Summer break is a time when many college students decide whether to spend their summer at the beach or the mountains. While other students utilize this time for career-building internships. Students who spend the summer interning at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville are immersed in all parts of agriculture.
“We are a small crew of nine full time workers,” said Will Morrow, station superintendent. “Having summer interns benefits us in having the extra help in planting and tending to the crops during the growing season. It also serves as a great screening process, about half our staff started as summer interns and now work full time. I think spending the summer on the station will show you if farming is something that you may want to do in the future. Our summer interns gain a lot of exposure to agriculture and farming and learn just how work intensive it is to get a crop through production.”
Rising college senior Austin Ferguson has spent his last two summers interning at the station as a farm hand. The work includes planting crops, setting up irrigation, mowing and weed eating and having the opportunity to observe the research that goes on at the station. Ferguson attends Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., where he not only majors in environmental science, he also plays on the football team. The college is ranked fourth nationally for best colleges advocating environmental science by EnvironmentalScience.org. It is also one of the few carbon neutral schools in the country.
“I knew I wanted to do something in farming and agriculture when I started school,” Ferguson said. “Through my classes I developed an interest in stream restoration. The classes I have taken including GIS mapping, natural resources conservation classes and forest ecology helped develop that passion.” Ferguson wants to work in planning the project and then being on the ground helping to get it implemented.
After graduation he hopes to get a job with a company that does stream restoration work. “My ultimate goal is to own my own company,” he said. His summers spent at the Mountain Research Station helps give him work experience of being around the team of men that work on the station. “They are all farmers – some are hobby farmers, others on a larger scale. What I have learned about how to take care of crops from them is invaluable hands-on experience,” said Ferguson. “Also, observing the researchers and their methods. When I return to school for my senior year I will have to do a research project and seeing the ones happening on the farm has been great experience.
“One of the research trials at the station is on tomatoes and disease,” he said. “Researchers spread a disease called septoria leaf spot by hand into the tomatoes and test the resistance of different varieties of tomatoes. We also do variety trials of stake-less tomatoes to test yield production compared to staked tomatoes. Basically all the research done is to try and make it easiest as possible for the farmers and take away as much risk as possible. Results are always shared to the extension office and shared with farmers across the state and country.”
Ferguson may have chosen to attend college in Pennsylvania, but his roots are firmly in Western NC. After graduation, he hopes to return to Waynesville and find a job doing what he loves, and maybe having a hobby farm of his own. “My grandfather was a dairy farmer andI I still have family that run a dairy and beef farm in the Waynesville area. Several family members have also interned at the research station over the years,” he said. Ferguson’s dad, George, is the Feed Administrator for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Food and Drug Protection Division. “When I first went to college it was my friends I mostly missed,” said Ferguson. “But as the school years went by I realized it was more my family that I wanted to get back home to North Carolina to see.”