By Priscilla Korb
Most would expect someone who has to work before 5:30 in the morning to be slightly grumpy.
But that’s not the case with Andrea Petterson, the Stony Brook University’s horticulturalist.
As she sits at her neat desk in her uncluttered office, empty but for a few plants around the room, she greets those who pass by.
“I’m a morning person,” she said. “I haven’t used an alarm in probably about 10 years.”
Before the sun is even up, Petterson, who shares some of the grounds-keepers responsibilities, has to be at work to make sure the trash is removed and the campus is clean by 6 am.
“The grounds crew is the only group on campus that starts that early,” she said with a laugh. “The only one.”
She doesn’t seem to mind though.
“I love plants, I love talking, and I love people, so it’s a tie-in of the things that really make me happy,” she said. “I’m very lucky to have figured out what it is that I love, and to be able to get a stable job doing it.”
Petterson’s love for plants started at a young age. Before she became the University Horticulturist, she attended Stony Brook Southampton as a fine arts major. She had always been an outdoor person and her art was mainly focused on flowers landscape. She would go to paint with one of her art teachers, a famous watercolor artist, who had a studio in his home in Sag Harbor, overlooking his English garden.
“One day we were painting, and I don’t know why, I think we were looking at the deer, and we went down to the garden and I just started gardening, and then I started going to his house to garden,” Petterson said. “Then he had mentioned to me one day ‘getting a job as an artist is going to be hard, why don’t you think about getting into greenhouse growing or landscaping?’”
That weekend, she opened the newspaper and found a job for wholesale greenhouse growing, her first job in the industry.
That was 14 years ago, when Petterson was only 19 years old.
Since then, she has worked in retail sales for about three or four years, and then before coming to Stony Brook she became a certified arborist. She started at Stony Brook as a horticultural tech about three years ago, and got promoted this August.
Working at Stony Brook has only enhanced her love of plants over to Stony Brook. Petterson mentioned that she had ordered over 15,000 “plugs,” which are tiny plants and 350 trees to be planted throughout the campus.
“We hope to start become self-sustainable on-campus, with progress,” she said. “We are losing trees and we have to clear decent area of properties. We are hoping that for the trees we remove, we will be able to replace them.”
In addition, Petterson runs the greenhouse in the Research and Development Park, which she calls “her baby”. It was built a year or two before Petterson took over and she claims they had bad luck with it.
“They weren’t very successful with growing, they weren’t very successful with getting a decent amount of product out and the first year I came here, the greenhouse turned out about 12,000 plants,” she says.
There are about 15 benches, each containing about 500 plants each and about 600 to 700 hanging plants all contained in the greenhouse according to Petterson. She also planted an additional 2,500 bulbs across campus and ordered 5,000 more.
“This year is the first year that we grew vegetables, herbs, a whole bunch of lettuce, all just to try to get the campus involved,” she said.
Petterson recently began working with James O’Connor, the Director of Sustainability and Transportation Operations, on several projects across campus to improve the University’s carbon footprint. Most recently, 16 pounds of native wild flowers seeds were planted to increase awareness of the local wildlife habitat. They are also working on the rain water collection system at the greenhouse. Which holds about 750 pounds of water and irrigates the water from the greenhouse.
“Since I’ve only been in this position for a few weeks, I haven’t been able to implement anything, but I’m hoping in the next year we are going to be doing a lot more projects,” Petterson said.
Petterson also hopes to start-up a homemade compost program in the future. Currently, the compost comes from Roth café, which composts all of their spare food in addition to the spare grass clippings and leaves from the greenhouse and from around campus.
Though Petterson is just getting started now, she is optimistic about her future as Horticulturist.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” she says. “There are a lot of opportunities and I’m curious and really starting to look into it.”
Several things she is looking to focus on is collecting the rain water in a different method, more through a run-off system and a vegetable garden similar to the rooftop garden that the sustainability group started in the hospital. However, she ran into problems in that department.
“It was difficult because we tried to get volunteer students, but students are gone come May and that’s when the vegetable garden is really kicking,” she said. “So we are hoping to better organize that this year, get students more involved long term and actually consider donating the food to local charities. Trying to affect some people’s lives in a positive way.”