Becoming a horticulturist was not Kiki Fontenot’s plan when she first arrived at LSU.
As an undergraduate, she decided to major in psychology. But her career aspirations began to shift after a friend told her about a horticulture class that allowed students to have their own garden plots.
Her family had kept a small backyard garden when she was growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, and as a high schooler, she had a summer job at a plant nursery. Fontenot enrolled in the course, eager to be around plants again.
“That was my only purpose for it,” she said. “But when I took that class, I fell in love, and I started taking more of the horticulture classes.”
That set Fontenot on a path that would lead to her earning master’s and doctoral degrees in horticulture and, ultimately, working for the LSU AgCenter.
Today, Fontenot is a specialist focusing on home and school gardens as well as commercial vegetable production. She also teaches an introductory agronomy course called “Plants and People.”
“I’ve really gotten to do some neat and inspiring and different things in this career,” she said.
If she had to pick a favorite part of her job, it would be visiting farmers and sharing information with them.
“I do a lot of variety trials, herbicide trials, fertilizer trials — things like that to see how we can grow better vegetables,” Fontenot said. “I really like those on-site visits. I love going out and visiting the farmers and talking with them in their fields and helping address some of their issues.”
She and her graduate students and research associates spend a lot of time sweating outside, doing things like picking and weighing tomatoes. It pays off when she can generate data that helps farmers.
“When you can recommend cultivars you know a farmer is going to make a profit off of — that’s what’s exciting for me,” she said.
Fontenot enjoys sharing her love and knowledge of horticulture with her students, home gardeners and children at local schools, too. No matter the size of a garden, growing one can be a rewarding experience.
“Growing a garden is relaxing. It’s fun, and if you grow some plants, well, great. If you kill all them the first try, it’s not that big of a deal. You can start over again,” she said. “There really is something empowering about harvesting your first tomato and cooking it with your family, or just slicing it up and eating it. And I really want all people to have that experience.”
Kiki Fontenot. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture