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OCC Horticulture students, staff resume plant sale after classes stemmed by pandemic

Gail Haghjoo shops for flowers during a plant sale at Orange Coast College's Horticulture Garden Lab Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Students and faculty members at Orange Coast College’s Horticultural Department on Friday invited the public to peruse and pick from a variety of vegetable plants and hanging flower baskets fit to enhance any home garden in a plant sale.

Although the event used to be held two or three times a year, the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on most in-person activities at the Costa Mesa campus, making a 2019 poinsettia sale the last time before Friday the department had sold its wares.

Joe Stead, a horticultural lab coordinator who’s worked on the Costa Mesa campus for 25 years, said the plants are grown from seeds by students enrolled in a plant propagation class that typically meets weekly from January into May.

Roseanne Kings selects tomato plants during a plant sale at Orange Coast College's Horticulture Garden Lab Friday, April 8.
Roseanne Kings selects several tomato plants Friday during a plant sale at Orange Coast College’s Horticulture Garden Lab.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“Each student raises one variety of tomato and one variety of pepper, then we grow all types of herbs, and vegetables — squashes, eggplants and cucumbers,” Stead said Friday, as customers scurried among the grounds looking for the choicest selections.

In 2020, the class was halted during pandemic closures, forcing students, faculty and members of the community, including Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds, to find homes for the still growing plants and seedlings. Instructors taught remotely, a medium not quite suitable for the horticultural set.

“We did some Zoom classes,” Stead said, “but it’s really hard to teach plant propagation on Zoom.”

In-person lessons at Orange Coast College resumed this spring, just in time for the greenhouses to gear back up. All told, nearly 1,800 plants were prepped for the sale, with most veggies ranging from $2 to $3 each.

“It’s great, even though it’s one of the second hottest days on record,” Stead said just a few hours into the sale, as temperatures climbed toward the mid-90s after Thursday’s triple-digit recordings. “I’m just glad it wasn’t yesterday.”

Proceeds will go toward student scholarships and OCC’s Horticultural Club, which goes on field trips, hosts speakers and conducts special planting projects.

Caroline Kight, a volunteer with OCC's Horticulture Garden Lab, waters tomato plants during a plant sale Friday, April 8.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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