University to Dedicate Charles L. Hutson Horticulture Greenhouse

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,

Oct. 15, 2004 – Southeast Missouri State University’s horticulture program had its roots decades ago in fruit and vegetable production.

Today, the program is branching out to appeal to students interested in greenhouse management, landscape planting and design, turfgrass, and the burgeoning bio-engineering field. That’s why Southeast’s Department of Agriculture is building a new greenhouse complex, the first phase of which is expected to be completed in time for a Homecoming dedication. 

The greenhouse will be named the “Charles L. Hutson Horticulture Greenhouse” and will be dedicated at a grand opening ceremony scheduled for 1 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 31. The greenhouse is located at the intersection of Bertling and Old Sprigg streets. Parking will be available at the University’s tennis courts near the corner of Bertling and Sprigg, and shuttle service to and from the greenhouse will be provided. Refreshments and tours of the facility will be available after the ceremony. 

Friends and relatives of Hutson’s made significant contributions to help support construction costs of the new greenhouse. Also supporting the greenhouse construction project were members of the 150 Club. These donors have given at least $1,000 to the University’s Agriculture Building Fund to support the construction of the greenhouse.

The late Charles Hutson, owner and operator of Hutson’s Furniture Store in downtown Cape Girardeau and president of Hutson Enterprises, died last December. He graduated from Southeast with a bachelor of science degree in industrial technology and business. During his years at Southeast, he was a member of the Benton Society and the Marketing Club. He was a recipient of the University’s Alumni Merit Award and served as president and an emeritus member of the Southeast Missouri University Foundation Board. He was instrumental in the revitalization of downtown Cape Girardeau and was extremely active with a number of organizations and endeavors throughout the community.

The 11,660-square-foot greenhouse is being built on a six-acre plot west of the University’s new softball fields at Bertling and Sprigg, with access from Bertling. The new greenhouse is double the size of the current one off New Madrid west of the Student Recreation Center. The new state-of-the-art greenhouse facility is expected to give students experience by being involved from planting to sales.

“Experiential learning is number one as far as we are concerned,” said Dr. Wesley Mueller, chair of Southeast’s Department of Agriculture.

The complex also features an 1,800-square-foot head house or work facility, which will serve as a preparation area for mixing soil and sterilizing pots. The head house will also serve as a retail operation and provide much-needed storage space.

Currently the retail and the preparation area for mixing soil are in cramped quarters just inside the front door of the greenhouse off New Madrid.

An expanded greenhouse has been in the plans for a couple of years in response to a surge in interest in plant life science and bio-engineering, according to University officials.

Mueller says, in the near future, the new greenhouse will collaborate with the University’s new Innovation Center.  One of the three houses will be dedicated to such collaborative efforts and research. Southeast students, in turn, will get hands-on experience with research and genetic engineering and, perhaps, with tests on plants in an attempt to harvest novel proteins for such things as drugs to cure cancer, diabetes and such, he said. Students also will be able to work on growing pest-resistant crops and get involved with the University’s rice breeding efforts on a year-round basis.

“Students with this type of experience will be very marketable upon graduation,” Mueller said. “Bio-engineering is an emerging market for students.” 

He says plant life science and horticulture programs are expanding because of increased student interest and the increasing importance of the industry to Missouri. The Danforth Plant Science Center and Monsanto in St. Louis currently operate similar research greenhouses. The research aspect of Southeast’s new greenhouse will dovetail nicely with the incubator component of the University’s new Innovation Center, Mueller said, as startup biotech companies begin to take root in Southeast Missouri.

“We will be looking at cooperative research efforts with the Delta Center in Portageville, Southwest Missouri State University, UM Rolla and private companies,” Mueller said.

The second phase of the project, which could begin in two to three years, calls for building a classroom-laboratory building featuring a bio-tech lab where classes will be taught in a high-tech environment.  In the future, there will be an arboretum, walkways and turf management facilities.

Mueller says the horticulture program is expanding into turf management and landscaping as employment opportunities are growing for individuals with experience in turf maintenance for golf course greens and fairways, demonstration gardens, walking trails, and commercial and residential landscaping. Eventually, the new horticulture complex also could become a demonstration site for retaining walls, fencing, hedge rows, and other such common landscape features.

“We see a great emerging market in these areas,” he said, adding the department has hired a new faculty member, Dr. James McCrimmon, whose expertise is in turf management. “We feel this will be an important part of our program. We see this as a change in direction that will be a great benefit to us as a department and the University.”

With expansion into turf management, Southeast will be the only four-year institution in eastern Missouri offering coursework in this area, Mueller said.

Cost of the first phase of the greenhouse project is $800,000 and is being financed with a $200,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority, private donations and funds from the Department of Agriculture and School of Polytechnic Studies. Mueller says all funding for the first phase is in place. Fund raising for the second phase of the project, estimated at $1.5 million, continues.