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Making a difference through horticulture

John Dusek in a graduation cap and gown with his wife and daughter presenting his dual degrees to him.

John Dusek earned his B.S in Horticulture and B.S in Sustainability online with Oregon State. His wife and daughter each awarded him one of his diplomas at a graduation celebration at the family’s greenhouse.

How an Oregon State Ecampus graduate is using his degrees in horticulture and sustainability to support and transform his community — one act at a time

By Elena Moffet

For over 30 years, John Dusek and his wife Jennifer have worked seven days a week to operate their own family-run business — Faber’s Greenhouse and Floral

Located in rural Michigan, the Duseks were welcomed by the small town of St. Charles from the start and stuck around; raising a daughter and building their shared life around plants and plant production.

Dusek loves his work and community, but nearly a decade ago, he began to feel like something was missing.

“I don’t know if it was a midlife crisis or what,” he says. “But I came to a point where I realized that there was much more potential in horticulture than just producing pretty things for people to look at. So I decided to go back to school.”

In researching programs, Dusek needed something specialized, yet flexible, and he wanted to find a university that shared his values. When he came across Oregon State University’s online double degree option that paired a B.S. in Horticulture with a B.S. in Sustainability, he knew he’d found a good match.

“To have horticulture and sustainability together is like having this big puzzle where you finally can see how all this stuff fits,” says Dusek. “Combining these two was the answer I was looking for.” 

Dusek worked without pause to earn both degrees while continuing to run his small business — only taking the Spring terms off to work through his busiest season at the nursery. Going to school online meant Dusek never had to put his business or community on hold, and he could directly apply his course material to his life and work as he went.

“I took a class called Sustainable Communities that was a huge eye-opener,” says Dusek. Around the same time, somebody came into the nursery and asked if Dusek thought a community garden might be possible in St. Charles. The idea resonated with the sustainability principles he was learning in class.

Dusek quickly became a cheerleader and sustainability advisor for the project, which has since turned into a much bigger food security initiative. Over the last two years, the group distributed nearly 500,000 pounds of produce — that would otherwise end up in landfills — to people in their local area. As part of these efforts, the Dusek family also brings hundreds of flats of plants to give away, so that more people have a chance to grow flowers.

Feeling inspired yet? This is just one small part of their work. 

“I am better at horticulture since going back to school. I produce higher quality plants at a lower cost while producing less pollution, less nutrient runoff, and much less pesticide use.” 

Dusek believes strongly that knowledge is a resource to be shared with others, and he’s constantly reaching out to people in the industry and beyond — to ask questions and share ideas. During his studies at Oregon State, Dusek was invited by DuPont, a multinational chemical company, to present the latest ideas in sustainability to one of their divisions.

“I did an hour-long presentation, and I was able to do it on their level,” says Dusek. “That’s something that I didn’t have before I came to Oregon State. The ability to do it and the confidence, both. They have to work together.”

That confidence and knowledge have also been critical to the work he’s doing back home, where Dusek is building a following of people who are interested in food justice and habitat restoration. The Duseks have done projects promoting honeybee restoration, giving away native pollinators, and educating people about monarch butterflies and their habitat loss.

“When I first started giving away milkweed plants, these old farmers that I know came in here and said, ‘What the heck’s the matter with you, man? I’m trying to get rid of this stuff and you’re giving it to people,’ ” Dusek says with a laugh. 

“But this year we were able to give away 2,500 milkweed plants to farmers that normally spray Roundup on milkweed. These same farmers are now in here saying, ‘How can I make this stuff grow? What if I leave this area of my headlands open?’ So our message is getting through.” 

All of these changes are happening in conjunction with efforts that the Duseks are making to ensure Faber’s Nursery itself is more sustainable. 

“I am better at horticulture since going back to school,” says Dusek. “I produce higher quality plants at a lower cost while producing less pollution, less nutrient runoff, and much less pesticide use.” 

When Dusek graduated, he celebrated this huge accomplishment with a ceremony in the family’s greenhouse, where his wife and daughter each awarded him one of his two degrees. 

“I didn’t do any of it by myself,” says Dusek. “It was as important to them that I was successful in school as it was to me.”

Dusek admits he feels like a different person since earning his degrees. He feels that his work of sharing information, resources and knowledge with his community — and the world — is just beginning. And his outlook is contagious.

“If you go on any source of media and talk about the problems of the world, most people are overwhelmed. They shut down and they say, ‘It’s bigger than I can do anything about,’ ” says Dusek. “So they do nothing. But my experience at OSU has given me tools to be able to say, no, you CAN do something. And your actions are super, super important.”

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