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Kerr Center Welcomes New Education/Horticulture Program Manager

Kerr Center Welcomes New Education/Horticulture Program Manager

With the start of the new year, the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, located in Poteau, Oklahoma, welcomes a new Education/Horticulture Program Manager, Karlee Pruitt.

Pruitt comes to Poteau fresh from a master’s in horticulture from the University of Arkansas. Her thesis research looked at the effects of combinations of different biological pesticides for strawberry production in high tunnels.

There’s some agriculture in Pruitt’s background – her father had a hobby cattle ranch, and her grandfather had a mid-sized production garden and managed the farmer’s market in Branson, Missouri. Still, she says, she didn’t set out to build a career in agriculture.

“Originally, I didn’t want to do anything agriculture related,” she says. “I was very interested in wildlife and forestry, but decided that I needed to be smart about college.”

At North Arkansas College, though, the work-study student job that she took was working for an agriculture instructor, growing strawberries in a high tunnel. “After that, I kept getting opportunities to continue and grow within the field of horticulture. Every opportunity just led me on to a new one.”

Elena Garcia, a horticulture professor at the University of Arkansas, offered her a student position there if she’d transfer – which she did. She ultimately earned her bachelor’s in Agricultural Education, Communication, and Technology, with a concentration in communication. From there, she moved on to her master’s program, in horticulture, with Garcia as her major advisor.

One summer during college, Pruitt interned as a Lloyd Noble Scholar at the Noble Foundation (now the Noble Research Institute). It was there, she says, working with Steve Upson, that she first became interested in sustainable agriculture.

“I was able to learn more about agriculture in a practical sense rather than an academic sense,” she recalls. “I met a high-school biology teacher from Oklahoma City whose students didn’t realize where their food comes from.”

From that point, the position with the Kerr Center seemed like a natural fit. Once she heard of the opportunity, Pruitt says, she asked around about her potential employer. “I came to the conclusion that the Kerr Center is an honest and wholesome organization, with a sense of family,” she says.

“They really want to teach people about sustainable agriculture, and that was something that I was passionate about – both learning for myself, and getting that information back out into the public.” She’s keen, she says, to focus on what both she and others can do to take care of the land we inhabit, “whether it’s a backyard, five acres, or even a rooftop garden.”

Looking ahead, Pruitt sees abundant potential in her work with the Kerr Center’s education and horticulture projects. “I am most excited about starting from the ground up,” she says. “There are so many possibilities that can come from this program.”

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