November 29, 2019
A Humber student sets a stone at her school’s Congress garden build; a foundation for her future career.
Congress opens doorsBY SCOTT BARBER
Beyond products, professional development and friends, Congress welcomes young people to great careers
Landscape Ontario Congress blew Destiny Lacasse’s mind.
Now in her third and final year at Niagara Parks School of Horticulture, Lacasse first visited Congress in 2018, as a member of her program’s garden building team.
“I was mind blown by how big it was,” Lacasse remembers. “You start in one massive section, with equipment and pavers and plants everywhere, and you think that must be the whole show. Then you see a door that leads to another giant hall, with even more equipment and businesses and people. And then there’s another. The scale of it really blew me away.”
Each year, students, young people and newcomers to the horticulture profession visit Congress to check out the latest products and equipment, connect with potential employers and attend the Conference program.
Landscape Ontario’s executive director Tony DiGiovanni describes the annual trade show and Conference at the Toronto Congress Centre as a “homecoming” for the profession. It’s also a career launching pad.
“I went to Congress for the first time in 1975, as a first-year student in the horticulture program at Humber College,” DiGiovanni remembers. “At the time, I wasn’t sure the industry was right for me; I didn’t know what my career path could be.”
A Congress seminar for students led by Landscape Ontario’s first president, Glenn Peister, was a turning point for DiGiovanni.
“The way Glenn talked about landscaping and horticulture, and all the potential careers in the field, really made a big impact on me,” DiGiovanni says. “It was so inspirational, I can honestly say it was one of the reasons I decided to stay in the program and to pursue a career in horticulture.”
Another factor was DiGiovanni’s experience building a student garden on the show floor.
“It was a bonding experience for our class, to come together to design and build a garden at Congress,” he said. “I look back at the positive energy and the team work and I can see now what a big impact the experience had on me and my career path.”
He added, “Congress really is more than just a show. It’s a place where students and young people find inspiration, and industry veterans get reenergized.”
Student garden displays have been part of every Congress since then, providing horticulture and landscaping students from schools including Fanshawe College, Niagara Parks School of Horticulture and Humber College practical, hands-on experience. The garden builds give Congress visitors a glimpse of the future of the industry.
The garden build is a real job on a real jobsite and gives students the chance to show off their skills.
Time for teamwork
Brian Cocks, owner of Brian Cocks Nursery and Landscaping in Winona, Ont., has managed the student gardens for decades. With 150-200 students working in a small area with a tight deadline, ensuring everything goes smoothly is no easy feat.
“What I have seen over the years, is the quality of the work and the gardens has drastically improved,” Cocks said. “The students really take ownership over their gardens, and that sense of pride in the work you do is so important. I’ve also seen a real competitiveness amongst the schools, which I think is great. It shows me that these young people really care, and they are passionate about what they do.”
Lacasse has been part of two builds, and for 2020, she’s part of the design team for her school’s garden.
“The student garden build experience is really valuable for all of the colleges involved, but it’s especially important for Niagara, because we don’t get a lot of hardscaping experience; it’s not the focus of our program,” Lacasse said. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to create the plans, and cut the stone, and work on some skills we don’t otherwise spend a lot of time on.”
Taniel Ajamian is also a third year student at Niagara Parks School of Horticulture. Ajamian says the biggest challenge was keeping the plants watered, recalling times when they “were running around with buckets and garbage cans, filling them at custodial staff sinks.” But the hard work and the hectic environment was worth it.
“Participating in the student garden build is a fun experience,” he said. “I enjoy the teamwork and urgency that goes into building our booth, and it’s very fulfilling once it is complete.”
Eyes wide open
Once the garden build was finished, Ajamain relished the opportunity to check out everything Congress has to offer.
“The biggest takeaway from the trade show is having fun, meeting new people and making new contacts, and seeing cool things,” he said. “The size and scope of the industry does surprise me and also excites me as a student. I always see new equipment every year and look forward to visiting nursery booths for a catalog and to check out their display. I plan on attending Congress in the future to network, and to keep up-to-date on future technology and innovations.”
Lacasse agreed that Congress is a great place for students and young people to get a taste of the industry. “I enjoy walking the whole show floor, because you get to see what’s new, all of the different businesses and products that are being introduced,” she said. “Then when you go back each year you get to see familiar faces and you get to reconnect and build your network. I think that’s really valuable for students and people who are getting started in their careers, to be able to meet so many people in the industry all in one place.”
The opportunity to network, meet with potential employers and suppliers is key, Cocks says.“It’s as simple as taking the initiative to introduce yourself, and to ask questions.”
For 2020, the conference program features several events geared specifically to students. The Greencareerscanada.ca Game of Life seminar will explore education pathways and career opportunities in the landscape horticulture profession; the Lunch and Learn Speed Networking keynote will provide opportunities to make new connections; and the Snap Dragon’s Den event is a great chance for secondary and post secondary students to show their knowledge and initiative to potential employers.
Students are eligible for a free Congress trade show pass, and special conference pricing. Visit LOcongress.com/students.
Congress 2020 salutes the landscape profession Jan. 7-9, 2020
Celebrating its 47th year in 2020, Landscape Ontario Congress is the annual face-to-face event that brings Canada’s green pros together. If you have been to Congress before, you are probably planning to go this year. If you have never been to Congress, now is the time to make plans.
The show ranks among Canada’s top 10 trade shows, filling six acres of floor space with energy. Reasons to attend include:
- Products: Over 600 exhibitors display their best sales and productivity solutions, from trucks to pavers to equipment to nursery stock and more. Budget time to visit the New Product Showcase, a juried display of new technology and merchandise.
- Pro development: Business education opportunities at Congress are second to none. Conference sessions are geared toward every sector, and tailored to business owners as well as frontline staff. Specialized events are offered for Integrated Pest Management, leadership and landscape design. Don’t miss the two top-flight keynotes, plus live floor demos on hardscape, vehicle compliance and success with trees.
- Events: The Tuesday evening Awards of Excellence ceremony draws over 500 guests, and celebrates landscape pride and professionalism. Relax with friends at Congress After Dark on Wednesday evening.
- Fun: Try your hand at axe-throwing (!) in the north hall near the hardscape demo area. Then ease your thirst at the Ale Trail stations on the show floor.
The beauty of Congress is the unpredictable things that happen — chance new contacts, unexpected technology solutions, or seeing an old employee who is doing well. Get details and register at www.LOcongress.com.