Darryl Sanford: The Value of the Journey to a Horticulture Degree

Darryl Sanford: The Value of the Journey to a Horticulture Degree

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” — John Lennon

Darryl Sanford has been part of the Temple University community for most of his adult life, initially as a student in 1983. He completed his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering and shortly after graduation took a “temporary” job with Temple’s Library system.

Fast-forward to 2020 and that temporary position has been a full-fledged career dedicated to supporting Temple students, faculty and staff that has spanned more than 30 years.

“When I began working in the Library, in my mind it was definitely a temporary thing, a first job out of college. But something happened along the way — I started to truly love working in the Library,” said Sanford, 54, of Philadelphia. “The most important thing to me was providing a service to our students. Often times whenever a student comes in, they have challenges — ‘I have a paper due tomorrow’ — and they need some help. The idea of helping people find what they need is important to me.”

When he became part of the Temple Ambler campus community, Sanford said, “I was very pleased; I knew it was the right place for me.” Connecting with the community also re-ignited a spark, an educational dream that had remained unfulfilled.

“I’ve helped a lot of faculty over the years; helped them find resources for their classes, for their research, helped them find material for their students,” he said. “I’m always listening to the passion that they have and I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute. I go to a school that teaches horticulture. I want to study horticulture. What is wrong with me? I’m going to get my degree. I want to learn about horticulture!’ It took a while to realize I had this goal right here that I hadn’t grabbed a hold of, but then it was all so clear — let’s do this…and I did.”

It wasn’t an interest that bloomed out of nowhere, of course.

“I’ve always been interested in horticulture. I talked to one of my old Southern aunts a number of years ago and she said to me ‘I remember when you were just two years old and one day you were outside and your head was in the grass. I asked what were you doing, why were you out there. And you said, ‘Oh, I’m listening to the grass grow,’” he said. “Horticulture is what I’ve been wanting to do my entire life.”

Sanford officially began Temple’s Horticulture program (now part of the Tyler School of Art and Architecture) in 2012. He applied as a transfer student and was able to transfer many of his credits from his Mechanical Engineering degree, allowing him to focus primarily on his horticulture courses. Sanford said he had a five-year plan to complete the degree, but juggling the responsibilities of work, family and school there was a little bit of “mission creep.”  

“I have to give credit to my boss, Sandi Thompson (Head of the Ambler Campus Library). She was very kind and allowed me to juggle my schedule around,” he said. “My wife, Laverne, has been very supportive — she likes horticulture as well. She loves to grade my  papers and critique them. Sometimes I’d also have homework assignments where I’d visit an arboretum or a garden and she loved visiting the gardens as well.”

Sanford said while he was on this journey he wanted to ensure “that I incorporated my family into my studies.”

“My sons (Harrison, 16, and Moses, 14) and I would have a study session where they would study their homework and I’d study mine. Or sometimes I would tease them and say ‘Hey look, I got an A on my exam. What did you get?’ and they would get mad,” he said. “It was a lot of hard work but between my wife and my sons and my boss, I was able to juggle everything around. My faith in God also played a large role. There were occasions when He would do things that reminded me that He was near — it gave me energy as I traveled on.”

He always knew there was light at the end of the tunnel, Sandford said, “I’d just remind myself why I’m doing this — that was the easy part.”

Sanford said the knowledge of the professors and instructors, and “more importantly” the passion for what they teach permeates, throughout Temple’s horticulture program.

“They are very encouraging and their passion for the subject is inspiring,” he said. “We also have the entire campus, the arboretum, as our classroom — it’s hard to have an arboriculture class without actual trees. I think that combination is what makes the program so successful. I don’t think you can graduate from this program and go out into the working world and not be prepared to succeed; it’s just not possible.”

This degree, Sanford said, has a very different feel to it than the first degree.

“That first degree was more about family/cultural pressure. Studying horticulture back in the 80’s was not a thing to do. They wanted you to be a business major, an engineer, a teacher, one of those mainstream types of professions,” he said. “Horticulture is something you do because you really want to, because you really love it. This  degree is something that’s mine, something that I can enjoy because it is something that I wanted to do, something that I enjoyed learning about. Therefore, I value it very greatly. This is the degree that I really wanted in the first place, and I got it.”

While Sanford intends to remain a dedicated member of the Ambler Campus Library staff and an integral member of the campus community, his eyes are on the horizon and the possibilities.

“My horticulture experience started in my parents’ backyard; my mom had a garden every year. We had a row home and a little space in our yard and she was able to produce tomatoes that she would can and string beans that she would freeze,” he said. “Since then I’ve always been trying to find a place to grow something. I’d like to become a certified arborist, which I know will be a challenge. Maybe down the road, I’d like to go out west, maybe Colorado or California, and manage someone’s forest or work for the USDA in forest management, but I’m not ready to uproot my family yet.”

Sanford also has a hope that “one day I could become a gentleman farmer.”

“I’d like to get some acres and grow some fruit and vegetables and flowers and sell them, or just preserve them and store them for the winter or in times like these when social distancing is necessary,” he said. “I’d like to grow some year-round plants to feed my bees — I’d really like to have my own apiaries. In the long run, that’s what I hope to do.

As he reflects on the past several years, Sanford said he has come to realize that “life is much more than what you have done so far.”

“It’s the journey to the goal that really matters and once you arrive, you need to get ready for the next one. When I think about the last eight years — yes, I have the degree, that’s important to me and I really enjoy it — but it’s the journey along the way that really makes it of value,” he said. “The things that you see, the people that you interact with, the experiences that you’ve had, those are the things that actually change you. It’s the journey that changes you, not the goal. I would advise everyone, young or old, to continue on in life, not just sit back and settle for what you have.”