Michigander came to Oregon for the plants: horticulture instructor offers fruitful information
Have you ever wondered what are some of the more unique features when it comes to horticulture? The Clackamas Print had the opportunity to sit down with Tonia Lordy, who helps run a small nonprofit on campus that helps students and anybody interested in learning more about horticulture.
The Clackamas Print: What exactly do you do for your position here? Where is the Home Orchard Education Center?
Tonia Lordy: Actually, I am part-time faculty for the college. I teach in the Horticulture Department. That’s one job. Another job, Home Orchard Education Center. Do you know where the community gardens are? Or the Environmental Learning Center? So we’re right in the same parking lot. That arboretum has been there since 1986. And it was started by a different organization called the Home Orchard Society. They closed down at the end of 2020.
TPC: What’s your favorite flower?
Lordy: Oh my gosh, my favorite it’s called Edgeworthia Papyrifera, and it’s very, very fragrant. And you’ll see it, looks like they’re holding their flowers upside down. So that would be my favorite for this season.
TCP: Do you prefer fruits or vegetables?
Lordy: Fruit, because it has sugar. I’m a sugar addict, it’s sweet, you can make pies. You can even do savory stuff with fruit too. I guess you could do some sweet stuff with vegetables like sweet kale pie. Yeah, fruit definitely.
TCP: What inspired you to pursue horticulture culture as a career?
Lordy: So I will say when I first got out of high school, I went to art school. I went to a really specialized art school and paid a ton of money and didn’t even graduate. I’ve worked in restaurants, bartender for many, many years. Then I went to a trade school and actually went back to school for radio and television. I worked in community TV for five years in Michigan. That was a lot of fun. But there was really nowhere for me to go in that organization. I didn’t want to be a news camera person and chase, you know, grieving mothers around with a camera that just seemed really harsh to me. Breaking into the documentary world is really difficult. So I was charged at the community TV station with doing all of the gardening shows. I never thought that you could make a living as a gardener. Then I got a part-time job working in a garden center and I was making twice as much as I was making at the TV station. Then I just decided to go back to school for horticulture. Then I transferred out here and I actually graduated from CCC. In the Horticulture Department here. I’ve always loved plants. I just never thought I could make a living at it.
TCP: Are you originally from Michigan?
Lordy: I’m from Detroit. Zone five, so a much different growing climate that we have here. That’s one of the main reasons why I moved to Oregon because I was a plant buyer in Michigan, and all the plants that I was buying came from Oregon. I was like, maybe I need to move there. I needed a life change at that point.
TCP: What was your favorite class that you took when you were studying here?
Lordy: Definitely, I would say that my favorite class was the fruit and berry. I really thought that I was either going to go into field crops like vegetables, vegetable farming or ornamentals. And then I just kind of fell in love with fruit trees and just kind of went with that. And fortunately, I did, we’re all struggling to find enough people to go around and take care of all these trees that people are putting in. I like to get them before they put them in. That’s not always the case.
TPC: Where was the fruit and berry course?
Lordy: So the fruit and berry course is held here. When I took it, it was probably 2011. It used to be a five-week short course. So it was a two credit course in the summer. Now there has been so much of an increased interest in growing your own food that they decided to turn it into a full three credit course.
TCP: What was the transition from a worker to education?
Lordy: The whole Orchard society actually started in 1975, as a group of hobbyists in Portland. They had been looking for a space to have a demonstration site for many, many years, and we’re hoping that they can get land donated to that. The college’s mission is to support the community in educational programming. And we kind of helped them fill that gap. That other organization, they just decided to close down, you know, with all COVID stuff. But I had worked up this huge group of people. They said, we don’t want to see this place covered in blackberry in a year. The college didn’t want to take it back. The horticulture department didn’t want it. I said, you know, hey, let’s start a new nonprofit, and we did.
TCP: You are in a company called Fruitscapes, what more can you tell me about that? What is it all about?
Lordy: Yes, I also am a owner of a business called Fruitscapes. Fruitscapes is a business that I started in 2012 when I graduated here. It started as me just doing pruning for people and has turned into more of a consulting, business consulting and design. So I go to a client’s house and some people want a full design, either their putting in a food forest or a permaculture garden or a commercial orchard. I go and tell them what the requirements of the plants are, what kind of issues they might be facing, what their markets are. Stuff like that.
TCP: How has being involved in the horticulture industry impacted your life beyond the work ethic?
Lordy: I get to do something that I absolutely love to do for a living. I used to work for Lowe’s. I think, to go to work, and teach people how to grow fruit. Everybody says, “Oh, my gosh, thank you so much! I didn’t know that, but now I know how to take care of my trees.” It’s just a really good feeling to be able to do that. I think that’s probably, definitely the favorite part of my job. And then, you know, give somebody an apple that they’ve never tasted before. So I think my ability to connect with people on a different level has really impacted me in a positive way.
TCP: If somebody wanted to become a volunteer, where would they go to sign up for that?
Lordy: So right on the website it says, volunteer with us, and then you just follow all of those prompts, and it takes you through to our volunteer signup. I will say that the majority of our volunteers have absolutely no gardening experience whatsoever. We train them. My goal as the head of the organization is, to teach you how to do it, watch you do it, then watch you teach somebody else how to do it. That’s how we spread out the knowledge.