Serving Community and Family

The Mysteries of Plants

“I was originally drawn to horticulture because I was fascinated by the science,” says Richard Traugott, Master of Professional Studies in Horticulture (MPS) student. “An apparently simple seed contains this complexity of hidden design that will become a beautiful plant.”

Traugott, whose introduction to horticulture began when he worked at a tree farm at age 14 and later at a small family-owned greenhouse, is still trying to unpack the secrets and possibilities buried in a simple plant.

“The more I tried to understand plants, the more complex they turned out to be,” he says. “Almost 40 years have passed and I’m still discovering their complexity and the integration plants have with their environment.”

Traugott, who graduated from The Ohio State University with a B.S. in Horticulture with a concentration in business and ornamental greenhouse/nursery production, successfully ran his own nurseries, garden center, and landscape design and installation business before coming to the University of Minnesota to pursue his master’s degree.

Sowing a Path

So why return to school with that much experience and an already profitable career? Traugott wanted to take a different route in his master’s program by focusing on sustainable farming, rather than the conventional, chemical-based methods he learned as an undergraduate and used in the past. His short-term goal is to develop an organic fruit and vegetable farm to pass down to his 17-year-old son.

Richard Traugott and his son“My preference would have been for Joel to have my same love for ornamental horticulture, but he has a passion for organic farming. He is on the autism spectrum, and this farm will be owned and managed by him,” Traugott explains.

“(It) will give him the ability to support himself. I have some physical limitations but have a background in marketing and management. Joel, on the other hand, excels in thinking up innovative ideas and provides the energy and muscle.”

The duo aims to produce food for about 100 local households around the farm's site in Foley, MN. They will offer fruits, vegetables, eggs, specialized meats, and seasonal crops such as garden transplants and pumpkins. They anticipate selling through local farmers’ markets, weekly shares, and a "pick your own" option for vegetables and fruit.

“We’re learning from Courtney Tchida and others at the University’s Cornercopia Farm about better methods of raising animals in a movable enclosure (a safer free range alternative), sustainable options of production with less need for resources, and how to grow a wide range of crops.”

The Right Cultivation

Traugott's hands-on experience at Cornercopia is helping him explore the potential of manipulating plant genetics and environments to sustainably create food and plants—a return to the science of horticulture that intrigued him early on. And his course work in plant propagation and food production filled gaps in his, and his son’s, knowledge base.

“I enrolled in the MPS and selected courses specifically for Joel to learn alongside me,” Traugott says. He shared his learning experiences acquired through assignments, field trips, and projects with his son, who is actively involved in the layout and development of the farm. This summer, they worked together two days a week at Cornercopia.

After he establishes the farm, Traugott thinks he would like to work in education, extension, production, or sales. “My perfect job would be to work with others who are passionate about sustainable production alternatives.”

For now, though, he is content with being “the silent partner for Joel's farm.”

You can find Traugott and his son at the Milaca Farmers’ Market on Wednesday afternoons from May to October.

Richard Traugott
“We all benefit from continual learning. It serves to challenge your thinking and shift your paradigm.”
Favorite Courses: 
  • HORT 5090 Independent Study (This turned into a grant-funded project that will likely benefit others interested in sustainable production.)
  • PLPA 5103 Plant-Microbe Interactions (It was worth the countless hours of studying and reading research to understand the elegance and complexity of plants and how intertwined they are with their environment.)
  • HORT 6011 Plant Propagation with Tom Michaels and Bill Peters
  • HORT 5031 Organic/Local Fruit Production with Emily Hoover
Tips for Future Students: 

Consider taking a single class the first term to prevent being overwhelmed.