Trisha Bills (formerly Slater) was excited to be on campus for the College of Agriculture Career Fair on October 1, 2013. Her pleasure at being back at her alma mater was almost tangible, but even more visible was her passion for her career and her eagerness to recruit Purdue graduates and students to work for C. Raker & Sons, Inc. where she is head grower.
Bills, a 2005 graduate who majored in Horticulture and Production Marketing, says that the numbers are down for qualified professionals in Horticulture. Many have no horticultural background; they don’t know the basics of growing or plant development, nor how to finish crops. There is no hands-on experience, Bills explained. The state of the industry is such that “it’s really important, especially in our greenhouse, like when I get an intern, that they know the basics, that they are able to diagnose a problem and ask the proper questions as to how to go about fixing it,” Bills further clarified. This need is why she is so interested in Purdue students. Not only does she have first-hand knowledge of Purdue’s Horticulture program, but her experience with students from other universities has not compared as well with the instruction and hands-on learning she knows Purdue teaches.
The career fair gave Bills the perfect opportunity to promote her company and recruit Purdue students and graduates. Because C. Raker & Sons, Inc. is a small family-owned company located in a rural community near Coldwater, Michigan, Bills realizes many may be hesitant to accept a position there but hopes the company’s solid reputation and its position as the sixth largest plug producer in the United States will alleviate any concerns. As a leading plug producer, Raker takes the initial seed or unrooted cutting of a plant and develops it for four to six weeks. The company will then sell the plugs to another greenhouse which will oversee the rest of the young plants’ growth. Raker supplies over 3,000 plant varieties to greenhouses and nurseries around the world.
After attending the career fair, Bills took the time to speak with the Horticulture Club. She wanted to share her experiences and express to current students the advantages of working for a smaller company. Originally from Warsaw, Indiana, Bills has worked for Raker since she graduated from Purdue. When she first accepted the position she began as a sectional grower and credits Purdue with having the propagation knowledge to help the company develop their liner division and vegetative conditioning. “Now
I can start from seed or unrooted cutting until finished, so I can do everything. Anymore, it’s important that students know how to do everything because that’s kind of the way the industry’s going,” Bills says. She advises anyone who is looking for a career in Horticulture to not ignore the basic production and growing part of the industry. The important thing is to “get more experience and know what’s open, because there’s so much more open than just big companies, “Bills assured. She highly recommends students to participate in internships, especially production, to determine what they’re really interested in. For Bills, internships are a great way for her to work hands-on with students seeking a degree in Horticulture. It’s inspiring,” she says with sincerity. “It’s a reminder of how much I’ve learned; I try to pass on some of my knowledge and helpfulness.” This attitude is what makes Bills so appealing. With her positive outlook and expertise it won’t be long before Bills is sharing her wisdom with a Purdue intern.