Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

Illinois orchard manager makes the cut

05/09/2018 - 10am
Will Kuipers takes his final exam in pruning

Will Kuipers concluded his time at Southwestern Michigan College differently than classmates who graduated May 5.

First, he already had a job when he came to college seeking additional knowledge.

Second, there was his final examination in his pruning class for his Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources fruit and vegetable crop management certificate. The exam was conducted by MSU Regional Program Coordinator Stacey Rocklin on the broad lawn in front of the David C. Briegel Building and required a hand saw, loppers and shears.

Kuipers, who hails from Maple Park, Ill, a community west of Chicago, between St. Charles and DeKalb, sculpted three linden trees. He is one of eight students to graduate in the second class of SMC’s MSU partnership, which allows students interested in careers in agriculture to study Agricultural Operations or Fruit and Vegetable Crop Management.

Rocklin jotted on a clipboard as Kuipers articulated his justifications for snipping this branch or that twig as they peered up into the foliage.

“Lindens and a lot of maples aren’t good at throwing branches in good places,” Rocklin said. “They put a lot in one area, then skip a whole bunch. For some reason, a lot of trees on this campus are winding their way around themselves.”

“I’m looking for bad angles and anything that’s crossing,” Kuipers said, “and the overall shape. That one (branch) sticking out is still young enough it can curve up” and avoid mowers. “In apples, you do want them facing down, but not in landscaping trees. You want (branches) more up and out of the way.”

Kuipers is orchard manager for Kuipers Family Farm, which he describes as “agritainment,” including 35 acres of apples, pumpkins, hay rides, cider and doughnuts, a tractor train, racing pigs, a petting zoo, Christmas trees and an orchard wedding venue. Wade and Kim Kuipers opened the 230-acre facility in 1998. “It’s similar to Jollay Orchards” in Coloma, Kuipers said.