Diverse Employees Thrive in the Green Industry

Suman George at Altman Plants

Suman George grew up in Kerala, a state along the southwest coast of India. Her education was in agriculture and she planned for a career as an irrigation engineer. After arriving in the U.S. 10 years ago, she decided to be a stay-at-home mom for a few years. Then, she decided it was time to start her career.

Maria Cruz came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was a young child. She obtained DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status protecting her from deportation, and graduated from high school. After working at a restaurant for a while, she knew that she didn’t want that to be her lifelong work. She wanted to expand her career.

Both women heard about job openings in the green industry from friends. While Suman knew that the work would be a good fit with her background, Maria didn’t know what kind of work she was interested in.

Maria Cruz, right, with her supervisor, Marisol Medrano

“I wasn’t really looking for any specific type of work. This was a good opportunity when it came to the table so I took it right away,” she said

She is the human resources assistant at CoCal Landscape, a landscaping company serving seven Front Range cities from Castle Rock to Fort Collins. She assists the human resources director with various tasks such as implementing safety protocols and payroll procedures, and works at the front desk of the company.

Suman was hired at Altman Plants in Peyton, northeast of Colorado Springs, where she works in technical services, monitoring plant health in the greenhouses and adjusting inputs such as water and fertilizer.

“I love monitoring the plants. When you see any problem, you apply the remedy and you see the influence on the plant; it’s really like an achievement. It’s a good feeling,” she said. “It’s like basically monitoring your baby, like you monitor them, you grow them, you find the problem, you apply the remedies, and then the remedy works and you are very happy about it.”

Suman at Altman

She admits that she is not always successful, but her dedication is mostly rewarded with good results.

“It’s a really good atmosphere. It has so many plants. It is really beautiful,” she commented. “Every day you have lots to learn. It’s really informative. It’s really good fun. You would love it here. I love it.”

During her childhood, her family grew plants together in their backyard, with ornamental plants on one side and food crops on the other. So, caring for plants at her job connects her to her mother who is the gardener and father who is the farmer (though both were teachers in their careers).

“I can talk to my mother about my work. She loves what I am doing right here, because it is something I remember doing with her when I was small,” she said.

Maria Cruz’s coworkers at CoCal help her celebrate her birthday

Maria’s parents work at CoCal, though in different areas of the company. She enjoys sharing about her office job with them, and hearing about what happens in their jobs as well. It’s also interesting for her parents to hear what Maria learns from an online human resources class that she takes at home outside of work.

“I’m sitting in class, and I realize I already know what she’s teaching, but the teacher expands a little more into the subject and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s really good to know.’ So, I get excited to come and tell (my supervisor) Mari what I learned,” she said.

At work, too, “I really like that I’m always learning something new. Mostly it’s in my human resources department, but sometimes it’s in maintenance or in sales or account managing,” she added.

She likes to see the variety of people who come into the office to apply for jobs. While her company’s owner is a Mexican immigrant and many of the employees are Latino, they welcome applicants from all backgrounds.

Maria Cruz, left, with co-workers at CoCal

“I think the non-Latinos do get intimidated a little bit because they are in a crew with Spanish-speaking people. It amazes me because they always somehow communicate with each other and get the work done,” she explained.

Many new hires start as laborers, but have the opportunity to get training and be promoted. They can become foreman, supervisors or salespeople, among other jobs.

“The plant industry offers so many opportunities, including opening doors to women. We are all willing to learn from each other and work together. We’re all people, just different colors,” she concluded. “People should know they are always welcomed and they have a place to grow here with us. Whoever is ready to come and work hard, the door is always open for them.”

Suman also points to the growth opportunities in the green industry as to why it’s such a great place to work.

“You have the potential to grow here. It doesn’t matter what your background is – if you have the potential to grow, you can reach the heights you want to reach,” she said.

She admits that attracting people to the green industry can be a challenge even though it is so rewarding. She believes there are not enough candidates for horticultural careers because the general public does not have much information about them.

“I belong to a generation where people are more inclined to the IT sector. I have friends who are in the same field as me, but I would say the percentage is really low,” she explained. “We need to show the world that this is a good spot, that we have a career where you can enjoy your work.”

She said Altman Plants has many people from various origins, including many who are people of color. “You meet people from everywhere. It’s really a variety of people and it’s really good,” she said.

“I have seen that if you have the potential, it doesn’t matter what race you are, what color you are, you can reach the goal you want to. You have a really good scope of opportunity in this field. You enjoy your work, and you can see the results in front of your eyes,” she concluded.