Employee Q&A: Greenhouse Supervisor Mark Carson

Employee Q&A: Greenhouse Supervisor Mark Carson

By Alexis BlueUniversity Communications
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Mark Carson helps keep campus greenhouses humming for researchers and students.
Mark Carson helps keep campus greenhouses humming for researchers and students.

Name
Mark Carson

Position
General Maintenance Assistant Supervisor, Campus Agricultural Center

Number of years at the UA
17

Favorite part about working at the UA
"The variety of things we do; it's just an unlimited variety out here (at the farm)."

_______________________

About three miles north of the main campus, at the University of Arizona's Campus Agricultural Center, a collection of greenhouses, some dating back two decades or more, is home to a number of innovative research projects in plant sciences and beyond.

Behind their polyacrylic panels, research projects range from experiments in hydroponics – plant growth sans soil – to insect studies.

Helping to keep the greenhouses in tip-top condition is assistant maintenance supervisor Mark Carson. 

From repairing rooftop weather damage to fixing broken pumps and fans to installing new irrigation systems or reconfiguring a greenhouse setup to meet a researcher's needs, Carson and his colleagues help ensure the greenhouses run smoothly year round.

Carson received a bachelor's degree in biology from Northern Arizona University, worked for the forest service in Colorado and took graduate courses in agronomy and plant genetics at the UA before joining the Campus Agricultural Center. He recently took time to talk with Lo Que Pasa about his job on the farm.  

What are your responsibilities as greenhouse supervisor?
Everything that involves running the greenhouses – maintenance, setting up research projects, helping the researchers set up their experiments, all the insect control, providing soil mixtures, instructing students on how to run their experiments, a little bit of everything. ... We have regular maintenance duties if things have broken down – pumps and motors and fans and all that. And then we have special projects, like rebuilding some of the greenhouses or occasionally reroofing greenhouses.

What facilities do you take care of?
We have 16 here (on Roger Road and Campbell Avenue) and then there are the three big ones (behind them), and then over on Allen Road there are some older greenhouses with double-poly inflatable roofs that we have been refurbishing because the demand for greenhouse space right now is still high. So there's another seven greenhouses over there. ... The three big ones are more large-scale production-type greenhouses for the vegetable industry. .... They're taller; you need taller greenhouses for growing tomatoes and these (other) crops.

What are the greenhouses used for?
Research and some teaching. We have the bigger greenhouses that are with the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. ...  One of them is used strictly for teaching (students about) growing tomato crops, cucumbers, peppers, and the other two are used for research.

What happens to those vegetables?
Right now the (Controlled Environmental Agriculture Center) student club is selling the vegetables. They sell them on Thursday mornings (from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.).

What happens to the nonedible plants when research is finished?
We have a composting program out here, so most of the plant material goes into the compost.

Who maintains the plants, you or the researcher?
The researchers are mostly maintaining the plants. We help them out. What we do is (set up) "fertigation" – the irrigation systems and fertilizing. ... If there are problems with insects we deal with that. But it's a close cooperation between the two (researchers and maintenance personnel).

What kind of pest problems have you encountered?
Oh, we have outbreaks all the time. ... When I first started we used some pretty nasty chemicals, but they've come up with a lot better stuff that's easier on the environment, easier on the plants, and we pretty much try to minimize our use.

How many people are on your staff?
Our current staff is four full-time, one half-time. ... We have a greenhouse manager who's at the top and I'm second in line. And we have one student worker. ... Everybody on our crew takes turns being on call for greenhouse emergencies. We have an automated system that calls us up if it gets too cold or too hot (in a greenhouse) or if we lose water pressure, stuff like that.

What are some of the major maintenance challenges you've faced?
In 2001 we had a major hailstorm and a lot of the panels were replaced at that time. ...  Occasionally we get golf ball damage from people who like to hit golf balls at the greenhouses. We haven't had that in a while, but we've had that.

What are some of the most unusual research projects you've seen in the greenhouses?
Right now on Allen (Road) we have SNR (School of Natural Resources and the Environment) people doing fish studs with fish tanks. ... The entomology people from the bee lab are doing bee studies in two of the greenhouses. We've had to make chambers for them that allow cooling in the greenhouse but keep the bees in.

So they aren't just for plants?
Anything anybody needs it for we've been able to adapt it. There's one greenhouse that's using both fish and hydroponic floating crop technology, using the water that comes from the fish tanks to fertilize and irrigate the food crops.

What's the hardest part of your job?
Probably the heat in the summer. And pest control. I don't like spraying pesticides ... especially when we've got to suit up and do one of the big greenhouses. It's an hour and a half in a very hot suit, and we have the best equipment for protecting us. ... But it's still, physically, very hard on the body, especially in the summertime.

What's the best part of your job?
Being outdoors, being able to work at the farm. And the variety of the things we do out here and the people we work with. ... One of the advantages of working out here is we usually get (free) produce, whatever's grown in the field or the greenhouses.

Do you know someone who has an interesting job at the UA? Send his or her name and contact information to lqp@email.arizona.edu for consideration for a future Employee Q&A.

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