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Career Conversations: Discussion between YA Librarian Llyr Heller and Horticulture

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Career Conversations: Discussion between YA Librarian Llyr Heller and Jorge Ochoa

LLYR HELLER: All right. Thank you all for joining us today. We—to our career conversation.

We have Jorge Ochoa, Associate Professor of Horticulture at Long Beach College, so we're going to talk about plant biology, field botany and more. Thank you so much for joining us today.

JORGE OCHOA: Oh, thank you for having me and giving me the opportunity to share with me my passion.

LLYR HELLER: So just to get us started, could you talk a little about the path you took to get here, different careers college, internship; what have you?

JORGE OCHOA: So my path is interesting. So I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, and I graduated from Thomas Jefferson High. I'm not going to say the year, because then I’m going to age myself. And from Thomas Jefferson, I attended Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

During that period, I had no idea what I wanted to study. I knew I did not want it to be—I did not want to be a philosopher, an actor, a doctor, the scientist or mechanic. None of those, but I had no idea where life was going to take me. So I finished my associate degree in liberal arts, just general biology, general math, general everything, and I started looking around. And then I found a class at Long Beach City College that taught about poisonous and edible plants.

So destiny took me there, and once that happened, then I discovered horticulture that was also being offered at Long Beach City College. Once I found horticulture, I knew where I wanted to be. Immediately I said, "I'm going to go to Cal Poly Pomona" 'cause that's where I had—they have the bachelor's and the master's degree.

And so from there, it just took off. As far as internship, right after I graduated from Long Beach City College with Associate's in Horticulture, I did an internship at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia. And then a year later, I did an internship for one of the largest nurseries, Monrovia Nursery that was located in Azusa. That also became my senior project for school.

And then once I graduated, then I did an internship for the City of Los Angeles, Department of Recreation and Parks; I did a park management internship. And from there, then I got picked up as a full-time employee. And then opportunity opened at Long Beach City College for a full-time professor, teaching horticulture. And I applied, and I got the job; so I've been teaching full-time since 2009 now.

LLYR HELLER: Thank you. And at your present Long Beach College, are there internships or apprenticeships for those studying with you or high schoolers?

JORGE OCHOA: So that's my—that's kind of what I do now. So we work with different groups. We work for—with different organizations that offer scholarships and internships to students, potential students who are entering the field. So the Arboretum still offers internships. There's a California Landscape Association that also offers internships, other botanic gardens that offer internships. And so we're always looking and/or developing working with them to develop internships or some kind of training program for students.

LLYR HELLER: Okay. Thank you. And I know your days are very different. What kind of is the typical week?

JORGE OCHOA: So I can describe my typical week right now. So as a professor of horticulture, I teach Monday through Friday mornings. My classes begin at 9:00 in the morning. And a lot of the rest of the courses are going to be more in the afternoon/evening, starting at about 5:00 and ending at about 8:00. And the reason for that is because in this field you have either adults who are returning for a second career, or they already work in the field, and so I cannot start them too early because they’re working, and I cannot end them too late, because they need to go to sleep and go to work—get up early tomorrow—then next day.

So it is a morning job unless if you happen to find a job with Disneyland, then your typical work schedule in the garden or the maintenance would be from 2:00 in the morning to 10:00. But pretty much, it’s – for most folks who are in the field, they will begin the day at about 6:00 in the morning or even early, to avoid traffic problems. So it’s morning and an early job.

LLYR HELLER: Okay, thank you.

I know you brought us some really great-looking photos. Would you like to go through them?

JORGE OCHOA: I will—glad to through several of them. So I think I can share with you something very important. I think when I started, when I was seeking a career, again, I had no idea. And I’m glad that I’m in the library, and I’m glad you’re in the library because one of the nicest things that showed me the way was a book. And this photograph was given to me by the college when I became a tenure. So they asked us to share with them a book that would be—that had a good influence on your life. And so for me, it was finding this group of plants.

So finding this group of plants. Once I found them that opened my way into plant exploration. And so I have visited Mexico, Southern Mexico; there I am in front of a very large tree. So in my plant exploration, looking for different types of passion flowers, I have visited Brazil; I have visited Ecuador, French Guyana, Suriname twice, Columbia twice, Ecuador, Mexico, Central America, Uruguay, Argentina. And so we are always looking for new plants, exploring plants.

I’ve also become an expert in fruits, so I go around and teach people about different types of fruits, exotic fruits, regular fruits, and (indecipherable) apples. There I am in my first trip to Brazil holding a wild vanilla plant. So that is something that I had no idea was even possible, to become a plant explorer; as they would say, an Indiana Jones of plants. Every year I try to go somewhere into Central and South America, preferably looking for some of those flowers.

And I can also share with you that last year we were able to publish a brand-new species; so a brand-new species of passionflower that I’m one of the authors of it. And so something new to science, something that you just go out there, you find it. You find it and you catalog it, you record it, you publish it, and it’s there for the rest of your life. You are the publisher, the author of some of those new plants.

So there’s a lot of things to be found in this world, and so we’re exploring, looking for them. And as time went by, I’ve somehow become an expert in the field of this group of plants. So again, it’s something that I had no idea that was possible. And it’s a book that taught me that, “follow this path,” and I did. And it has taken me to many parts of the world.

So next January we’re going to be going to Peru. And eventually, we’ll be visiting every single country in Central and South America looking for—

LLYR HELLER: Do you get to name them when you discover them?

JORGE OCHOA: If you describe them, yes, you have the option of naming them.

LLYR HELLER: Did you have a particular name of any of them?

JORGE OCHOA: There’s rules, so the one that we describe is very different than all the other ones, and so we chose the name intrecata (PHONETIC) which means “intricate.” Or often they’re named after where you found them, like near a vicinity or a town or a city. Or it’s not proper for me to name them after myself, but if one of my students ever becomes an explorer, and they wish to name a plant that they discover in honor of their favorite professor, then that’s possible, but I cannot name one after myself, or I can name it after somebody else but not myself.

LLYR HELLER: Okay. That makes sense. Any questions from the audience so far? If you walk on over. Thank you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: When discovering like these new plant species, what are—like what’s the process of getting it like officialize. Like are there DNA tests that have to be run and things like that?

JORGE OCHOA: Very good question, and the answer is yes. So every single plant, every single animal, every single organism in the world has its experts. And so I work with the experts of this plant group. And I’m also very familiar with the one that has been described. So when we see something different, like, “okay, this could be new.” And then we share it with the experts and we look at all the different discoveries that have been made, the records, and then if it’s different or there are characteristics that make it different, then yes, it goes into the public—into publication.

This specific species was discovered in cooperation with several scientists from Kansas and Missouri. They got a National Science Foundation grant to do the genetic analysis on this group of passionflowers. And so in this case, there was that publication first and then the publication these species, so yes, the genetic was done to place it into the specific group, or where it fell. And then that is also now part of the record. So yes, genetic analyses are now required as well as the drawings and the recording.

So when we got the plant, my job as a horticulturist who is an expert in cultivation, was to get it to flower. And so it flowered very early for me, so I was very lucky. So once it flowered, then I was able to take measurements, record that information, the data. And then I was able to create an (indecipherable) specimen which is a piece of dry plant, and that becomes—became the type specimen, which means the very first recording of that plant. And that’s written in the article.

So that very first plant that ever gets collected gets recorded, that becomes the type specimen which means that this is the official one. And then when somebody finds a different plant, if it might look similar, they always go back to that specimen to compare them and see if it might be different, might be the same and, or just to verify that it might be something new.

So it’s a very extensive process, and yes, you have to make sure that it’s something new, otherwise people would be publishing things that might be just slightly different and may a little bit—or maybe not.

LLYR HELLER: What kind of technology do have to know for your career?

JORGE OCHOA: For my field, technology—I will be very honest, I grew up when computers were becoming very popular, and I’m going to be very honest, and computer programming is one of the two classes that I failed in high school. I could never get into technology. I was always an outdoor person. I was always an outdoor field person, plant person. However, it is inevitable that we’re going to use technology. So we do—I know how to use computers. Different programs like Canvass that we use as a learning management system for the college because that is now my job.

I use a lot more technology with the photographs, so I have a camera that’s an Olympus camera, and then also a microscope with a camera—a digital microscope that also records video. So I’m not a technology expert, but there is just a few equipments that are required.

I am not a molecular scientist. I always say that I like working with plants. I don’t like working with molecules, so I like to be with the plants and caring for them; not taking care of them in a petri dish and in a lab where it’s all clean and autoclaves and all of those (indecipherable) other technology. So I’m more of a field-type person, field botanist, horticulturist, cultivator; so we take care of plants. We don’t kill them (laughter).

LLYR HELLER: Thank you. Any questions so far? Any other questions? I’ll keep going. Okay. Did you want to continue with the slides or, I have more questions.

JORGE OCHOA: So sure. So that’s one of the works.

Another work that I did when I was with Recreations and Parks in 2007, Griffith Park when on the fire—was a big fire. So we did some work on the plants and how the plants at the park was recovering. And so now I have become an expert in Griffith Park, so I am the botanist (indecipherable) plant person for Griffith Park. I do field trips. I do hikes with the Friends of Griffith Park, and I go around lecturing about the recovery and the plants and California Native Wildflowers of Griffith Park (inaudible) photography that we have there.

I’m also a tree expert. And here I am standing in front of one of the tallest Montezuma Cypress. To record, I have a photograph of myself with the oldest trees in the world. The Jeffrey Pine or Bristlecone Pines here in California. The most massive, Giant Sequoias, and the tallest which are the California Redwoods. So I have my photograph with those magnificent specimens.

I also go around teaching and lecturing about the tree safety and caring for trees. So I’m also a tree expert. There I am with my students, so I also teach, share with people my knowledge. In my work with the recreation and parks, that’s Griffith Park. I’ve also gone to other parts of the world, so that’s a—there I am standing underneath a Baobab, this is in South Africa, so other parts of the world.

I work with people from different parts of the world, so these are folks that have a similar interest; in this case, looking for those passionflowers. So we have John Vanderplank, the author of that book, from England; Robert McBay, he’s from the Netherlands; Rebecca just got her masters in botany in England, so she’s from England; Alexi’s a scientist from Russia, and I forget her name, but she’s from England; Sula Vanderplank, she’s working in San Diego. And there I am. So it’s a corroboration of folks from different parts of the world. And I would never guess that I would be working with people from different parts of the world. But I am.

So here’s just a typical day in the rainforest, looking for plants. I try to find them in and among the different vegetation. And I love rain, so anytime I can get wet, I enjoy getting wet.

There I am in just my horticulture area with the different plants and (indecipherable) I grow. And just being recorded by a newscaster a while back. Just some of the lab area. So I have the best job. This is where I report to work every single day. So now we grow vegetables with the students. We grow fruits. We take care of plants. Sometimes we have to cut them down. No problem. Sometimes we have to rake. No problem. Sometimes we have to plant. No problem. And we do outreach, so just go to different conventions, different trade shows and share with people and try to recruit them for horticulture.

I’ve done seminars and workshops for different community groups, very early on. I don’t want to listen to myself back in those days. But this is me talking to the Los Angeles Garden Club and Friends of Griffith Park, from Griffith Park. And I get to go to graduations because that’s part of my job. And I’ve been also featured as far as the newspaper for the recovery of Griffith Park. So just a few of the things I brought here to share with you.

