By A.J. Elton
For the past 15 years, I have been in the professional tree care industry. I have worked for nonprofit organizations, commercial arboriculture companies, and municipalities caring for the health of both private and publicly owned trees in the urban forest. However, I have had an interest in nature for as long as I can remember. As a high school student, the vocational wing of Powhatan High School in Virginia was one of my safe places; the other was the varsity locker room. Horticulture and agriculture classes are where I began my professional training and in hindsight, my career. I still remember the day that my eyes were opened to the possibility of a career in the green industry. One day, Tscharner Watkins, the manager of a local family-owned tree nursery, came to my agriculture class and spoke to us about Watkins Nursery. Immediately after class, I asked about a job and from then on summers and any free time outside of sports was spent at the nursery. Propagating, pruning, weeding, mixing potting soil, staking, and planting were a few of my daily tasks. I found these responsibilities much more fulfilling than my previous after school job of stocking shelves at the local grocery store.
Without that introduction to a career in the green industry, I may have never found what has become not only a career, but a passion. I have recently returned back to school to expand my knowledge in this field. I am now a non-traditional student at UMass Amherst studying Arboriculture and Urban Forestry. This summer, as part of a research grant from the Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment (CAFÉ), I had the opportunity to volunteer for Tower Hill Botanic Garden’s Worcester Tree Initiative. I worked with students in the Young Adult Forester (YAF) program as they learned tree care tasks in the urban forest. This summer, I was able to assist in teaching the YAF students about proper tree care techniques such as structurally pruning young trees, tree identification, and how tree risk assessments are done. I joined the YAF students as they shadowed City of Worcester tree crews and watched the Department of Conservation and Recreation Asian Longhorned Beetle arborists inspect trees for infestations. This experience has brought me full circle from that day in agriculture class when my eyes were opened to this career path. I love to think that I have been given an opportunity to be around students at potentially the beginning of their own careers in the green industry.
I would like to thank Ruth Seward and Derek Lirange from the Worcester Tree Initiative for giving me an opportunity to volunteer with the YAF program this summer. This work has been a pleasure because exposure to green industry professionals gave me an early foundation and professional direction that has been invaluable in my life. I enjoyed sharing stories of my career path with the YAF students and answering their questions about this profession. The prospect that I might be a part of the next generation’s green industry origin story makes me happy.
A.J. Elton is a UMass Amherst Urban Forestry Student.