Forty Under Forty: Mike Hollis

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Mike Hollis

Urban Farms Manager

Services for the UnderServed


THERAPEUTIC HORTICULTURE IS GROWING

Fast fact: Hollis’ favorite cartoon growing up? He-Man.


Mike Hollis manages a multi-divisional therapeutic horticulture program for individuals and families with challenges such as mental illness, developmental disabilities and HIV/AIDS. He oversees design and operations management for programs at sites that include in-ground community farms, rooftop gardens, an apiary initiative and propagation and hydroponics greenhouses. His previous experience in the nonprofit sector includes disaster relief work with the American Red Cross, environmental compliance consulting and off-grid building design and construction.

 

NYN: DESCRIBE AN ACCOMPLISHMENT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF.

MH: At SUS I’m very excited just in terms of the growth of the program over the last few years. Since I’ve started, we’ve gone from just nine recreational gardens to over 30 sites citywide. Last year we received (a grant) that allowed us to pilot a vocational training program. Overall, the growth of the program, the increasing recognition of the program is definitely an accomplishment that I’m proud of.

 

NYN: WHAT CHANGE WOULD MOST HELP THE INDIVIDUALS YOUR ORGANIZATION SERVES?

MH: Funding is always a big one. There’s just very little in terms of grant money and really any funding whatsoever for therapeutic horticulture at the moment – even though there’s a lot of momentum behind food systems, the mobile food movement, urban agriculture. That means a lot of our funding at the moment is from the private sector. To really grow the program and to make it something that’s sustainable in the long term, it would be lovely to see those private-sector dollars really matched by greater public interventions to food security, healthy eating, nutritional education, vocations through involvement in the green sector. A greater financial commitment would be something that would be really nice to see.

 

NYN: WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU’D LIKE TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE YOU RETIRE?

MH: A medium-term goal perhaps. We’re currently exploring some ways of transforming some aspects of the program into for-profit or low-profit subsidiaries. We’ve been taking some of these landscaping activities that we’re doing right now and turning that into for-profit landscaping subsidiaries. Currently a lot of the product development that we do – doing honey pickles, selling that through farmers markets – to be able to transform that from a very supported environment with the nonprofit sector to something that’s able to stand alone would be I think a really neat way of taking something in the nonprofit world and transforming it into a much more diverse offering for our clients.

 

NYN: WHAT DO YOU WISH PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT YOUR JOB?

MH: Just in general, greater awareness of therapeutic horticulture, just the benefit that participating in horticultural activities has for individuals with either developmental disabilities or with mental illness. I think it's just not something that people may instinctively be aware of. It will kind of click when you bring it up in discussion. People will usually kind of say of the program, “oh that’s incredibly innovative,” which it is, but it would be wonderful for people to have that as a given.

 
 

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