So I would describe myself as a plantsman, and anything and everything that has to do with plants, that’s what I like. But what I always tell my students, “If you look at the history of people, the history of people is the history of plant cultivation.” And that’s horticulture. The history of medicine is the history of plant cultivation. And all the history that have of all the history of people, if you go back to the historical archives, there are plants that have influenced us all the way here. And they’re still influencing us from what we eat to spice—looking for spices that Christopher Columbus then discover America or came to America, to the Opium Wars and even war with drugs today. Those are all plants.

Now we have GMOs that are bringing a different equation into our history, but the history of plant cultivation is the history of people. And I tell them “You are now part of something that is way over here, and it’s something that got us to where we are right now.” Sitting in the library, this all came because of plants. So it’s amazing. And I love every single aspect of it.

LLYR HELLER: Thank you. That’s great. Any questions before I—Yes. All right.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I don’t know if you already addressed this, but what is your like, do you – your regular routine or day-to-day basis at your job? Are you just taking care of plants? Are you taking statistics?

JORGE OCHOA: I wish (laughs). So it changes with every semester because it depends on when I’m scheduled with my classes. So let’s say, tomorrow—not tomorrow. Tomorrow’s Sunday. Monday I have a class from 9:00 to 11:00, so from 9:00 to 11:00 I’m going to be engaged with the students in the classroom. And then from 11:00 to 12:00, then I’ll have office hours. Then I can address individual student concerns and needs.

And then I can go in the gardens and work with the students, so when they have different projects and they have questions, and some of them are growing different types of plants. I have a student from Peru who’s growing Peruvian peppers which are unusual here. And so then I work with them and water plants, and then I can also take care of the passionflowers. And then by 5:00, that’s when my second class begins. So then I’ll go back to the classroom and that ends at about 7:30. So that’s my—that would be my Monday and now Wednesday.

My Tuesday/Thursday begins at 9:00 in the morning with a class also of plant propagation also this semester, goes from 9:00 in the morning to 12:00. And after 12:00 then I spend time in the garden with the students. Friday I have a class from 9:00 to 12:00, and then I spend it with the garden—in the garden. Or some Fridays I have to attend meetings, so there’s—there’s going to be some meetings that I will need to attend.

But that would be a probably summary of the things that I do on a weekly basis right now, this semester. So it will change next semester with a whole different group of new students and classes that might be scheduled at different time.

LLYR HELLER: Thank you. And I can tell, obviously with all the trips, it’s very collaborative. How do you keep your relationship strong with all these people around the world?

JORGE OCHOA: Interesting. So we have our own—I’m going to say a chat group? WhatsApp. So our own WhatsApp group, so that if when we’re finding different things, or when we finding when we’re getting some of the plants to flower, then we share photographs with them. There’s that. And also a lot of them belong to what is known as The Passionflower Society International, so that group of experts that have the same interests, and so we cooperate to kind of continue on this work because we are kind of like the ones who need to continue on the work with the passionflowers and record them and new hybrids and all that.

So it’s throughout the year we kind of keep in contact with – through social media and or just talking to each other through WhatsApp and as we are planning the trips. And on some years it might be just one or two, and some years it might be the whole group, or it also depends on where they might want to visit. So some of them have also their specific areas in South America where they would like to go visit. But if we’re planning a trip somewhere else, then they might say not this year, maybe next year. But we’ll continue on.

And so that’s how it’s easy for people now to communicate and just talk to them overnight or get on the phone and like “what’s happening over there?”

AUDIENCE MEMBER: That’s a great app (inaudible).

JORGE OCHOA: It’s free, and it’s worldwide. Everybody, in Central- South America, they use them. And then I also have another WhatsApp with South Americans who grow passionfruits, so the fruit, I get news and information about maybe problems that they’re dealing in the cultivation of the passionfruit, or if they’re—if somebody’s looking to buy tons of passionfruit, and we kind of share information about what’s happening with the passionfruit industry that’s different from the passionflower. But it’s all related because it’s just one plant.

