Alex Doty ’19 knew that he liked science, engineering, and working with his hands when he came to UVM, but he had no idea that he would end up as a nutrition and food sciences major. Today, Doty is a research assistant at AeroFarms, using his degree to help the world’s largest aeroponic, pesticide-free vertical farm perfect the quality, flavor, and nutrition of their leafy greens.
Growing up in Princeton, NJ, Doty was drawn to the Vermont’s mountainous landscape and rural beauty. After his first trip to Burlington for an admitted student visit day, Doty knew he was in the right place.
“I remember seeing Mt. Mansfield and thinking, ‘Wow! I can live and work here?’” says Doty. “The mountains make you realize the world is bigger than you and your chemistry lab. You get to have those uplifting moments throughout your day.”
Doty says his undergraduate experience at UVM was instrumental in helping him land a highly competitive position at AeroFarms within a few months of graduation. The company uses aeroponic technology to grow microgreens indoor year-round at its vertical farms. By doing so, it aims to redefine the agricultural supply chain enabling produce to be grown closer to where it’s consumed, including near large metropolitan areas. From its headquarters in Newark, NJ, AeroFarms supplies its leafy greens to high-end stores like Whole Foods, as well as to several New York City restaurants and world-renowned chefs.
“If you’re able to grow fresh, local, leafy greens here, you can grow them anywhere,” says Doty. As a research assistant, he works to optimize the company’s growing operations and to improve the quality, flavor and nutrition of the plants it grows. Doty credits his internships and research experiences at UVM with helping him hone and develop the skills he uses in his job today.
“Internships and research are amazing opportunities,” he said, encouraging current UVM students to cultivate personal relationships with faculty and mentors and put themselves out there. “You get real-world experience and learn to understand yourself better, and what you want to do.”
As a quality assurance intern at both Rhino Foods and Cabot Creamery, and then as a student researcher alongside UVM plant biology PhD student Aayudh Das in the Preston Lab, he received on-the-ground training that enabled him to interact with the many parts of a food manufacturing operation and explore his interest in plant biology. In the Preston Lab, Doty collected data and examined drought and cold tolerance of different species of grass related to wheat to determine how climate change is affecting these species. The experience prepared him for working with plants and gave him valuable – and practical – lab experience.
Doty also credits his UVM academic courses with helping him dive deeply into the field of food sciences.
“Dr. Paul Kindstedt’s ‘Principles of Cheesemaking’ course cemented my interest in biochemistry, microbiology, and physics,” he says. “And Dr. Todd Pritchard’s Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) course was one of the best classes I took, teaching me what goes into controlling a food environment, as well as Dr. Cathy Donnelly’s ‘Food Safety and Public Policy’ course, which I loved. I wouldn’t be here without the people at UVM.”
Looking ahead, Doty sees himself possibly pursuing a PhD in plant biology or food science. For now, though, he hopes to absorb and learn all he can in his position at AeroFarms. “I’m thankful to be working for a company where I can combine my love for food and my love for plants.”