Editor’s note: This is a part of a series highlighting the team who inspires our organization. Each month, we highlight a different member of our staff in our “Growing with” series.
by Liz Potasek
Jim Elskamp has a knack for minding the brush strokes while looking at the big picture. As the farm manager and research coordinator at the Arboretum’s Horticultural Research Center (HRC), Elskamp is both concerned with the day-to-day logistics of where equipment needs to go, what needs to be planted and who needs to be on-site, as well as the long-term vision for the HRC, including upcoming capital projects and construction on Minnesota Highway 5.
He makes sure HRC staff, scientists and professors have access to the resources they need for their research in addition to managing the apple production and supply for the Arboretum’s AppleHouse.
How long have you worked at the Arboretum?
As a horticulture student at the University of Minnesota Waseca, I did an internship at the Arboretum summer of 1991, working with Jeffrey Johnson in the tree and shrub collections. I also worked summers at the Arboretum from 1992-1994. I returned in 2001 to work at the HRC.
What do your job duties involve?
I manage the day-to-day workings of the HRC. I work with University staff, scientists and professors to facilitate research – which includes apples, grapes, woody plants and shrubs, and more – at the HRC. I also manage the apple production and apple sales for the Arboretum AppleHouse.
Why are you passionate about your work here at the Arboretum?
I have always enjoyed working with plants and nature. I enjoy problem-solving and trying to make projects go as well as they can.
What is your earliest memory of gardening or nature?
My earliest memory of gardening is watching and helping my grandmother working in her large vegetable and flower gardens. (I’m not sure she would have classified it as helping.)
Who inspired your career path?
When I was 11 or 12, I was asked by my older sister if I wanted to help out with Christmas trees at the St. Peter Greenhouse where she had been working. I continued to work for them through high school and college, working with plant propagation and production of cut flowers and plants for sale in the flower shop, bedding plants in the late winter through spring and summer, lawn care, and landscape installation, design and estimates.
Do you have a home garden?
My family and I have a veggie garden most summers. We grow peas, beans, carrots and a variety of leaf lettuce. We also have shrub and perennial flower gardens in our yard.
The plant I like best is the white pine. I’ve always loved that tree. It’s a large, majestic tree. If you can find a stand of white pine and just sit there and listen while the breeze runs through it, it’s a very relaxing experience.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
Anticipating and managing the growth of the AppleHouse, which closed for the season on Dec. 20. We’ve had two record-breaking years of sales at the Arboretum’s AppleHouse, so it’s been challenging to manage our apple inventory. We maintain about 16 acres of production orchards at the HRC to grow apples for the AppleHouse, but the demand for apples surpasses what we can grow. In addition to the apples we grow on-site, I work with local, Minnesota orchards to source high-quality, freshly-harvested fruit for the AppleHouse.
As an expert in your field, do you have any tricks, tips or advice that would help our readers?
I think that the biggest thing is just to observe, take note of changes and what is working and what is not working. Keeping a journal can help you track what happens each season and record what works and what doesn’t.
How does your work impact Arb members or visitors (or the general public) in a meaningful way?
The work we do at the Horticultural Research Center impacts the public by developing new plant and fruit varieties. I enjoy sharing the knowledge I have of plant care, apples and other fruit-related questions whether it is in the AppleHouse, a meeting or trade show, over the phone or email.