Horticulture

July 18, 2016

Jaymeson Wilcox played baseball in college for a year before joining the Army in 2003. “I love sports and being outside,” he said. This summer, the Kishwaukee College Horticulture student is spending every day outdoors at the baseball field. Jaymeson works with the grounds crew at Miller Stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Jaymeson, a 2002 graduate of Oregon High School, still has a few classes to complete at Kishwaukee College to receive his Associate in Applied Science in Sports Turf Management.  He has been working at the ball park since March and plans to return next season. It is a work experience made all the more interesting because Jaymeson had never even heard of Sports Turf as a career until 2013.

“I wanted to be a cop like my Dad growing up,” he explained. “I never knew a career like this even was a choice. In 2013, I started working in Davis Junction under Jamey Young. That's really where my interest in turf really started.” He enrolled in Kishwaukee College and found the Horticulture faculty pointing him in the right direction to pursue his new found interest. “They have all been great,” he said. “If I need anything, I can call or text them and if I have questions about something they will help me out the best they can.”

This summer, Jaymeson is at Miller Stadium every day. The ballpark is relatively new, having opened in 2001, and boasts the only fan-shaped convertible roof among America’s baseball parks. The turf is “lo-mo Kentucky bluegrass” which is common in ballparks because it is denser and creates truer hops for a baseball in motion. The grounds crew consists of three full-time members and approximately 35 seasonal grounds crew members, which this year includes Jaymeson.

A typical game day begins early as the crew gets the field ready for play. “I help get the field ready for games – patch bullpens, home plate, and the baselines,” he said. “It is surprising just how much work goes into getting the field ready for a game. You always have to be thinking two steps ahead on game days and be ready for things to pop last minute. There is a lot of work being done to the field when the team is out of town, too, and also when we get the field ready for a concert when the team is on the road. And then, of course, what happens to the turf after a concert!”

Jaymeson enjoys his day-to-day work schedule. He said, “The best part is the people I work with. There is such a great group of people that work up here, it makes the days fun! We all work very well together.”

He plans to complete his degree at Kishwaukee and return to Milwaukee next season to work at Miller Stadium.  “This is a perfect fit for me and I really enjoy knowing I am giving kids, adults and, in this case, professional athletes, the best playing surface I can.”

There is one unique aspect to Jaymeson's position at Miller Park. Jaymeson stated, “I'm a Chicago Cubs fan. I have always been one. So it’s hard not to cheer for the Cubs when they are in town.”

Categories: Horticulture
November 9, 2016

Rochelle’s BrightFarms has a little Kish Shine

In the Kishwaukee College district, everyone gets pretty used to seeing acres of corn and soybeans. But stepping into BrightFarms in Rochelle is to encounter acres of every hue of green: varieties of romaine, arugula, spinach, and many more! Walk through another door and be awed by an acre of tomatoes, reaching upward to heights of over 20 feet. Helping with all the delicious splendor are two Kishwaukee College Horticulture Alums: Angela Lovelady and Bradley Simpson.

Overseeing acres of lettuce and other vegetables grown in efficient and organic hydroponic greenhouses using only the most sustainable methods is like a siren song to the horticulture professional. “When growing is what you do, this is truly exciting,” explained B.J. Miller, Production Supervisor with BrighFarms. “The BrightFarms greenhouse in Rochelle is a cutting edge start-up and it is great to be a part of it from the dirt lot it started out as to what you see now.” There are two other BrightFarms locations, one in Pennsylvania and another in Virginia.

The Rochelle location was breaking some new ground, however. The four-acre greenhouse was the first Midwestern venture for the company. The company policy is to document everything they did at the new location. They built on previous greenhouses but incorporated a few different methods as well. The team met daily to review what they had accomplished and then to write everything down for future BrightFarms’ start-ups.

Needing reliable help, B.J. sought out Kishwaukee College horticulture graduates: Angela Lovelady, Ashton, and Bradley Simpson, Rochelle. Angela works as a seeder: she runs clean, sterile seed boards through a series of equipment that fills thin rows with nutrient-dense soil and sows seed in each row. Each board of lettuce and herb greens is then cooled for a couple of days to promote germination. Angela loves the job. “It is so exciting to be part of something that is really revolutionary,” she said. “It is such a new idea in farming. I just love it.”

Once boards are filled with tender shoots, they are transferred to the greenhouse proper where they float their way, day-by-day, the football field length of the “growing fields.” Once the board completes the process and makes it to the opposite end from where they began, the greens are ready to be harvested.

The tomato greenhouse is a slightly different story. Rows of tomatoes in a multitude of varieties climb string trellises to the ceiling. The tomato plants are what is called “indeterminate,” meaning the plant will climb and grow as long as they are given space. BrightFarms planted the first tomato crops in early July and the first greens in the end of June and has already harvested several cycles of plants. In the controlled conditions the plants grow unimpeded and flourish. The tomatoes can grow 6 – 10 inches each week.

Bradley Simpson works with the tomatoes. On specialized platform carts, he prunes and cares for the crops, careful of the portable bee-boxes scattered throughout the rows. “Unlike lettuce, tomatoes need to be pollinated and that is where the bees come in,” Bradley stated. He loves the job and the possibilities. The May 2016 Hort graduate said, “It is such a unique growing style. I am building on everything I learned as a student at Kish and getting a lot of hands-on experience with beneficial insects. The company is growing, too, so I hope to be able to make a long-term career in the field and with BrightFarms.”

What keeps B.J., Bradley and Angela so energized is the innovative growing practices. B.J. explained, “Growing vegetables this way uses 90% less space than traditional farming methods and 80% less water. It is pesticide free, non-GMO [non-genetically modified organisms] and the produce is in the stores within 24-hours of harvest. The varieties of produce shipped from California or other places are chosen to withstand the long shipping process, not necessarily grown for the best flavor. We grow for flavor and freshness.”

Flavor, freshness – no wonder Kish alums Angela Lovelady and Bradley Simpson can’t stop their shining smiles!

Categories: Horticulture