News: Featured Stories

As a greenhouse assistant at the College of Natural Sciences Research and Education Greenhouse, Aaron Benton ’17 spends each day doing something different.
July 9, 2015

Students at Work: Greenhouse Learning Experience

  • Amherst
Students get real experience learning how to manage a horticulture and research greenhouse.

“The best part of this job is that I do so much. There are probably 40 things I can do on a weekly basis. One day I spent my whole morning trimming vines and propagating some new ones,” says Benton.

His work is also supporting the two degrees he is pursuing, one in sustainable food and farming and the other in management. “A lot of what I am doing is what they teach in courses,” Benton says.  Essentially, he is learning how to manage a horticulture and research greenhouse in the heart of the UMass Amherst campus. He keeps the 15,000-square-foot maze of laboratories, classroom, growth chamber, and greenhouses in good working order. The greenhouse is at the silver level for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design.

On weekends, Benton is the designated waterer, a job he keeps during the academic year. This task may be easy due to the state-of-the-art greenhouse technology but it is vital. “You need someone who is extremely reliable. If you miss watering you could end up losing thousands of dollars worth of research and time,” explains Benton, who grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, and is a member of the Commonwealth Honors College.

Benton’s academic interest stems from his high school days when he learned that growing food for the 21st century poses unprecedented challenges. He is focusing on hydroponic farming, also known as controlled environment agriculture. This method uses crops grown in nutrient-rich water rather than soil in warehouse-sized greenhouses that also protect crops from weather events. “Whatever I do in life, I want to follow the creed of doing no harm, especially to the environment,” says Benton.