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Interns get career experience at Agricultural Science Center at Farmington

Date: 08/01/2013

FARMINGTON - Working at NMSU's Agricultural Science Center at Farmington is more than a summer job for Aiessa Wages and Jason Thomas, it's a stepping stone on their career path.

Two students work at the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Farmington.
Aiessa Wages and Jason Thomas work at New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Farmington after completing the horticultural program at San Juan College. Wages will continue her education at NMSU Las Cruces this fall. Thomas will be a full-time employee at the science center. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

Wages and Thomas discovered their love of horticulture through San Juan College's horticultural program taught by Kevin Lombard, NMSU assistant professor of horticulture; Dan Smeal, NMSU professor stationed at the Farmington science center; Don Hyder, SJC associate professor of biology; and Linda Reeves, SJC instructor.

"I attended SJC to start my college education because I had to help my grandparents on their farm," said Wages, who grew up in Aztec, N.M., and helps with the family's 27-acre farm. "I originally was going to major in psychology, but then changed to horticulture because it's something I've always done and I love it."

Thomas' route to SJC came when he was unemployed and government funding helped him with the tuition.

"I bought a book on horticulture that I didn't really understand, so I decided to take a class and it evolved into discovering that I like working with plants," he said. "I like the science involved in horticulture."

Their association with Lombard did not end when they completed SJC's program. He encouraged them to apply for internships at Filoli Estates in Woodside, Calif. They were among four selected for the 10-week internship during the summer of 2011.

"Filoli is a historical, 654-acre country place built in 1917 in the San Francisco Bay Area by William Bowers Bourn, a prominent San Franciscan whose chief source of wealth was the Empire Mike, a hard-rock gold mine in Grass Valley," said Lombard, who was estate gardener there for three years. "The grounds include a 125-acre estate that includes the house, outbuildings and 16-acre formal garden."

The second owner of the property was William P. Roth, who owned the Matson Navigation Company. During his ownership, the gardens gained worldwide recognition, including establishing one of the largest collections of heritage apple varieties germplasms in America.

William P. Roth's widow donated the house and formal garden to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975. The remaining acreage was given to the Filoli Center.

"The gardens were designed by Bruce Porter, an artist at the time who is now recognized as one of California's first native designers to apply an environmental approach to landscape design," Wages said of the gardens that are of Georgian and English Renaissance styles. "A local horticulturalist and floral designer, Isabella Worn, selected the flowers and foliage used for making the flower gardens and decorating."

Wages and Thomas worked throughout the formal garden serving two weeks in each area, including the greenhouse area, under the direct supervision of a lead horticulturalist. They were taught techniques of planting, watering, hedging, fertilizing, mowing, pruning, etc. At the end of the program they were tested on subjects they were taught, which also included knowing garden and greenhouse plants, weeds and native plants.

"We did landscape horticulture there," Thomas said. "Here at the Farmington science center we do research farming, which I enjoy more."

While Wages is headed to Las Cruces again this fall semester, Thomas will work as a full-time assistant to Lombard at the research farm. He plans to continue his education online through the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences distance education classes.

Both want to use their horticultural education and experience to improve their family farms. Thomas is interested in the hops research being done at the research farm and would like to raise the plant that is used by microbreweries in the area.

Wages dreams of being able to go overseas to work in Thailand and Burma helping refugees to get their villages back to being sustainable and growing crops. She also would like to work in Africa.
Meanwhile on the home front, she wants to make her family's farm sustainable and grow crops on it for herself and her family.

"Our main crop is alfalfa, which feeds our horses and sheep. We also have turkeys and chickens," she said of the fourth generation family farm.

Working at NMSU's Agricultural Science Center at Farmington and at Filoli Estates has given Wages and Thomas the opportunity to expand their classroom education into hands-on experiences that will help them as they travel down their career paths.

Written by Jane Moorman

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