Helping fruit tree growers flourish

Courtney Hollender is passionate about using research to improve harvesting practices and crop yields for fruit tree growers. She’s on a mission to keep Michigan’s tree fruit production thriving.

Courtney Hollender

Courtney Hollender is passionate about using research to improve harvesting practices and crop yields for fruit tree growers. She’s on a mission to keep Michigan’s tree fruit production thriving.

A molecular fruit tree physiologist, Hollender studies why plants develop the way they do and what happens in the plants’ cells during the growing process. Along with her roles as an educator and researcher, Hollender makes a point to interact with the tree fruit growers in Michigan.

She believes research shouldn’t just sit on a shelf – that it’s important to show how findings in basic biology and plant development can produce real, measurable results.

“I want my research to be relevant,” Hollender said. “The only way you can do that is by knowing what the problems are, what’s needed, and the entire production process from planting to the consumer. If you don’t understand that whole pipeline and what’s needed, you can’t contribute, you can’t make progress.”

Q&A: Courtney Hollender

Title: Assistant professor, MSU Department of Horticulture

Joined MSU: 2016

Education: B.A. in biology, Goucher College (Baltimore, MD), 2003; Ph.D. in cell biology and molecular genetics, University of Maryland, College Park, 2012; postdoctoral research geneticist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Appalachian Fruit Research Station, 2012-16.

Hometown: Staten Island, New York. From college onwards, for about 18 years, I lived in Maryland, near Baltimore. I feel allegiance to both places very strongly.

The best part of my job is: Helping others gain confidence in the lab, learn science, and be enthusiastic about plants, fruit trees, and plant biology, is kind of awesome.

The best thing about MSU is: It is a really collaborative and supportive place. Hands down, I think this is the best place I could ever work. I can easily have an informal conversation with anyone in my department or across departments, and it could lead to a collaboration, or a friendship.

What drives my passion for my field of study: The potential impact that it could make. The more I meet growers and people in the tree fruit industry, the more I feel dedicated to helping them sustainably thrive, because farming is a gamble. I think growing tree fruit is an even bigger one.

If I weren’t in my current role, I’d be: The only other thing I’ve ever joked about is if science didn’t work out, I would be running a falafel cart. I would put it strategically next to some university research building, because I know everyone inside is really hungry and doesn’t have time to leave.

The best meal I’ve ever had is: After undergrad, I was working at Johns Hopkins as a technician. I was transitioning from being a vegetarian back to an omnivore, and nobody knew. One day, I went to a nearby market, and I got fried chicken, a half and half (half lemonade, half sweet tea), and a piece of white bread. I sat in a corner hidden behind a building so nobody would see me. And I devoured it. It was so good. That meal of fried chicken, half and half, and white bread, hidden on a corner in Southeast Baltimore, was one of my favorite meals.

My favorite fruit is: Montmorency Cherries. I probably eat more Michigan apples than tart cherries, but I think tart cherries win.

This article was published in Futures, a magazine produced twice per year by Michigan State University AgBioResearch. To view past issues of Futures, visit www.futuresmagazine.msu.edu. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at whetst11@msu.edu or call 517-355-0123.


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