Jamie Satterthwaite who won the Markham – Colegrave International Scholarship Award of $4,500 which is jointly funded by both DCF and the American Floral endowment, shares the story of his summer internship at Rakers plug nursery in Michigan, US.
“My travels took me through several states, where I crossed paths with people from many different walks of life. As well as visitng the largest horticultural trade show in America and several leading herbacious and annual plug nurseries, I made a large number of friends for life. Throughout the summer I kept a detailed blog which you can find at jamiessummerinternship.wordpress.com.”
“The Raker site consists of 12 acres of greenhouses split into several growing areas using North, South, East and West. Around these are located several office spaces and shipping areas. Each department at Raker is responsible for a various process and area, these are the Grow team (also comprising quality and bench logistics), the start team (responsible for all sowing and cuttings), Shipping, Grounds (in charge of trials works). Among office staff includes HR, Marketing and Research.
Starting in the Grow team where I spent five weeks, I was instructed how to water, feed and spray plants, which was quickly put to good use. I helped out in the trial gardens dead heading, hanging baskets and also speaking to customers on various afternoon tours. The grow team consists of various levels of growers; basic, improved and advanced, these are below the sectional growers and IPM manager which are below the head grower. The production manager is responsible for overseeing everything on the floor from growing, sowing to shipping. I shadowed various members of management on several occasions, learning how they mark all plants with special signs after they have been sprayed, also that there are some unique pests i.e Japanese beetles which can be a problem.
Working at Raker is unique as they delicately balance work and learning on the job. This is done through various training exercises and powerpoints, which helps staff understand how to do their job better. Various departments assess their workers differently although they all operate on a tiered wages system, generally starting at the bottom and working your way up. For example in the start team seasonal workers are timed to see how many cuttings they can stick in one minute, this then dictates what tier they fall into and how much they are then payed.
Ingenuity was one of the biggest shockers at Raker with alot of the equipment being made up on site, this was done in the Shop (the physical systems base). They built various things around the site such as the water cart and the custom LED light rig used by research. When dismantling the shade netting in the trial gardens a custom rig is used. This was built on site and attaches to a forklift where the matting is simply rolled up and stacked on to an A frame for later use, very creative!!
When working I learned many new concepts and ways of carrying out daily activities, this included all of the astonishing peaces of automation on display. All benches were moved around on three laterals spanning the width of the houses, with a bench destaker feeding the line at the start building, from here they then moved around the houses passing over various RFID scanners, which read a card on the bench and marked its lateral run location on the computer system. This meant that any team could find the bench easily without spending excess time looking. The system also displays all the trays which are allocated to that particular bench making the picking and shipping very smooth and easy. They had two major types of booms these were side rail mounted booms and albatross twin railed booms, all of which were designed in house!! Moving air through the houses was done using extractors at one end which pulled the air through roof vents. At night the circulation fans would switch on which pulled air around the houses in a serpentine pattern.
I was lucky enough to help with growing the Poinsettia crop, they had an impressive 50,000 2 litres which are all sold through a not for profit label. Every Intern is given a project and I had the task of tracking the growth (height) of the poinsettias, which involved determining feeding strategies and PGR strategies.
My summer was fantastic and an unforgettable experience. I will never forget all the people I met and the friendship made along the way.”