Meet undergraduate Evert McKee III

Evert McKee III
Evert McKee III

Evert McKee III is a senior sustainable plant and soil systems major in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. McKee is passionate about improving ecosystems through sustainable agricultural practices. He spent last summer working on a cannabis farm in California where he acquired valuable horticulture experience and earned college credit. Here is what he said in an interview.

What attracted you to UConn?

I was attracted to UConn because of its significant agricultural history. My mom attended UConn in the 80s. Both my parents and my public school teachers led me believe that UConn was this sort of life-changing process: if you work hard enough, you can become an expert. I was attracted to UConn largely because I knew I be able to network with true experts in the field.

What is your major, and why did you choose it?

I’m a sustainable plant and soil systems major. I chose this major because I made two observations when I was in high school. One, the environmental stressors of big agriculture threaten our food security. And two, I had a feeling that cannabis would be legalized soon. The agroecological concepts I currently have in my toolbox will help me be a stronger farmer than I would have been prior to my education at UConn. I can say with confidence that I’m living my life in the pursuit of making ecosystems on Earth more habitable for all communities.

Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why?

I was able conduct independent studies with cannabis under Gerald Berkowitz. Learning by doing, I developed my knowledge in cannabis horticulture. I contacted growers for employment and internship opportunities. I emailed Brotherly Love Organics in California, eventually heard back from them and ultimately received six college credits over fifteen weeks on a legal cannabis farm in Trinity County, California. It’s so memorable because it gave me insight that you can’t get anywhere else. I couldn’t have done that on my own and UConn is entirely to thank for making all of that possible for me.

Name one other experience that has enriched your studies.

The most significant activity involved sustainable farming techniques. These techniques grow crops in an intelligent way, designing systems that can actually be beneficial for the local ecology. My first exposure to these techniques was at Bryan O’Hara’s vegetable farm, Tobacco Road Farm, in Lebanon, CT. It was on a tour there that my inspiration for sustainable farming developed.

What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career?

I would say balance was the hardest challenge. I’m too good at spreading myself thin, and there’s everlasting activity at UConn. I think organizing my lifestyle and habits was the hardest part of college. I’m a senior now, and I think I’ve finally got it figured out. I wake up at five every single day, I don’t use substances and I write things down. I’ve seen too much dysfunction caused by extrinsic motivation. That is living for external rewards: grades, wealth, status, etc. These folks are highly consumptive and typically become passive about change. On the flip side, with intrinsic motivation, I’ve seen a lot of people bloom into a very beautiful people. When your primary motivation is an internal state of being, you suddenly live for knowledge and not power. You become abundantly creative and loving. You become active and responsible. I think high school culturally conditioned me to primarily exhibit extrinsic motivations and college showed me how foolish I was being.

When do you expect to graduate? What then?

I’m on track to graduate in fall of 2019. I’m not sure who I’ll be working with or where I will be. I’m not really interested in making a bunch of money or anything. I just want to be happy, and I won’t be happy until I know where my food comes from and where my waste goes.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

Music has also been an enormously large source of inspiration and creative thought in my life. Listening, playing and creating music is a free language we can all respect. When music is used to express love and light it can really help folks realize the importance of being loving themselves. I discovered my deep love for jam music in college and even had the opportunity to play in Dr. Berkowitz’s band a few times. We played a lot of Grateful Dead and like Jerry says, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

UConn provided the environment for unique and interesting combinations of perspectives to discuss controversial topics in a manner that leaves both parties feeling wiser. Beyond the classroom, the students I’ve come to know and love here at UConn have helped me realize the importance in actualizing a sustainable change.

By Jason M. Sheldon