One More Thing: A Journey to the Southern Region-American Society for Horticultural Science Presidency
Eric T. Stafne
Associate Extension and Research Professor
Mississippi State University
Poplarville, MS 39470
In contemplating what I was going to talk about today, I read several previous speeches from past presidents. Counsel was personally solicited from others as to how to put together a great speech. From these explorations the main point I gathered was to be unique. So, I thought back on the life goals I set for myself. I came up with five that were prominent enough to stick with me until now. To most of you they may seem totally unrelated to horticulture, but au contraire. My mission here is to tell you how Southern Region-ASHS (SR-ASHS) helped me to reach all of these goals (or at least most of them). And as we go along I will be introducing five assignments for us to complete before next year.
My first goal was to be a professional baseball player. I grew up as a big Detroit Tigers fan, and as disappointing as that often is, I can’t change it now. Well, as you can tell, I never made it as a baseball player. Oh, I played up through high school and was pretty good, but at some point it no longer seemed like my destiny. Baseball taught me one good lesson that being a member of SR-ASHS helped to reinforce: be persistent in the face of failure. Because failure is such a large part of baseball (a good hitter only gets 3 hits out of every 10 at-bats) it taught me persistence. Horticulture science is filled with failed experiments, dead end studies, and rejected grant proposals. In my case, the competition part of baseball also prepared me to participate in paper and poster competitions and other SR-ASHS activities. I lost most of them. Yet, I persisted and now stand before you as President of the Southern Region. My first assignment for us is to compete in SR-ASHS competitions and elections. You may lose and I may lose, and we likely will, but we all win if we participate, whether that be out of awe for our abilities or just plain entertainment value.
Second on my list of life goals was to be an adventurer. When I was young my grandparents took me and my brother to see ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. After that it was my dream to explore the world and find buried treasure. Through horticulture and SR-ASHS I’ve been able to continue the wanderlust by going to conferences throughout the country and the world. My home is in the southern region though and that’s where I concentrate most of my traveling now. Traveling to these conferences provides a way to find the “buried treasure” by being introduced to new ideas and creating an avenue for collaboration. The second assignment is to create a new opportunity for collaboration and value-added work. For example, we could form a new Professional Interest Group related to the southern region interests. This would create opportunities for collaboration and value-added work such as organizing workshops and symposia that lead to peer-reviewed publications. These types of opportunities would be of benefit to members of the southern region.
A few years later I was influenced by books and movies to be a detective, someone like Elliot Ness, Hercule Poirot, or Inspector Wellman. This seemed like a good choice because detectives solved problems and performed their work for the good of mankind. To protect and to serve is how the old motto goes from the LAPD. So, serve I did, but not in the law enforcement kind of way. In 1994 I was a newly sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteer and the service opportunities came fast and furious for the next 27 months. In SR-ASHS, service is critical to solving issues and doing good things for the organization. By serving, we help protect and preserve the legacy of SR-ASHS. We also serve others, our fellow members, so that we can all enjoy the fruits of that labor. One way to protect our long legacy is to clearly articulate the vision and ideals of our society. Members want to associate with and serve a society that will uphold the values and ideals they identify with. The policies on ethics, diversity and inclusion, vision and mission define the society, but where can these be found for SR-ASHS (and ASHS)? Not on the websites for sure. Thus, the third assignment is to create and publically display policies on ethics, code of conduct, diversity, and inclusion as well as more prominent vision and mission statements. We need to do this so members and non-members alike know where the society stands on these issues and where it is headed. Being proactive in defining these policies will serve us well and may protect us in the future.
As you can probably guess by now I spent a lot of my formative years reading, but also writing. Great authors like Hemingway, Lewis, Eco, and Dostoyevsky made me want to become a writer. To me writing is the ultimate way of conveying ideas and expressing creativity. The field of horticulture is home to me because it combines the fields of science and art and the technical with the beautiful. Of course writing is difficult. A quote attributed to Dorothy Parker goes, “I hate writing, I love having written”. Writing is fraught with failure as well as success. The opportunity to publish our writing with ASHS journals is one of the greatest aspects of being part of the society and the abstracts from SR-ASHS are just one perk. These journals provide a great outlet for our creativity. I, for one, am extremely pleased that HortTechnology is going to an open access format. Since that is the most public-facing journal and we are in times of great and intentional fabrication, it is imperative that good science be readily available to readers. But, I believe we can go even farther by including other avenues to spread the word of horticultural science. Webinars, podcasts, live streaming, and audio versions of articles are all possibilities to further that mission. I would be remiss not to mention the pillar of scientific publication: peer review. The speed of the publication process at ASHS is tremendously quick. Turnaround from submission to publication can be done in just a few weeks to months whereas other journals it may be a year or even years. This is only possible with great reviewers, but reviewers are hard to find. If you value ASHS publications, engage with them. Assignment number four is to write, review, edit, and contribute in a way that helps our society. The editors will thank you and the process will become even more streamlined.
My final goal in life is one that I will likely never achieve and that is to be a rock star. To be on stage, creating harmony with other like-minded individuals, to creatively collaborate, and feel on top of the world is something I’ve always admired from afar. With no musical talent, it is a lost cause for me. So, this speech may be as close as I will ever get. In the horticulture world there are rock stars of a different kind though and some of them have impacted my career. I can’t possibly talk about every person who had a positive impact on my career, but I can talk about two of the most influential: John R. Clark and Curt R. Rom. Both of these gentlemen are rock stars to me. The way they have defined their careers, mentored their students, and offered their friendship created a definitive path for me to follow in my career. I want them both to know they did right by me. The biggest rock star to me is my wife, Richelle, who worked a full-time job outside of horticulture when I was in grad school. She sacrificed her dreams during that time for me to reach mine. Even so, she has been a long-time member of SR-ASHS and ASHS, always with the notion that someday she would return to horticulture. And so she has. Some of you may know her online presence as The Garden Maiden, but she is a horticulture writer, photographer, technician, blogger, and a volunteer in SR-ASHS having served on the Executive Committee. Through her I see what is great about horticulture – the art, the creativity, the passion. She, along with our two dogs, made a life where horticulture was central to it and SR-ASHS was a key component. Every year we would all go to the meeting, although I think Richelle and I got more out of it than the dogs did. So, in short, surround yourself with as much good as possible, including your mentors, partners, spouses, and pets. They are the real rock stars. The final assignment is to make someone feel like a rock star by asking them to join your band (i.e. become an SR-ASHS member). SR-ASHS is comprised of some really good people – rock stars even – and do your best to amplify the work of SR-ASHS through your networks, whether those be in-person or online and be sure to nominate others for awards.
Just a few parting words to end. My assignments are challenges to do something maybe you don’t think you can do. But if we all did just one more thing so much more would get accomplished. This idea came from my time as the project leader of the eXtension Grape Community of Practice. We had a large group of members, over 100, but only a small percentage of active participants. I thought to myself, “what if every member did just one more thing”? One more review, one more article, one more response to an email request, anything. We would have been so much farther along. The real challenge to making progress is not doing those things we thought we could, but rather those that we believe we could not.
Thank you for your kind attention and I can’t wait to see how we progress on the assignments over the next year.