When Nia Hill was a child living in Boston, she and her mother planted green bean seeds on their small apartment balcony. Nia carefully watered the seeds daily and was fascinated as she watched them grow to small shoots and eventually to full plants that produced food she could eat. That experience sparked something in her that would lead to a career doing all the things she loved: nurturing, educating, gardening, teaching, and helping people become self-sufficient.
“The process of of growing food and being able to eat what you’ve grown is fulfilling,” she says, “Before switching careers, I worked with children for years, often creating garden activities in the hopes of encouraging a love of gardening like my mother inspired in me.”
When Nia returned to California five years ago as a single parent raising a toddler, she knew firsthand the struggle to make ends meet. The realization of how many people were hungry and could use help led her to start a nonprofit called Nourish Wellness which offers free or low-cost culinary, gardening, nutrition, and food resources online (www.nourish-wellness.org).
While doing her research for gardening resources, she came across Merritt’s Landscape Horticulture Program. She signed up for a permaculture class which was perfect for what she wanted to learn and share. She loved the idea of planting in a sustainable way, similar to how plants grow on their own.
Merritt soon became Nia’s home-away-from-home as she took more and more classes. “I learned how to grow and care for vegetables in raised beds when I took the Urban Community Gardening class with Tom Branca and loved being able to donate the harvested crops to food banks, and other non-profits like Clausen House for developmentally disabled adults,” she says. “In Anders Vidstrand’s Edible Landscaping class, I learned about having an edible garden almost anywhere and how to care for it. These classes fit in with my goals and helped me further develop my nonprofit.”
When Nia found out about the department’s semi-annual plant sale, she was eager to help and became an intern. She was later hired as a student assistant and learned more hands-on experience from Anders as well as from Grounds Coordinator Molly Sealund on crop production and propagating plants and how to prepare them for sale. It was during that time that she became very interested in nursery management and began taking classes. She is now just one class shy from earning her AS degree in that topic (in addition to her certificates in Ecological Horticulture and Permaculture Design, an AA in Social and Behavioral Science, and a BA in English/Creative Writing from San Francisco State University).
So when a part-time Science Lab Technician position became available, Nia applied and was hired. She sets up labs for instructors, manages the greenhouses, and prepares crops for the biannual plant sales. (All the proceeds from the sale of vegetables, herbs, natives, ornamentals, perennial edibles, and succulents help fund the department.)
As an added bonus to Nia’s bucket list of dream jobs, she was given the opportunity to teach Plant Propagation this spring as well as Crop Production, Marketing and Sales.
“I’ve learned so much from the faculty and staff in Landscape Horticulture, and I’m excited to able to teach others what I’ve learned,” says Nia. “Working here touches on everything I’ve wanted to accomplish in my life—teaching, gardening, and helping people to access food resources and healthy food alternatives.”