MPCC alum finds herself through horticulture
If you do what you love, you will never have to work a day in your life. That’s what North Platte native Jensen Hart is finding out as she embarks on a career in horticulture.
“There’s just something about working with plants,” Hart said. “It’s definitely therapeutic.”
Hart is a grower at T&L Nursery in Redmond, Wash. She may live halfway across the country, but her job is really just an extension of where she came from.
“I grew up around farms and ranches, which is where I developed my passion for nature,” Hart said. “If it’s alive, I want to learn more about it, which is why, initially, I thought about becoming a veterinarian or vet tech. I definitely wanted to go into something science related.”
To get started on that path, Hart enrolled in Mid-Plains Community College following her graduation from North Platte High School in 2015. She was already familiar with Mid-Plains because of the advanced placement classes she had taken in high school.
“I also chose MPCC because it was affordable, flexible, and allowed me to be close to family,” Hart said. “What I didn’t want to do was jump right into a university and waste time and money. I knew Mid-Plains Community College would allow me to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do at a price I could afford.”
She spent the first year at MPCC’s campus in McCook, and the second in North Platte.
“Every class I took was intriguing,” Hart said. “I started out in zoology and fell in love with that. Then when I moved to North Platte, I took a biology course with Dr. Carla Long, and that was awesome, too. It made me realize I liked working with plants more than animals. I wanted to be in the dirt, so I decided to become a plant biologist. That’s what was great about Mid-Plains - I was able to try all these new things that made me into the person I am.”
Hart believes Long’s influence, specifically, helped her get to where she is today.
“Her hands-on classes are really what inspired me to go into horticulture,” Hart said. “Dr. Long is so driven and passionate about what she teaches, and that’s what makes her instruction so good. Taking those plant classes really helped me understand the fundamentals and develop the research skills that I use today.”
Hart graduated from MPCC in 2017 with an Associate of Science degree. She then transferred to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in horticulture in the spring of 2020. Her final internship was a study in hydroponics.
“I’ve always enjoyed and admired that aspect of growing, and that’s the direction I thought I was going to go,” Hart said. “I was doing my internship when the pandemic hit, and everything got shut down. It was such a scary time that I went straight home to be with family.”
The downtime gave her an opportunity to search for jobs, and she landed one that summer - supervising the tropical plants and annuals program at a nursery in Walla Walla, Wash.
Hart took her current position, located about half an hour north of Seattle, a year later.
“We are a wholesale nursery,” Hart said. “Most of our products go to Costco, other retail stores in the area and landscapers. We do over two million plugs in our propagation department, which is really intense. I help run the annual program in the spring and do other specialty crops in the fall, which was my emphasis at UNL. The key crops now are lupine and all the primulas.”
The job allows her the freedom to expand the program and find new ways to grow plants while also providing a resource through the expertise of the eight other members on the growing team.
“It’s challenging because I’m doing propagation in many different ways,” Hart said. “I’m trying to develop seeding timelines on site, establish tissue culture and work with bare roots and grafted vines among other responsibilities. That variety is also why I love what I do. I love a challenge.”
Hart has thought about having her own nursery one day, but until then, she’s content learning all she can where she’s at.
“I’m just enjoying the process of doing things start to finish,” Hart said. “I love watching how life progresses. It’s exciting for me to know that I started a plant and then see a customer enjoy the finished product. This is where I’m supposed to be. This is where life begins.”