From Tourism and Travel to Urban Agriculture: A Story of Career Change during the Pandemic

Posted on Thursday November 03, 2022
Rebecca Davis
Rebecca Davis

Switching careers to pursue a passion is not an easy risk to take. It requires reskilling, upskilling, coursework, time, and effort—enough to make most people stay comfortably where they are. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Rebecca Davis took advantage of an unlikely opportunity to start a new career.

The tourism sector was notoriously affected by the pandemic, and Davis personally experienced this hardship. The tourism and travel company she worked for decided to let most of their employees go, including Davis, who was now out of a job after 10 years in the industry. Using this time to self-reflect, she realized that gardening makes her happy.

Jumping completely from tourism to horticulture was a leap Davis didn’t expect to take though. Initially just curious about growing cannabis, she enrolled in one of OpenEd’s online horticulture courses to get more resources for gardening. “At first, I just wanted to take a few courses,” says Davis. “But I ended up loving what I was learning and kept completing more courses until I graduated with distinction with a focus in Cannabis Production and Urban Agriculture.”

But her success story didn’t end there. Davis now works as the urban agriculture specialist at Green Thumbs, a non-profit organization in Regent Park, encouraging positive relationships between students and their environment. “I am teaching kids (grades K-8) about different aspects of gardening as they relate to their curriculum. We often weave in themes about climate change, food security, Native teachings and words, and urban agriculture,” says Davis.

Expanding cities and increased industrialization reflects the need for urban agriculture today. As Davis puts it, “urban agriculture is the opportunity for people in the city to still resonate with the Earth and to develop a relationship with our plants and soil while still being surrounded by highways and skyscrapers.”

She says the barrier for children in high-density cities to get close with nature is immense, so her hope is to bring nature to them by promoting environmental education and connection. “Giving kids a chance to find worms, move soil, and learn about plants, opens a door that is usually very hard to open in the city.”

Recently, Davis was able to take her expertise to the Toronto Garlic Festival where she gave a talk on bio-intensive urban planting. She spoke on the importance of companion planting and how having the right partner plant can reduce pests, improve flavour, fix soil deficiencies, and improve yield. Fittingly, she recommended garlic as the perfect companion plant. She also emphasized how people are part of the companion plant relationship and have a role to play in combating climate change through garden work.

From curious student to full-time horticulturist, Davis has had quite the journey, and has a message for others wanting to plant a seed in their horticulture pursuits: “If you are interested in learning more about plants, especially the why, then OpenEd will teach you. The lessons are packed with extensive information yet broken-down enough for you to learn on your own. I felt comfortable calling myself a horticulturist as soon as I graduated,” concludes Davis.

Winter horticulture courses are now open for registration.