LLYR HELLER: Thank you.

Any questions before I keep going? All right. I like to check it. So would this career be good for introverts and extroverts? Or what do you think?

JORGE OCHOA: The answer is yes. I’m introvert, believe it or not. Yes, I am. I get a lot of students who do not like to deal with people. But they’re very artistic, and they are very good at what they do, but they just don’t want to deal with people a lot. And so this gives them the opportunity to design something and install them and just deal with one person, one customer, and then move on. So the answer is yes, you can be an introvert, like plants, like hanging around plants, don’t like to talk to people. This could be a field.

Or the opposite is you are extrovert and you like to be around lots of people. There’s always the retail field. There’s always marking and selling. And there’s also a—education, believe it or not, through the California Teacher’s Association and also through the California Agriculture Teacher’s Association. There is a big need for teachers to teach agriculture. And then there’s also communication degrees that are tied to agriculture so that as people go out there and sell or market things in business can also be important.

So that’s probably one of the biggest surprises that I realized, later on, how broad that this field can be. I know that I am in horticulture, but horticulture is just a small fraction of the field of agriculture, which we fall under. And so the field of agriculture has everything from animals to veterinary to grains to fruits to fish and through education. And so it’s gigantic.

And so I am sure that there is a place for everybody. Whether extrovert or introvert, I have students who're like, okay, I just want to see. I want to go more into taking care of horses. Perfect, that’s this path right here. I want to go and work in a botanic garden, just deal with plants that are from different parts of the world, okay, then that’s this right here. Or some who says I want to take care of plants inside of hotels. That’s interior scape. That’s right here.

LLYR HELLER: So it’s also good for people who love the topic but don’t want to be outside.

JORGE OCHOA: Yes. Yes. And older adults, because I do get a lot of older adults who have been in a field that they might not be too happy with, or they’re getting ready to retire and they would like to have some supplemental income or just a way of being out there. So this can also work for an older adult who’s looking for changing careers or an extra career.

LLYR HELLER: Oh, thank you. And what’s the employment outlook for your field and how much demand do you have for entry-level?

JORGE OCHOA: I’m going to say, if you see a plant, someone has to take care of it. That would be number one. Another question that I always get asked, “is there going to be a job in this field in the future?” And my answer is, “can you stop eating?” Probably not, so the answer is yes, there is high demand because at the end of the day, California is an agriculture state, so the big economy rely on agriculture production; different fields, different crops, from ornamental to all the carrots brought into the world.

So the job outlook is great, especially because there’s not a lot of folks saturating the field. Like computers. I’m not going to bash computers, but the computer fields are being oversaturated, and so because everybody was pushed to computers. Agriculture has been—I’m not going to say neglected—but has been overlooked. So I do have a handout that I can share with you. It’s done by the State of California from—with cooperation with the California Agriculture Teacher Associations, and they list kind of salaries and tips as well as the different degrees you might be able to get or what are some of the fields or the type of jobs that you, as an idea that you can carry out in this—in some of this field.

So there is entry-level jobs in maintenance. There’s entry-level jobs in the different fields. And then if I bring some examples of my students. I have students who would complete the program and they like trees. So then they would apply to take the certified arborist, so then they become a certified arborist. Now they can promote to be more of an expert on trees and care for trees.

And then or I have students who like the landscape, and so they take their landscape contractor license, and now they can enter more of the bigger landscape institution. I have other students who might like to take care of a golf course or parks, and they may be required for them to take a pesticide applicator license because it’s going to be pest problems in everything. And so that can set them on a good path.

So there’ s—like every other job, there’s different licenses, certifications, and the more that you achieve, the more sought after, the more valuable you’re going to become. So it deals just from an entry-level maintenance person to a big supervisor of a golf course to even working with the Department of Agriculture. So I’ll pass those if anybody’s interested, and I’ll leave the rest of you if you want to pass an idea for anybody else who might ask.

