As gardening enthusiasts continue to nurture their spring flowers, one Millersville alum is busy managing 135 acres of vegetables, greenhouses and an orchard.
Erin Spangler graduated from Millersville University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in geography with a concentration in environmental studies and a minor in biology. Now, she’s putting her degree to good use in a new position as the horticulture instructional advisor for Milton Hershey School.
Spangler’s work primarily takes place in the Horticulture Center, a part of the larger Agriculture and Environmental Education program at the school, which focuses on hands-on agricultural learning. Students experience many areas of agriculture, including growing natural resources, creating products from the harvests and the agricultural business. Spangler recently began her new position after beginning as a horticulture program assistant at the end of January.
“About one-third of my job is teaching horticulture-based lessons,” Spangler says. “Teachers bring their class to the Horticulture Center, and we do a hands-on lesson that ties into what they have been learning in the classroom.”
Along with planning, planting and maintaining the gardening spaces, Spangler also orders seeds, starts them in the greenhouse before their transfer to the field, and she prunes and maintains blueberries and apples on-site. She is also facilitating a beekeeping club while caring for a colony of bees, and she shares that she’s excited to discuss the job she loves.
“We grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, celery, carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, collard greens, mustard greens, arugula, melons and more,” Spangler says. “I try to make sure that we have the basics growing, but I also like to have some fun with the produce. I enjoy having fun-colored produce, like purple haze carrots and green zebra tomatoes. I am also planning on incorporating some cut flowers within the produce fields.”
In addition to leading an eight-week summer internship program, Spangler leads the Project Market, a unique opportunity for students at MHS to sell their produce, products and projects to the public.
“Students that attend Milton Hershey can apply for jobs at Project Market, located in the Horticulture Center on campus,” Spangler explains. “During the school year, they come three days a week after school to do work related to the market. That could be anything from planting vegetable seeds, to making items to sell, to running the register.”
The market sells the produce grown in the fields and the greenhouse, but there are plenty of other opportunities for students to create a variety of other products.
“There are also soaps, candles, scrubs and lip balms made by students in the soap club. All those products are made with milk from goats at the Animal Center on campus,” Spangler says. “The market sells many flavors of ice cream, all of which are made at the Spartan Ice Cream Center on campus.”
“Students also like to make teas, dried herb packets and freeze-dried fruits to sell, and the plant club sells succulent bowls, houseplants and cut flower arrangements. Any of the produce that is left over from the market gets donated to a local food bank,” she continues.
As for what planted the seeds of interest in agriculture, Spangler credits a class she took at Millersville University. “I took a food sustainability course with Dr. (Angela) Cuthbert, and that’s what sparked my passion for growing food,” she says. “That course opened my eyes to the disparities within the food system in the United States.”
“Many people live in what are called ‘food deserts,’ or geographic locations where residents have difficulty securing healthy and affordable food. Many times, this includes low-income households that do not have reliable transportation and live in an area with a limited number of retailers that sell fresh produce.”
As a student who graduated during the COVID-19 pandemic, Spangler notes that she appreciated how her professors at the University made sure their students were still gaining beneficial, real-life experience despite the challenges of distance learning for her field.
“My botany professor, Dr. (Ryan) Wagner, mailed us seeds and had us collect things from our own backyards so we could do labs at home,” Spangler says. “I remember one lab where I dyed t-shirts in my kitchen with turmeric and black walnuts.”
“I really appreciate how many of my professors went to great lengths to make sure that we were still as hands-on as possible,” she concludes.
The MHS Project Market is open to the public every Wednesday and Thursday from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. More details can be found on the market’s Facebook page.
Interested in environmental studies at MU? Visit https://www.millersville.edu/programs/environmental-studies.php