make like a tree....
July 3, 2008 5:22 PM   Subscribe

so im absently toying with the idea of shuffling the deck a bit... tell me about skilled jobs in the field of botony/agriculture/tree care that do not absolutely require a formal (college) education.

I love what I do and who I work with, im just wishing it wasn't so fast paced. ...thinking about pursuing a career which would play toward my interest and fascination with plants.

I currently make quite a bit and but would be happy making as much as 20-40% less if it meant i had time to myself and wasn't constantly stressed. Say - enough that after id worked up a bit of experience in the field i could comfortable support a small family.

how much do professional grafters make?

tree surgeons?

other skilled professions that deal with trees and plants?
posted by nihlton to Work & Money (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how much he makes, but I know someone who's head of horticulture at a botanic garden. He has an Associate's though. I think he started out with a strong interest (and skills in) flower arrangement and gained experience in the horticulture side by degrees, so it may bear resemblance to what you're thinking of doing. For what it's worth he's been offered a much more prestigious job than his current one many, many times but it would strictly administrative, so he always turns it down. Man wants to be with the plants.

I also know (more indirectly) some hort people working at zoos. And zoos have their own hierarchy of hort jobs, so there is more to it than just the people you see out clipping the bushes as a visitor (not that they're not fine people, but you seem interested in working up the ladder). Lots of animals need special plants in their diets, and often that means the zoo grows them on the grounds.
posted by Tehanu at 5:43 PM on July 3, 2008

Trees surgeons actually make quite a lot of least the ones I know. But it's also fairly dangerous work. You'll need to learn how to operate some pretty intimidating tools (like chainsaws) at great heights. You will need to be in pretty good shape to do that.

I go to ag school, so I see a fair amount of grads going into the park ranger program, which seems like a pretty good path. They do many things, so it's possible that you can get a job as a park ranger even without a formal education. My aunt has a BA is some totally useless field and she is currently a park ranger, though she mainly does administration duties.

But, since not many people are interested in ag school, especially forestry programs (they are considering shutting ours down because there are not enough people), I'd consider going back to school. I'm starting grad school in forestry and they let me in even though I don't have a a bachelors in that subject. Furthermore, there are tons of grants in the field and I get paid pretty well to teach and do some field work (including some grafting with a scientist, which will get me much-need experience).

The other path that I considered was farming. I interned on a farm for awhile and learned many things from how to tap maple syrup to how to grow spinach. I got free housing and food in exchange for labor and the life was pretty good. If you are serious about farming, most people start by interning for a few years, then working as a farm manager, and finally most try to buy some land and start their own farm.

Farming can be hard work, but frankly I enjoyed it (good exercise!) and as long as you stay away from livestock, it's usually not stressful. However, most people forget that farmers often have to do marketing too, which can be incredibly annoying and time consuming (getting up at 3 AM to drive cherries to the farmer's market).

Try to find as job as a trainee or intern in the field you want, see if it's a good fit, and then consider going further. There are all kinds of paths in, from working as a trainee for your local tree care company to interning at a vineyard for the summer. I got my first farming internship through WWOOF.
posted by melissam at 5:56 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've worked in landscaping, tree farming, and the retail nursery business in New York State. The work in the tree retail/installation/maintenance field can be repetitive and average in terms of compensation until you get into fairly extensive design work or are in a supervisory position over a sizeable amount of nursery stock and/or employees. Nursery and landscape installation work is good blue-collar work, skilled or unskilled, but you seem to be targeting a higher pay bracket.

By far the best experience I had was working on a tree farm pruning/shaping trees for delivery and planting, culling diseased or stunted stock, etc. I was outside 10 hours a day 5 or 6 days a week in mostly beautiful weather in Rockland County working in a lift on 20' - 30' tall trees, mostly needled evergreens. I never had occasion to do much grafting, but working in different nursery jobs left me comfortable with doing a lot of different planting and operating all sorts of heavy equipment. The work and experience were great, though unless you come into the field with particular technical skill or managerial experience your potential for advancement is limited. In the Northeast at least, the landscape / "professional" (read: garish and cut-rate) garden service market is saturated because every drywall contractor thinks he's a landscape architect.

You would really need to distinguish yourself if you were to take the design side, and on the technical side if you work at a tree farm or nursery for a while you'll have a solid job but probably not the sort of compensation you'd want. Your local agricultural cooperative extension (Washington State University?) will probably be your best resource for information of local import. Good luck!
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:02 PM on July 3, 2008

If I were you, I'd look for some CSA farms in your area (Seattle should have loads i'd think...). Look for places which offer a work-share, where you work a set number of hours each week on the farm for vegetables. If they don't offer a work-share, offer to volunteer. I know the farm I'm working at currently is totally grateful for the volunteer help we get this time of year. Just do anything you can to get involved w/ farms in the area, that kind of work experience looks great on resumes if youre trying to transition into an entry-level horticulture position. Also, a 2-year degree helps.
posted by pilibeen at 9:25 PM on July 3, 2008

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