LLYR HELLER: That’d be great. Thank you. So do find that your students stay in California, or do they go do different places ‘cause you’re around the world.

JORGE OCHOA: I wish I could keep track of them.

It’s everything. Many of them—many of them like California and they to settle here. I have students who have finished the program and they transferred to university in the Eastern United States. I have other students who have gotten—moved back home and now they are able to work in a botanic garden in their area they never thought of. So I’m going to say a very good number stays locally, but there’s it going to be the ones that decide to either move Northern California or South or East, and I have had some student its who were here visiting or on a visa and then they go back home. So I had one student who went back to Poland and or then went to Australia and one into South America and went back home.

LLYR HELLER: Thank you. And this question always comes up with our career conversations, but—and I feel like you’ve already answered. But how’s diversity in the workplace? I mean, it seems like your teams you work around—you work with a lot of different backgrounds, but—

JORGE OCHOA: Let’s see. I actually have this data somewhere—not here.

So diversity, I think right now I can say that this field has gone through some changes I think in the 40s, 30s, 40s, it was predominantly a Japanese field. So the Japanese engaged in a lot of this horticulture. And then, later on, it was Vietnamese and later on, it became more of a Hispanic. If I just look at the makeup of my students, the ones that are attending my classes, I’m going to say it’s about 60% females. I’m going to also say the average age is over 30. And females followed by Hispanics and then by White, and a very low percentage of African-American and a low percentage of Asian-Americans. So that would be the makeup. And I know I can find it because that’s—that information is given to us by the college. But it’s mainly females. Many females in the field. I don’t know why. But that’s the makeup of this field.

LLYR HELLER: Thank you. Okay. And so are full-time or in-house positions offered as well as freelance positions in this career? Like can you be a freelancer that just travels all the time?

JORGE OCHOA: We call them consultants the answer is yes, there are many consultants in different fields so, like part of the arborists—certified arborist, you can be an arborist consultant, so when there is a litigation, then you go and investigate what has happened and then submit a report to either pro or against. I get asked many times if I would like to be an advisor. I want to say right now, I have not really engaged in that because of my time [laughter]. I am a little busy. But not so long ago I was asked by Disney—an executive from Disney Imagineering department, she was trying to write a book, and she asked if I would help out with that. Just never got there because I got busy with my college. But yes, there are consultant types either in designing landscapes. So designing when Disney is going to do signal or any of the theme parts, they are going to do a new area, there is a plant person that is brought in to help out and make sure that it’s as real as possible.

And there’s always the trees. There’s also now the big movement is water conservation and so there are irrigation auditors that are just going around wherever they get called, working with the different water municipalities, just going there, looking and just giving feedback on their irrigation problems or how to repair. So yes, there is lots of that, but it’s a time—the time that I don’t have and the time that I’m glad somebody else does because otherwise [laughter] many things could be not carried out. But yes, there is freelancing as well as permanent job as well as part-time jobs and internals.

LLYR HELLER: Great. Thank you. Looking at the audience, any questions? We have 10 minutes left or—

AUDIENCE MEMBER: What does this mean biotechnology and agribusiness? I don’t know, is it more science in agriculture?

JORGE OCHOA: It—no, it depends. So that just lists the different careers—another career in agriculture. So agribusiness, it’s taking business courses and using them upon in agriculture. So let’s say for example, we are very close to the wholesale produce market on 7th and Olympic. There is a lot of business that is being carried out there; all the retail stores go there and purchase their fruit and vegetables. And so there is a person that needs be knowledgeable in business as well as in plants and fruits and be able to sequester [sic] and deal the different farmers to be able to provide the fruits, vegetables to the different market. So there are components of agriculture and business that you can tie in together and become agribusiness.

