Special to the Wallace State website. Reprinted with permission from The Cullman Times.

By Loretta Gillespie CORRESPONDENT | Posted: Wednesday, April 8, 2015 1:15 pm

As jobs go, Anthony Hilliard has a plum…and a strawberry, and even a Satsuma, of a job. Hilliard heads the Horticulture department at Wallace State Community College (WSCC), where all of the fruits listed above can be found. The department also boasts some unique Ming fern trees, and many other unusual plants.

Hilliard, who commutes from Athens, Alabama, has been at WSCC for two-and-a-half years. He loves his job, loves the campus and is excited about what’s coming up for his department.

“The Agriculture Department has a new program geared toward back-yard farming,” Hilliard explained. “It revolves around sustainability. Not only will we be teaching horticulture, but now there is an emphasis on raising fruits and vegetables, and even animals such as bees, chickens, rabbits and gardening with hydroponics, which offers higher and faster yields.”

He hopes that the coming year’s budget will include funds for new high tunnel greenhouses, which will utilize solar power to heat plants for year-round harvests of things like strawberries, tomatoes, herbs, peppers, and cut flowers.

“We’ve even begun to discuss using bees to pollinate the greenhouses,” he said. “We will have to come up with some sort of hive that allows them access to the greenhouse and also to the outside so that they can pollinate in open fields in warm weather and in the greenhouses in cooler seasons.”

According the Hilliard, the high tunnel green houses will feature walls that raise and lower for ventilation, allowing growers to produce more crops in less space.

Hilliard has his classes arranged so that full-time students can complete the course in four semesters, with some academics added so that they can actually own their own business or go to work for a horticultural firm, or a landscaping service as soon as they earn their degree. “We give them all of the basic knowledge and business tools they need to be successful upon graduating,” he said.

Hilliard loves working with students and says that the whole WSCC campus is one huge lab for them to gain experience, both in gardening, landscaping and grounds maintenance, as well as building garden structures such as the newly installed arbor.

WSCC has a total of eight greenhouses. Hilliard oversees six of them for use in teaching students; the other two are dedicated space for growing campus landscaping plants.

One of the larger projects in which the WSCC Horticulture Department takes part involves the Alabama Forest Service. “Through the funds attained by a grant, we grow 100,000 plants to the seedling stage, then turn them over to the forest service to give away,” he said. “Most of the plants are native to Alabama, with exceptions like the crepe myrtle, which is a native of Japan.”

Hilliard has been married for 24 years. His wife, Veronica, works for a government contractor in Huntsville. The couple has two daughters, Olivia, who graduated college at Auburn is  currently attending the University of Alabama to start on a Masters degree in social work, and a bachelor’s degrees in psychology and Spanish. Their younger daughter, Sarah, is a student at WSCC, where she will apply for a spot in the Occupational Therapy department this fall.

Hilliard’s hobbies are much like his job – he loves being outside, hiking, working in the yard, gardening and being with his family. They travel to Gatlinburg frequently to enjoy being in the mountains, where there is serious hiking to be done.

He is a member of Gooch Lane Church of Christ, and is active in his community as well, now serving in his second term with the Limestone County School Board.

Hilliard would like to invite the public to come out and enjoy the beautiful WSCC campus during the upcoming plant sale, starting on April 7th, just after Easter. “It’s always open to the public,” he said.

The doors will open to the public from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Monday through Friday until all are sold. “We will offer a variety of plants, including ground covers, and various trees and shrubs. We have gingko trees in one gallon pots that are about 3’ to 4’ tall,” said Hilliard. “Trees and shrubs are available year round, and we also sell seasonal plants such as mums, lilies and poinsettia’s.”

If you haven’t toured the campus of WSCC, spring is a beautiful time to do so. Hilliard and his students have done an outstanding job with the landscaping, showcasing many entrances, flower beds and indoor plants throughout the facility.