Intentional Design

Emily Tepe conducting field research

Emily Tepe

Unsurprisingly, Emily Tepe—author of the popular book The Edible Landscape—is a trained artist. She studied theater and scenery design as both an undergraduate and graduate student and even worked for a design firm before shifting her efforts full-time to horticulture.

“I designed the exhibits for the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center, in Warrens,” she explains. “I learned a lot about growing cranberries, but also discovered the immense passion and pride these growers have for their work. The history, the production practices, the equipment, the people, they were all fascinating to me.”

“I had a lot to learn.”

Tepe volunteered at the Como Zoo and Conservatory and quickly realized it wasn’t just gardening she was interested in. “I started reading about farming and land use philosophies and discovered the simple fact that I wanted to help people grow good food while being good stewards of the land, both on the farm but also in the backyard. And in order to do that, I had a lot to learn.”

Emily Tepe with raised beds

The transition from working professional to student in the Master of Professional Studies in Horticulture was both easy and challenging. “I always loved school, and being a student again in my 30s gave me a whole new perspective. I was much more motivated, and I cared more about learning and less about my grades, which significantly reduced my stress levels and actually helped me excel.”

And the challenging part? At first, the science. “I realized that approaching the science from a practical perspective really helped me grasp it. In the most basic sense, by understanding the science of how plants grow, we can make better decisions about how to grow them well.

“The concept that a farm, a garden, even a single growing plant involves a system of many interrelated parts—that is the most valuable knowledge I gained from my degree, and I apply it every day.”

“I never looked back.”

Tepe found her niche by connecting with the right person at the right time.

Emily Tepe book signing

“Emily Hoover taught my first class, HORT1001 Plant Propagation,” Tepe says. “Her knowledge and enthusiasm for fruit crops was inspiring and made me think back to that cranberry museum project that got this whole idea started. She became my adviser, and I started working with her on apples, strawberries, raspberries, and other fruits. I never looked back.” 

Professor Hoover also recognized the value of Tepe’s experience with design and encouraged her to explore the concept of edible landscaping as a way to inspire more people to grow more food.

“I designed an edible landscape demonstration garden on campus and kept a blog during the process. That blog got me a book contract, and The Edible Landscape was published by Voyageur Press in 2013. It’s been a fun way to incorporate my artistic side into my horticulture work.”

“I love extolling the virtues of Swiss chard to everyone I meet.”

Tepe currently works in the Department of Horticultural Science, conducting field research and managing projects, but she considers herself primarily an educator. 

“Whether it is teaching my online course, giving talks, or writing articles for our Minnesota Fruit Research blog or Extension, I take the science and make it understandable, practical, and hopefully even exciting for farmers, gardeners, and anyone else who will listen.”

“I love helping people discover creative ways to grow plants."

And what does she enjoy most about her second career? The list is long. 

“I love helping people discover creative ways to grow plants. I love being able to work outdoors. I love extolling the virtues of Swiss chard to everyone I meet. I love being able to offer my design skills to my department: from gardens to online courses to ebooks to websites to t-shirts to postcards, and even the lobby and front office of Alderman Hall.”

Because much of Tepe’s teaching and outreach is done online (see her course HORT 1003 Organic Gardening), she is able to spend part of the year in Idaho where she and her husband are building a house and starting a little farm.

Pro Tip for Students

“If you don’t have a definite goal going into the program, don’t worry. You will quickly meet people and have experiences that will help you find exactly what it is you’re meant to do.”