The other one that you mentioned, genetic engineering came out of horticulture. So the GMOs, all of that – all of that work has been done at UC Riverside, not too far from here. And that is changing the plants that are out there. And so if somebody is a—as they referred to, a lab rat and, they want to be in the lab working with molecular level and engineering brand-new plants, Frankenstein plants as they referred to. That’s great for them. But there is a place for somebody who has a very high science background, high chemistry background, very high science behind them.

The other thing that folks don’t realize is that within the field—our field—chemistry can be very important. Let’s take something as simple as, the wine industry. Big business, wine. Every single barely of wine needs to be tested chemically for their alcohol and the taste and all that and all that, so they always hire a person who knows about chemistry but also knows about plants.

And also, it is not uncommon in the news when we have a recall on spinach because there is some kind of E. coli infection. So it is within agriculture that those spinaches get sent to the lab—a lab a person who has knowledge in microbiology and chemistry, to study, figure out what’s the problem, and then trace it back to wherever that came from and try to figure out where the contamination occurs. So I’m going to say if have you any specific interest whether it be science, whether it be biology, whether it be botany, whether it be microbiology, you could find a link in agriculture and be able to work here.

Because remember, agriculture, the yogurt, meat, beef, chicken, eggs, vegetables, fruit, gains, contamination problems, alcohol; that’s all agriculture. And it’s linked to everything because as the same as before, history of human, history of plant cultivation, and we cannot get away from it because that’s what got us here.

LLYR HELLER: Thank you. So many different jobs [laughter]. That’s great.


LLYR HELLER: So can you talk about one of the best trips and one of the worst trips you’ve ever taken and why describe it a little.

JORGE OCHOA: One of the best trips that—I’m going to say, the best trip and the worst trip is two years ago, we had the opportunity to go to Cuba. It was a very, very nice trip because we got to travel through the island and see Cuba and see the aftermath of a hurricane and look for plants. So that was very, very nice. We did not find a lot of plants, the passionflower, and the worst part about that trip is that we could not find a rental car. So it took us several days to find a rental car, and because of the political issues, we could not—I could not use my credit cards or dollars, so whatever money you had is whatever you had to work with.

And so the trip was great, it’s just everything else about it was just a little bit slow whereas when I went to Columbia, I reserved everything from here; flight, plane, cars, and got insurance; went around for two wonderful weeks in Columbia, no problem, and then returned the car like nothing happened, and came back. So when things were like that, where no hiccups, it’s great. When there is slow-downs that keep you away from watching the place because now it’s days that you are missing or losing, then it’s—that’s kind of a problem.

So I want to say that has been like the major issues. I’m going to say I’m very lucky or very fortunate of not really encounter any serious problems in my journeys even though I visit all these countries. So I have never encountered any serious issue. We have not encountered any serious infections so I know a few of our members have gotten like stomach flus, maybe ate something that they weren’t supposed to, but other than that, we have not experienced anything, anything serious in our trips.

LLYR HELLER: And usually go with a group; it’s not just yourself.

JORGE OCHOA: And usually we go to our group and we look for passionflowers. We are not loitering in an area where we are not supposed to (inaudible).

LLYR HELLER: Okay [laughter]. Thank you. Well, any last questions? Okay. Well, thank you so much for joining us—

JORGE OCHOA: Can I—can I give any advice to potential students?

Just based on my experience, if you are looking for a career – it took me a while to find it. I will recommend that you take the time, because the last thing that you want is to experience what I’ve heard from many co-workers that they started a career, and when they were about to finish, they changed career, and now it starts all over again. I want to recommend that you choose something and complete it, because you can always go back and do another thing. But if you never complete anything, it’s not going to be good. And I’m going to recommend that you, regardless of what people say, if it’s something that you want to do, go fewer it, but strive to be the best at it. And so that was kind of my case where if I would have told people, I am – I’m learning about plants, and the first thing they say is so what are you going to do with that when you graduate? Like, I don’t know. I don’t care about that right now. But I’m going to be the best plantsman that there’s going to be.

