Realizing Her Passion
Elizabeth Tanner faced a common dilemma after earning her high school diploma — she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life.
Luckily, experience working for a flower farm in her hometown of Bonners Ferry introduced Tanner to an interest in horticulture. That interest grew, resulting in a degree in horticulture and urban agriculture from the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
A Path to Higher Education
Tanner had no plans to go to college after earning her high school degree in 2014. All of her older siblings — she is the youngest of eight — went on to college, and four of them earned degrees from U of I. But Tanner didn’t have a passion for a specific field and didn’t want to spend money taking classes she might not use.
“I didn’t have a specific goal in mind or a specific love for something,” she said. “College is super expensive so my thought behind it was, I don’t want to go and pay all this money for something I’m not super excited about.”
Tanner first took a semester off and moved to Texas where one of her sisters was living. She completed a four-month certification course in wedding and event planning, but wasn’t ready to make that a career.
“I didn’t know what I was doing with my life,” she said.
Tanner returned to Idaho in 2015 and enrolled at North Idaho College at the encouragement of her family. She spent a year at NIC before her sisters, Courtney, who was attending U of I, and Michelle, a teacher at Moscow High School, convinced her to move to Moscow and enroll. She also relied on her faith to guide her.
“I prayed to God a lot about it,” she said. “I didn’t want to go because it’s more expensive, but when I went to pay for school I ended up finding out that I had gotten multiple scholarships. School was way cheaper than I thought it was and I was able to pay for it. Every semester it was always the exact amount I needed for tuition.”
An Interest in Horticulture
When she was a freshman in high school, Tanner began working for BeeHaven Flower Farm, a small family owned business in Bonners Ferry. She started out weeding and eventually began helping sell products at the local farmers market and assisting with floral designs for weddings and events. When it came time to select a major at U of I, Tanner recalled how much she enjoyed that experience.
“When I transferred to U of I, I had to declare my degree and I always loved the outdoors and had worked for the flower farm and knew I liked it and wanted to pick something that I can be outside and grow something,” she said.
Tanner contacted Bob Tripepi, professor and head of the Department of Plant Sciences, and told him about her interests. He recommended the horticulture and urban agriculture degree program.
“It’s outdoors and active which has always been a part of me,” she said. “I really like the aspect of design. I like the beauty part of it. It’s more than just farming, it’s providing something that is beautiful and brings joy to people. I think I got to see that by working at a farmers market.”
In fall 2018, Tripepi told Tanner about an internship program with the American Floral Endowment (AFE), an independent nonprofit organization that funds research and scholarships in floriculture and environmental horticulture. AFE coordinates interns at various retail, wholesale or allied trade operations and placed Tanner at Ocean View Flowers in Lompac, California, for the spring 2019 semester.
Tanner has helped the company with everything from harvesting to preparing floral arrangements for mass market to integrating data into a new software program.
“I never know what I’m going to do in a week,” she said. “It’s always changing. It might be a small project in the office or out in the field for a day or trying something new. It’s challenging but it’s good because there is constantly a chance to learn and ask questions.
“As an intern you’re not expected to know everything, which I appreciate,” she said. “That gives me the opportunity to think and ask questions and learn.”
Tanner will earn her degree in spring 2019 and plans to return to Idaho to seek out job opportunities. She hopes to one day own her own business.
“I think it would be neat to combine both the farming part and the designing part,” she said. “Doing weddings and events as well as growing some flowers on a farm. This degree gave me a very good, basic understanding of horticulture.”
Although she was hesitant to pursue higher education, Tanner has now found her passion, will graduate debt-free, and has learned to accept that life doesn’t always need a plan.
“I’ve never been someone that always knew what I wanted to do,” she said. “There’s that worry of ‘I don’t know what I’m doing with my life,’ but there’s that realization and reminder that you’re never going to know what you’re doing. And that’s OK. It’s OK not knowing what I’m going to do.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Published in May 2019