Michigander Came to Oregon for the Plants: Horticulture Instructor Offers Fruitful Insights

Tonia Lordy works part-time in CCC’s horticulture department. Photo provided by Tonia Lordy.

Have you ever wondered what some of the most unique features in horticulture are? The Clackamas Print had the opportunity to sit down with Tonia Lordy, who helps run a small nonprofit on campus that helps students and anyone interested learn more about horticulture.

The Clackamas print: What exactly do you do for your job here? Where is the Home Orchard Education Center?

Tonia Lordy: Actually, I’m a part-time college teacher. I teach in the horticulture department. It’s a work. another job, Home Orchard Education Center. Do you know where the community gardens are? Or the Environmental Learning Center? So we are in the same parking lot. This arboretum has been around since 1986. And it was started by another organization called Home Orchard Society. They closed at the end of 2020.

TPC: What is your favorite flower?

Lordship: Oh my God, my favorite is called Edgeworthia Papyriferous, and it’s very, very fragrant. And you will see, it looks like they are holding their flowers upside down. So that would be my favorite for this season.

TCP: Do you prefer fruits or vegetables?

Seigneury: Fruit, because it contains sugar. I’m addicted to sugar, it’s sweet, you can make pies. You can even make savory stuff with fruit too. I guess you could make sweet stuff with veggies like kale pie. Yeah, fruit definitely.

TCP: What prompted you to pursue a career in horticulture?

Lordship: So I would say that when I left high school, I went to the school of fine arts. I went to a very specialized art school and paid a ton of money and didn’t even graduate. I have worked in restaurants, bartending for many, many years. Then I went to business school and back to school for radio and television. I worked in community television for five years in Michigan. It was very fun. But I really had nowhere to go in this organization. I didn’t want to be a news cameraman and chase, you know, grieving mothers with a camera that felt really harsh to me. Breaking into the documentary world is really difficult. So I was assigned to the community television station to do all the gardening shows. I never thought you could make a living as a gardener. Then I got a part-time job at a garden center and was earning twice as much as I was earning at the TV station. Then I just decided to go back to school for horticulture. Then I transferred here and graduated from CCC. In the horticulture department here. I have always loved plants. I never thought I could make a living out of this.

TCP: Are you from Michigan?

Lordship: I’m from Detroit. Zone five, so a very different growth climate than what we have here. This is one of the main reasons I moved to Oregon because I was a plant buyer in Michigan and all the plants I bought were from Oregon. I was like, maybe I have to move there. I needed a life change at that time.

TCP: What was your favorite course when you studied here?

Lordship: Definitely, I would say that my favorite class was the fruit and berry class. I really thought I was going to either go into field crops like vegetables, market gardening or ornamentals. And then I fell in love with fruit trees and kind of followed that. And luckily I did, we’re all struggling to find enough people to go around and take care of all those trees that people are putting up. I like to have them before they install them. It’s not always the case.

TPC: Where was the fruit and berry class?

Lordship: So the fruit and berry course takes place here. When I took it, it was probably in 2011. Previously, it was a five-week short course. So it was a two-credit course in the summer. Now there has been so much increased interest in growing your own food that they have decided to make it a full three credit course.

TCP: What was the transition from worker to education?

Lordship: The whole Orchard company actually started in 1975, as a group of hobbyists in Portland. They have been looking for a space to have a demo site for many, many years, and we hope they can get some donated land for this purpose. The mission of the college is to support the community in educational programming. And we kind of helped them fill that gap. This other organization, they just decided to shut down, you know, with all the COVID stuff. But I had worked up to this huge group of people. They said, we don’t want to see this place covered in blackberries in a year. The college did not 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 can you tell me more? What it is about?

Lordship: Yes, I also own a business called Fruitscapes. Fruitscapes is a company I started in 2012 when I graduated here. It started when I was just pruning for people and morphed more into consulting, business consulting and design. So I go to a client and some people want a complete design, either putting them in a food forest, or a permaculture garden, or a commercial orchard. I will tell them what the requirements of the factories are, what kind of problems they might face, what their markets are. Stuff like that.

TCP: What impact has your involvement in the horticulture industry had on your life beyond the work ethic?

Lordship: I can do something that I love to do in life. I worked for Lowe’s. I’m thinking of going to work and teaching people how to grow fruit. Everyone says, “Oh, my God, thank you so much! I didn’t know it, 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 my favorite part of my job. And then, you know, give someone an apple 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 someone wanted to become a volunteer, where would they go to register?

Lordship: So right on the website it says, volunteer with us, then you just follow all these prompts, and it will take you to our volunteer registration. I will say that the majority of our volunteers have absolutely no gardening experience. We train them. My goal as the leader of the organization is to teach you how to do it, watch you do it, and then watch you teach someone else how to do it. This is how we spread knowledge.

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