So you choose to be the mechanic, be the best mechanic because when you get there, doors will open. If I were to go back in time and tell myself you’re going to be doing this when you are an adult, I would probably say that’s impossible, will never happen, no way in life I am going to be visiting places looking for plants; I’m going to be talking to folks; I’m going to be standing in front of a group every single day, talking to them and sharing my knowledge. So that will be one.

If you are not sure, community colleges—and I teach at a community college, I knew what I did not want to be, but all my time in college, I knew I wanted to go to university. And so I knew that by going to Trade Tech and taking my general eds, I was not wasting time. I just didn’t know where I was going, it was going to lead me to. But I was not wasting time. So when I finished Trade Tech with zero debt—very important—then I went to Long Beach. Those units follow me. I completed just the horticulture in Long Beach, finished that, no debt. Those units then, all the units from Long Beach and Trade Tech transferred to Cal Poly Pomona where then I finished my bachelor’s in horticulture and finished with no debt.

So if you are not sure, there are some courses that you will need to take no matter what; basic biology, basic math, and all that follow you find what’s going to be the field that you might then enjoy. And make sure that you enjoy it because I can bring the experience from older adults that come to me for my program, who say “I wish I would have found this earlier,” and I had to say that I wish I would have found it earlier, but growing in LA there is no horticulture there. There is no horticulture field growing in LA, so I had to go out of LA to find it. And also my own ignorance, because when I start looking into possible careers, and I read “horticulture” and it had the word “gardener,” I—in my head—I did not want to go to university to be a Mexican gardener. So that was just my view of things. And at the end of the day I also say I have only mown lawns three times in my life—mow a lawn. One is when I, like, oh, let me mow this lawn, and I realize I don’t like mowing lawns.

Second is when I was already teaching and I needed grass clippings for composting, then I, then I, had to mow a lawn to get grass clippings, and that’s – now I mow lawns for that. So it’s not lawn mowing, it’s gigantic field so it’s beyond that. And so my own ignorance—took me like a year behind, but I wish would have started this when I was right out of high school and—did a little bit later, but I’m glad that I did because once I found it, there was no looking back, straight out. That’s where I want to be.

And I’ve been very happy ever since. I’ve been very happy going to work. I’ve been very happy working with the students. I’ve been very happy traveling. I’ve been very happy looking at plants and, wherever I go, there’s plants. If I go into the market, you find me in the produce section. If I walk around the streets, I’m looking at plants anywhere I go. There’s always things for me to see and record and keep sharing with people.

LLYR HELLER: Thank you. Do you recommend, because it’s so big of a career and a focus, do you recommend taking like different topics of classes or should—like when you find your focus, focus, but if you’re still unsure…

JORGE OCHOA: Take several classes, and see what that is – that will lead you. So I started with horticulture, and I completed that. When I got to Pomona, then my choice I became broader. So I took bee science because I like bees. And then I wanted to take pollination biology, so pollination, and then I took botany which also led me to mushrooms and fungi. And then economic botany which talks about people and plants. And then plant anatomy, physiology, and all the other sciences. They were all very interesting to me because at the end of the day they were related to plants.

So I would say yes, I will recommend that you take as many courses that you are going to enjoy the topic, because that’s going to make it a hundred times better for you. And who knows? Some of those may lead somewhere because bee science, now I work with bees. Now I look to preserving, help bees out, and make sure you don’t spray any (indecipherable) chemicals and plant more flowers for bees and bee health. And plant anatomy physiology, because I (indecipherable) times. So yes, take any course that you think would be interesting to you. I would say take it. Worst thing you could learn is you don’t like the topic, then you move on to the next one. But at the end they’re all going to come together and you’re going to see that they are linked and that was my experience. I took classes for fun, and yes, I was able to apply them to my degree, but at the end of the day, my degree was for fun.

LLYR HELLER: Everyone should have degrees for fun, definitely. That’s excellent advice. Thank you.

Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you all in the audience for (inaudible).



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