Immediately after Southwestern Michigan College’s 50th commencement May 6, Shelby Pruett, one of the first eight graduates of SMC’s Michigan State University Ag Tech partnership, flies to Northern Ireland.
The partnership helps students earn MSU certificates while working toward SMC associate degrees.
She will earn six MSU credits for six weeks studying at CAFRE, the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise.
CAFRE offers agriculture, horticulture, equine and agri-business training in three locations.
Pruett, an agricultural operations major from Benton Harbor, graduated from Watervliet High School in 2015 and attended Van Buren Technology Center.
For her internship, Pruett scouted wheat, soybeans, corn and grapes for insects and diseases at Green Valley Agricultural in Bangor.
“Some days I drove to Holland and West Olive delivering pesticides and fertilizer,” she said. “We had an off year because rain prevented planting. Planting when ground is wet causes compaction and stops root growth. Our sprayer and spreader services had GPS systems to map fields and pretty much drive themselves.”
She also looked into Disney agricultural internships, such as an EPCOT greenhouse growing tropical plants.
“They even found a way to grow Mickey Mouse pumpkins by putting casing over pumpkins when they’re little,” Pruett said.
The Guse Agricultural Scholar became interested in studying abroad guiding two Northern Ireland visitors touring SMC last fall.
MSU, which has an Office of Study Abroad, paced the nation the past six years, with 275 programs in 60 countries, including Austria, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey, for 3,000 students annually.
“The real thing that got me thinking,” she said, “was going on Facebook and seeing a high school friend was pregnant. Others are getting married. I don’t want to start that part of my life yet. I like to do my own thing and not follow the crowd. I think it would be the most beautiful place to go to school. The countryside is calmer and more spread out — like home. They let you explore on weekends. We visit Belfast as part of the program.”
Pruett’s foreign travel consists of a Disney cruise to the Bahamas at 6.
She exhibited eight years at the Berrien County Youth Fair, showing goats, flowers and sheep, and finished runner-up for 2015 fair queen.
Last summer she worked for Piggott’s Farm Market and Bakery.
Between that and her job at Kohl’s department store in Fairplain Plaza, she gained confidence in her sales skills and is considering continuing at SMC to finish her bachelor’s degree through Ferris State University.
“I like agriculture, but more the business and sales side,” she said. “My family doesn’t have a farm and I didn’t grow up on one,” though she does own a goat.
She is using SMC’s new greenhouse for a hydroponics group project in her vegetable production class.
“I was born in southwest Michigan, but my mom’s job relocated, so I lived in Florida seven years. It started with farm animals. My mom’s boss had horses—a CEO with a four-story beach house and its own movie theatre. Curley’s Place was like a petting zoo. Kids got to stay all summer for day care. I loved that place! I was 7 years old when I went to camp with llamas and donkeys. I helped in the kennel.
“I lived in Palm Coast on the ocean side, 30 minutes from Daytona Beach. I started out wanting to be a big-animal veterinarian, but I also liked gardening, entering 30-40 flower arrangements in the Berrien County Youth Fair. I enjoyed plants and animals, but learned senior year, when my dog had to be put down, I probably wouldn’t like being a vet” because of the emotional toll dealing with grieving pet owners.
“I felt I would be torn apart,” Pruett said. “I learned in Tech Center agriculture classes I really enjoyed the greenhouse and crop production. My whole life got me into agriculture and I like talking to customers and learning to read people.”
“College gives me time to think about who I am and where I want my life to go,” Pruett said. “I could go with an insurance company, like Farm Bureau. Or, GreenStone” Farm Credit Services, which owns and manages $8 billion in assets and serves 24,000 members with 36 branches throughout Michigan and northeast Wisconsin.
GreenStone provides financial services to the agricultural industry, including short, intermediate and long-term loans, equipment and building leases, life insurance, crop insurance, accounting and tax services.
“I like agriculture, but there’s so much you can do, I can’t choose,” she said. “I’m going to have an ag degree so I can work with farmers and a business degree. I know I don’t like crop scouting from walking around a 200-acre field in summer heat.”