HART, Mich. — Ashley Fleser has been named farm manager at the West Central Michigan Research and Extension Center in Hart, Mich. The center is part of a network of 15 Michigan State University AgBioResearch centers across the state.
Through a partnership among MSU, West Central Michigan Horticultural Research Inc., Michigan Asparagus Research, Inc., Peterson Farms Inc., and the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, the center was established in August 2021 to support tree fruit and vegetable agriculture.
Fleser, a West Michigan native of Montague and current resident of Whitehall, becomes the center’s first full-time farm manager, tasked with fostering an environment that supports scientists and MSU Extension educators. He assumed the new role March 13.
“I’m honored to step into what I feel is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Fleser said. “This is a new center built through collaboration and community engagement, and I am excited to continue that collaboration to grow this station into a world-class facility.”
As farm manager, Fleser said his goals are to support the robust research programs of MSU tree fruit and vegetable researchers, partner and build relationships with local growers and stakeholders, and establish the center as a place for the community to learn and come together.
“We have so many well-respected centers across the state already, so it will be critical to get the ball rolling quickly to support West Michigan growers and the industries as a whole,” Fleser said. “It’s an incredible opportunity to be part of shaping the mission and vision for a relatively new center. My background is not in tree fruit or some of the vegetables grown in this area, but I am well-versed in other cropping systems, so it will be a fun challenge.”
A graduate of MSU, Fleser said his myriad experiences have prepared him to succeed at the center. While earning a bachelor’s degree from MSU in public resource management, he developed a love of working with the land. For more than two decades, he’s been involved with land management in a variety of capacities.
Fleser served as a greenskeeper for a golf course in Michigan before an eight-year stint in the Cayman Islands, where he held positions in landscape and irrigation management, farm infrastructure management, and as an assistant superintendent for the only 18-hole golf course in Grand Cayman.
After moving back to Michigan, Fleser has greatly broadened his knowledge base. He’s worked in seed and fertilizer sales, as a crew leader on dune restoration at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, as executive director of Muskegon County Habitat for Humanity, and as a sports turf manager for Grand Valley State University.
Prior to his new role as farm manager, he also served as a health program instructor for MSU Extension.
“Ashley’s wealth of knowledge in agriculture and land management, and his passion for this region of Michigan, are what led us to naming him the center’s first full-time farm manager,” said James Kells, assistant director of MSU AgBioResearch. “Using our established connections in the area and long history of partnership with the tree fruit and vegetable industries, as well as the connections he will continue to make, I’m confident Ashley can help build the center into a truly useful resource for growers and the community.”
Fleser believes he can transition seamlessly into this new role because of his past experiences.
“Because of my background, I’m very adaptable and able to jump right into new and unfamiliar things,” Fleser said. “But being from West Michigan, I’ve always been involved with agriculture and connected to this community. I love managing land, love growing crops, love the attention to detail, and all of those things are important here.”
In addition to his bachelor’s degree from MSU, Fleser earned a certificate in sports turf management from The Ohio State University and is in the process of completing a master’s degree in biology from Grand Valley State University.
— Michigan State University AgBioResearch