Northern Michigan's Next Gen Farm Girl Nikki Rothwell

For her master’s, she ended up at Michigan State and hired on part-time to scout greenhouses for pests. Aphids, white flies, powdery mildew. And again, she loved the teamwork element. “You’d collaborate at the end of the search, ‘Did you see these? What about these?’” And of course she enjoyed just being in a greenhouse. “You’d have this cold, cloudy, gray Michigan winter and then walk into the greenhouse and be transported to another world. It was warm, humid and there were blooming impatiens and beautiful flowers everywhere!”

An urge to live out East and a university willing to pay her way led Rothwell to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, for her doctoral work. She studied turf infestations to find ways to reduce spraying, and conducted research on both an everyman’s golf course in Yonkers and on a prestigious old-money private course in Westchester, enjoying both the study of insects and of cultural contrasts. She also found a microbrew pub she liked, fell in love with co-owner Dan Young, and after graduating with her Ph.D., headed to England with him for four months on a tandem bicycle tour. The spirit of their travel is preserved in the name of the cidery they founded near Suttons Bay, Tandem Cider, when they married and landed in Leelanau County.

In 2004, Rothwell made good on her earlier promise to come back and get her boss’s job when she hired on as the Integrated Pest Management expert at the research center. Three years later, when longtime research center chief Jim Nugent retired, the farmers were so impressed with her that they asked her to apply for the top job, technically titled “coordinator.”

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