Summer Camp

June 20, 2016

Summer Camp


Summer is the season of student-workers at Gilsons.  We’ve tried many different employment strategies over the years…1). ‘Keep the money in the family’ (that didn’t work because there wasn’t enough family or money,  2). local students,  3) Latinos,  4) housewives, 5). down-on-their-luck caucasian males (this includes family members),  5). military veterans, 6). Latinos.  Each strategy requires an effective recruiter.  The rise and fall of student crews is dependent on a conscientious teenager who brings in friends, family and other respected individuals from a local high school.  This year our recruiter is the son of our Propagation Manager, a twenty-year veteran,  who claims we raised her from a young age.  Her son, a scholar-athlete, brought along what seems to be the entire National Honor Society from Madison High School.  The Valedictorian, the Math Nerd (who scored 34 on his ACT), two bright-eyed soccer players, and a couple cute girls who are heading off this fall to studies in the medical field.  Our recruiter’s younger sister has likewise been sold into nursery bondage for the summer.  (I recruited a few myself by invitation from Perry High School).

The concept is for both the student and our enterprise to endure and survive their first season…the first job for most…mistakes, mishaps, misapprehensions…and recoup this training and forbearance in subsequent years as they matriculate through high school and college, providing useful service as ‘seasoned nursery workers’ along the way.

Sometimes the concept works.

Our alumnus over the years have gone on to become teachers, an airline pilot, graphic designers, a design engineer in research and development for Honda of America (our oldest Son), a research scientist at UC solving the genetics of autism (our youngest Son),  a lawyer, a mathematician (who graduated with honors from MIT), many successful tradesmen and law enforcement officers. One student went on to become an editor for Fine Gardening and co-author a book with Stephanie Cohen.

I remember one student filling our Ford 9N tractor with gasoline, by way of the radiator.  Another added four bags of lime to a yard of propagation mix, rather than the recommended four pounds.  (it came out like Ready-Mix Concrete).

At various nursery/greenhouse jobs back in the 1970s, I ran into a number of great people.  Many of us had majored in things like History, or English or Peace Studies and we couldn’t  get a job anywhere else.    For most of us the horticulture work was not a destination, but, rather, a way-station on the road to monumental works of some kind.  Nowadays, with the emphasis on STEM topics, most of our students are pursuing engineering or the sciences.  And yet, the time remains a pleasant and constructive interlude for both student and employer, a time of big philosophical questions and relatively small answers.  These kids are bright-eyed, intelligent and goal-oriented.  They’ll be pulling down big bucks in a few years but right now we’ve got them dirt cheap.  We may holler at them…sometimes a lot…but I like to think we don’t scream.  A local teacher says we’re helping to develop their workplace ‘soft skills’ like how to talk and what to wear.  In reality, and more importantly, we’re introducing them to workplace humor, foul language, abusive name-calling, mild workplace racisim and sexism (it’s okay as long as you make fun of yourself too), within the context of a supportive, caring and politically conservative environment.

I see the grade school bus going by each fall with smiling, laughing, jeering, mischievous  young faces of all ethnic, racial and economic  backgrounds.   They’re like bright uncirculated pennies.  Where will they end up?   Will they finish their education and pursue their own small dreams…or stumble along the way, ending up  jaded, angry, entitled.  As owners of small-businesses we have an opportunity to engage constructively in this process…right here…right now…in our local communities.  As we get older each year, the students stay the same, but they help us to remain positive, forward-looking, and, hopefully, young-at-heart.