Through numerous hands-on learning opportunities as a plant sciences major at the University of Missouri – and a variety of jobs and internships – Joe Butler gained valuable experiences that he knew would one day prepare him for the workforce.
Those experiences showcased multiple industry options to Butler, who realized that he wanted to find a career where he could combine his two passions – plants and writing.
Butler found the perfect opportunity to mesh his interests through Gardener’s Path, a website dedicated to helping others with gardening advice, planting pointers and in-depth reviews of products.
“Throughout my time at MU I learned how cool plants really are,” said Butler, who began working as a writer for Gardener’s Path in mid-March and earned his plant sciences degree in May. “I was able to see different aspects of plants, too, from maintaining and caring for plants to the actual research taking place.
“After all of those experiences, though, I realized that I didn’t necessarily want to work directly with plants. I was more passionate about communicating plant-related information with others.”
When Butler made the decision to attend Mizzou he was originally interested in pursuing a degree in journalism. He soon realized that path wasn’t exactly what he was looking for. As someone who enjoyed the outdoors, and who had just completed a summer job as a groundskeeper in his hometown of Ballwin, Mo., Butler thought he would give the plant sciences degree a try.
“It was actually a pretty easy decision for me to attend Mizzou,” Butler said. “First, my parents are both alumni. Second, through a creative writing class in high school, I found that I got a kick out of putting words together. With MU being such a great place for journalism, and being familiar with campus through my parents, I had an easy decision.
“When I made the degree switch, I was looking for something where I could be out and about. Plant sciences seemed to be a good option, especially after the experience I had gained as a groundskeeper.”
Butler said his work as a groundskeeper showed him the amount of physical labor that goes into working with and caring for plants. He spent the summers before and after his freshman year at MU in that role taking on a variety of tasks.
During Butler’s sophomore year, he decided he wanted to see a different side of plants. He attended the CAFNR Career Fair looking for something related to landscaping. Butler was soon rewarded with an opportunity with Focal Pointe, a landscaping company in St. Louis.
“They do a lot of work for Busch Stadium and Washington University, so I thought it would be a really interesting chance to see what goes into that kind of work,” Butler said. “I was able to work in every department, which showed me parts of the industry that I have never even considered.”
During Butler’s final two years at Mizzou, he saw even more of the plant industry. He secured a summer internship with the Green Bay Botanical Garden, in Wisconsin, where he cared for plants in their more natural environment. He followed up that work experience with a research opportunity with James Schoelz, a professor in the Division of Plant Science and Technology. Schoelz’s research focuses on understanding the environmental and genetic factors that influence the pathogenicity and host range of plant viruses.
“When I look back on everything I was able to do during my time at Mizzou, it was really incredible,” Butler said. “I definitely learned a lot about plants, and I still had that writing bug in me. I knew I wanted a job where I could communicate about what I had learned.”
Butler said he considered multiple options, such as writing programing for botanical gardens or putting together copy for seed catalogs. He created a blog in preparation for a future career as a writer and started to develop his voice.
He said finding Gardener’s Path was a dream come true.
“I work with a really, really cool group of writers and garden enthusiasts who are passionate about communicating everything related to plants,” Butler said. “Plants can be confusing, and a lot of people don’t know the science behind them. It’s exciting to share my knowledge with others.”
Butler said securing a job before graduation definitely relived him of quite a bit of stress heading toward commencement. However, Butler’s final day as a student did come with some pressure. He was one of two graduates who spoke during the ceremony, the first time that CAFNR has had students address the audience.
“I’m not going to lie, hearing that no student had done this before gave me some extra motivation,” said Butler, who also does stand-up comedy as a hobby. “I had never spoke in front of a group that large – it was too good to pass up.”
As a full-time writer with Gardener’s Path, Butler writes about a variety of topics. He selects stories that hit on his interests, such as landscape, trees and shrubs. Butler has branched out recently, too, writing about more unique plants.
“I get to have a lot of fun with my storytelling, which is such a great chance for me to flex my writing muscles,” Butler said. “I’ve enjoyed getting to develop my voice as a writer, too. I’m so thankful for this opportunity. I’m thankful for what I learned through the plant sciences degree at MU, too. It’s a great program that really prepared me for my next steps.”