosses on a variety of ornamentals, measured ploidy levels, rescued embryos, micropropagated ornamentals, grown greenhouse crops, grown nursery crops, designed experiments, given numerous academic presentations and have written newsletters, book chapters, course curricula, website pages, and social media posts. I’ve also taught hundreds of students about plant identification and botany. I shouldn’t leave out the less glamorous horticultural tasks I know we’ve all done at some point – weeding, watering, deadheading, washing pots, digging holes, installing irrigation tape in the summer sun, and getting “arm day” in by lugging full 3-gallon pots around all day.

Some other career highlights are leadership roles in the Pi Alpha Xi horticultural honor society as a student; graduate research awards through IPPS, Bayer, and the former SNA; being the current Secretary of the ASHS floriculture interest group (in 2025/2026, I’ll be the chair); and being inducted into GPN Magazine’s 40 under 40 class of 2023. I’ll admit that there were times I wondered if my background was too diverse, but now I know that it led me to the right place and gave me just the tools I needed for this position, which I am very passionate about.

All of that is not just to tell you about my background but to say that now, and throughout the entirety of my horticultural journey – AFE has been there. Whether it was the scholarship I received as a graduate student, funding that my friends’ advisors received to support their research programs, a specific task we were performing in the lab or greenhouse, or a research article I’ve shared with my students, AFE has directly impacted the people we know and the practices we implement in our industry. And not just recently – AFE has impacted the industry and has been the leading source for floriculture research and solutions for over 60 years. AFE research has advanced production practices, pest and disease management, post-harvest handling, cold-chain management, sustainability, technology advancements, and more. Much of the way flowers are grown and processed today is a direct result of AFE-funded research. That is an incredible feat and a source of inspiration to me as I look towards my future with AFE.  I’m incredibly proud to be part of an organization that has accomplished so much for our industry.

The reason AFE has been able to do this for as long as it has is because of industry support. One of the things I admire most about Terril (and there are many things I admire) is his collaborative spirit. Under his leadership, AFE excelled at fostering a community of collaboration between industry professionals and academic researchers. I am just as committed to bridging the gap between industry needs and academic expertise. By fostering strong partnerships between industry stakeholders and academic researchers, we can ensure that our research efforts are not only relevant but also impactful. By listening to the voices of growers, distributors, retailers, and consumers, we can ensure that our research efforts are responsive to evolving needs and technological advances. Through open dialogue and shared goals, we can leverage the collective expertise of our community to address the most pressing challenges facing the floral industry today. Our research endeavors will continue to be guided by the overarching goal of driving positive (and profitable) change within the floral industry.

I am incredibly excited about the opportunities that lie ahead, and I look forward to working closely with the AFE Board of Directors, Research Committee, and our amazing staff to guide AFE’s research program. I also look forward to getting to know many of you. How can AFE help you? Research and progress do not exist in a vacuum, and I hope that you will reach out to me (lbarth@afeendowment.org) with any questions or feedback that you have. I would love to know the issues you face and how AFE can help you. Together, with the support of our dedicated community of researchers, industry partners, and stakeholders, I am confident that we can continue to drive meaningful progress and innovation within the floral industry and ensure that AFE remains the trusted source and catalyst for floriculture advancement for another 60 + years.