July 4, 2022
Manpreet Kaur’s passion for horticulture grows at Fanshawe College
Manpreet Kaur earned a post-secondary scholarship through the Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation in 2021.
On an educational journey that’s taken her from Punjab, India to London, Ont., and soon to Vancouver, B.C., Manpreet Kaur is soaking up everything she can about horticulture everywhere she goes.

Growing up on a family farm in India, Kaur had early exposure to agriculture, horticulture and science from tending crops like rice, wheat, and vegetables. While her peers were compelled to study medicine and engineering, she chose a career that stayed closer to nature. “I’m really interested in flowers and nursery plants and those kinds of things, like ornamentals,” said Kaur. “That’s why I think I’ll be good in this field.”

Kaur went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, where she describes the experience as largely theoretical. Kaur said, “I spent six years studying, but it was a very broad course. It included so many aspects: entomology, food processing, horticulture, agronomy and so many more subjects. But I was particularly interested in either food processing or horticulture.”

Kaur said it’s unusual for a woman to pursue a career in horticulture in India. She recalls there was “just two per cent of women in my class and the rest were boys because, in India, girls are not allowed to carry such a future career in this job” as employers tend to prefer men for physical strength. Kaur explained girls are often not allowed to even go to college and she had to fight “to go on this course because I knew I was going to go to some other country where women can pursue their career in this field. That’s why I came here.”

To continue her studies, Kaur chose the Horticulture Technician program at Fanshawe College where she’s learning about nurseries, greenhouses, and plants. She enjoys the practical knowledge and hands-on experience the college offers, but was surprised to discover the program was so comprehensive.

Kaur admitted, “It was a little overwhelming when I was new here because I was still adapting to the new culture and new people. And the course was a little bit overwhelming for me because it has so many other aspects as well. I didn’t expect that landscape architecture and horticulture would be in the same program. So I’m studying both of them.”

Refusing to be deterred, Kaur dove into the work. She was determined to find her way even though she didn’t know anyone when she first arrived. “I had no friends in the first semester, but I didn’t give up. I practiced on my own. I talked to my teachers about it and I don’t think I have ever scored less on any of the tests or exams.” Kaur maintained a high GPA, and when asked about the scholarship she earned, said “I think my hard work paid off.”

Indeed, and the timing was perfect.

Tuition for an international student is nearly five times more than for a domestic student. “I worked two jobs at that time,” Kaur said, but she was still short on savings. A tuition payment was coming due and Kaur risked additional fines if she couldn’t cover it. “And when I got this scholarship, it was, I guess, 20 days before I had to pay my tuition fees. That scholarship helped me a lot, and I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own without a scholarship.”

Now in her final semester, Kaur is looking forward to an upcoming co-op at a nursery in Vancouver, B.C. After that, she is considering an apprenticeship program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University that may include more training in arboriculture.

After spending a few more years in Canada to gain work experience, Kaur would like to return to India to apply her practical skills. With a long summer growing season and beautiful weather, greenhouses are less common in Punjab, Kaur’s home state. Instead, she expects to work in fruit orchards and perhaps tackle a particular challenge: “Strawberries are really hard to grow in Punjab. I would like to try that because the weather is so hot and strawberries are usually so perishable and it’s hard to grow there.”

With her breadth of horticultural knowledge and a passion for plants, Kaur hopes she can nurture an appreciation for ornamental gardening on her home turf. “I want to make it happen there as well because it looks so good,” said Kaur. “And there would be no chance of unemployment because this field is going to grow with each passing day.”