It's My Job: Travis Dorsey - Tri-HishtilAug 29, 2023 10:07AM ● By Randee Brown
For Tri-Hishtil Greenhouse Manager Travis Dorsey, the people attracted to the company makes Tri-Hishtil a great place to work.
Growing up on a farm in Nashville, GA living and working in agriculture directed Dorsey’s educational path. He said he was comfortable with the lifestyle and enjoyed crop production, subsequently earning a bachelor’s and a master's degree in Entomology at the University of Georgia. After college, he worked in mosquito control before taking a job in Mills River growing crickets indoors for livestock feed. Having gone back home to spend some time on his family farm, he said he was happy to return to WNC when his current position became available.
Reaching his fourth year as Greenhouse Manager, Dorsey was new to the greenhouse industry when he began. “I really like the integration of tech into agriculture,” he said. “It’s fascinating to see where this business is headed, and the future of agriculture is really attractive. I want to be at the forefront of that.”
Tri-Hishtil grows a variety of fruits in a controlled greenhouse environment and distributes them to commercial growers nationwide. Dorsey said 90% of their plants are watermelon, often the seedless variety, which are grafted onto squash rootstocks. Growing the plants in this way allows more vigorous growth of the plant, promotes resistance to certain root- or soil-borne diseases, and in some instances helps the plants to be more drought tolerant.
“It’s more expensive for our customers, but the intention is for the customers to save money on pesticide application and irrigation,” Dorsey said. “They have a healthier plant extracting more nutrients out of the soil and are more resistant against the elements.”
As the Greenhouse Manager, Dorsey manages a team of eight full-time assistant growers, and they are working on hiring two more. Dorsey said they are cross-trained throughout all of the greenhouse’s zones, consisting of different plants at various stages of growth. Outside of his core team, there are 20 to 30 seasonal laborers working on a variety of tasks including record keeping, irrigation, and other physical labor.
There are approximately 115 staff members in the growing season, with the grafting room comprising 90 to 100 seats. Grafters and quality control specialists work under the Operations Supervisor, but Dorsey said part of his job involves lots of logistics, scheduling and figuring out what happens each day in the grafting room.
Dorsey’s additional responsibilities include overseeing the pest management program, adjusting plant protocols — “complicated recipe books for how to grow plants,'' preparing plants for grading and shipping, checking in with the growing team to perform assessments, and planning the following week’s grafting. It also involves quite a bit of intuition, according to Dorsey. He also conducts research focused on adjustments for growing protocols and standard operating procedures, the utilization of different fertilizers and production methods, and working with new crops to see if grafting techniques work within their existing infrastructure.
“All the work is done by hand; there’s no automation,” Dorsey said. “This business is a weird combination of farming and manufacturing and a little bit of a peak-hour restaurant. It’s a fast paced, dynamic workplace.”
Green tissue grafting allows for a faster healing process than woody plants require, and in a little more than a month and a half, each plant is off to a customer, allowing multiple harvests each growing season. He said the growing season can be demanding, but the strong team and positive work environment make it worthwhile.
The best part of working in this position, according to Dorsey, is taking a walk through the greenhouse. “I love to see all the plants growing,” he said. “When everyone is busy or on break, a greenhouse walk allows me to view the plants and use my intuition. It’s somewhat meditative.
The future looks green for Dorsey, as he said his goal is to continue working in the greenhouse or modern farm business in some capacity. “I grew up on a farm,” he said. “It’s in my blood.”
Travis Dorsey is the Greenhouse Manager at Tri-Hishtil. Learn more at TriHishtil.com.