There’s more living in the Oregon State greenhouses than plants. There are students too, and they carry more keys and have more responsibilities than an average caretaker. Three greenhouse residents rotate responsibilities 365 days a year. They pay reduced rent to live on campus in exchange for locking up facilities at night, watering plants, spraying pesticides and responding to emergencies should they arise.
Greenhouse manager Jim Ervin says this is a unique aspect of the Oregon State greenhouses and the College of Agricultural Sciences. Although he’s been on campus himself since the ’70s, he’s not sure when the greenhouse resident program formally started.
“I’ve heard there were people living up there in the 1940s,” he says.
The ‘up there’ he’s referring to is the octagonal structure next to the East Greenhouse Complex. Although members of the Oregon State community pass by the area each day, few know that the building is home to two student residents at a time.
The West Greenhouse residence is tucked inside the complex. It’s smaller and currently home to Gerrit Evensen and his wife.
A unique living, learning experience
Evensen says when he invites friends over to study or hang out, they’re at first confused when he says he lives in the greenhouses.
“Then they come to see it, and everybody thinks it’s the coolest thing ever,” he says.
East Greenhouse resident Rebecca Reeve agrees. She says her friends love to hang out on her balcony when the weather is nice.
Since Reeve and Evensen are both horticulture students, living at the greenhouses gives them hands-on experience learning about greenhouse operations and research from the knowledgeable staff.
“My bosses and coworkers are fantastic, Reeve says. “They’re kind of like a support system.”
The experience may also prove extremely beneficial post-college. Both Evensen and Reeve plan to put their resident position on their résumés in hopes it will give them an advantage when competing for jobs.
“The positions I have in mind after graduation involve mapping out botanical gardens or helping in the propagation of plants,” Evensen says. “So the things I’ve worked on here will directly apply to my future career.”
How to get in
You don’t have to be a horticulture or agriculture major to live in the greenhouse. Ervin says past residents have studied everything from engineering to liberal arts. However, they’re required to complete training on greenhouse operations when they move in.
Before Evensen moved with his wife from Hawaii to attend Oregon State, he emailed Ervin asking if there were any greenhouse jobs available. At the time there weren’t, but once arriving on campus, he was able to take part in a potato seed certification project.
“I wanted to get my foot in the door and see what goes on here,” Evensen explains, “And in working that job, I finally met Jim Ervin in person, and we got along, and he asked me if I wanted to apply to become a resident. I applied for it, got it, and now we’re here.”
The West Greenhouse residence is much smaller than its counterpart, but Evensen says he and his wife enjoy the space. They’ve decorated with a large collection of cacti, and a large table purchased from the OSUsed store serves as a centerpiece for homework, eating and socializing.
An unconventional job
Ervin says the reduced rent is a huge incentive for students to apply to become a resident, but it comes with responsibilities. While residents don’t work long hours, they must be vigilant and available. They always carry a cellphone, the number of which is offered freely to researchers.
Many of the calls the residents receive after hours are from researchers locked out of a greenhouse they need access to.
Rarely, there are more serious situations. The snowstorms in late 2013 and early 2014 were a difficult experience for Reeve, who was on duty during the Christmas break.
“There was a lot of accumulation,” she remembers. “At West, we turned up the steam valves so the snow could melt off the top of the houses, but up here at East, we tried doing that, but it didn’t work. I had to go out there with a giant broom, which was not fun.”
Missing holidays at home is another less enjoyable part of the job. One resident must stay behind and be on duty at all times during Thanksgiving, Christmas and the summer holidays.
However, Evensen says this usually works out.
“That’s the benefit of having three of us,” he explains. “I’ll take a holiday, and I’ll cover the next two so the other residents can go see their families. I never feel limited or stuck here. We just rotate responsibilities.”
Most residents throughout the years have decided that the benefits outweigh the costs.
“This has been one of the most beneficial experiences of my college career,” Evensen says.
“It’s more than I ever expected. I never expected to feel so at home here. I’ve really grown some deep roots here at the greenhouses and at Oregon State.”