Cookeville – Tennessee Tech University’s Oakley Farm Greenhouse Research Complex has a new manager. Anna Fancher, a 2018 Tech agriculture major with a concentration in horticulture, became the manager in April 2022. She is the first ever official manager at the greenhouse.
“I believe that this is a somewhat new or developing position as this operation has been largely managed and maintained by professors and work study students in the past,” Fancher said.
The greenhouse complex at the Oakley Farm was started with an initial gift from the late Millard V. Oakley in the Spring of 2013. Thanks to additional donations from Oakley, the USDA Rural Development, Farm Credit Services, the Tennessee Tech Foundation and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture the hydroponics production greenhouse complex currently sits at 32,000 square feet.
Fancher worked throughout her college career and for several months after graduation as an ocean lifeguard in South Carolina. For the past three years she worked for the Pictsweet company as an agriculture specialist on their company farm in west Tennessee.
“I learned so much there and really gained valuable hands-on experience as a professional in the field,” Fancher said.
Fancher, a Morristown, Tennessee native, moved to Cookeville when she was younger. She now lives in Overton County, just north of Monterey.
“I still visit East Tennessee regularly because I love the mountains, but I’ve lived here in the Upper Cumberland longer than anywhere at this point so it’s home now,” Fancher said.
One of the most challenging aspects of this position for Fancher has been the learning curve that comes with transitioning from large scale field crop production to a greenhouse research operation.
It is difficult to describe a “typical” day for Fancher. There is a lot of variety every day as the projects, crops and seasons change. Recently, a big part of the job has included caring for the honey bees, harvesting tomatoes and experimenting and learning about things like germination and fertility requirements.
“One of my favorite things about the position is learning about caring for and keeping bees. It’s something that I’ve always been interested in but never really got the chance to experience it hands on,” Fancher said. “I hope that we can build our hives and program and that it will be an exciting opportunity that we can offer for students who are interested in learning beekeeping.”
The goals for the greenhouses and operation will adapt and change as they find ways to serve the students and community, according to Fancher. The current goal is to transition the operation from a production focused model to a research and outreach focused facility. “We want to provide a supportive and inspirational environment for students and faculty to learn and conduct research and to become a valuable resource for the surrounding communities,” Fancher said.