My Summer as an Inferior Species

by Sam Jones

Farming is hard, especially when animals are involved. Sam Jones recounts her time working on a chicken and pig farm in Colorado where only the fearless survive.

I am a white female, five-feet-three-inches tall, weighing in at a whopping 115 pounds. I spent my summer wrangling hogs and killing chickens. The following is a harrowing account of my survival.

My first day of work at Jodar Farms in Fort Collins, Colorado involved kicking a rooster in the chest, learning how to drive a manual truck with the back window blown out, and navigating 50-mile-an-hour winds while trying to fill five-gallon buckets with pig feed. It was everything I could have hoped for as a job-seeking college graduate.

While the demands of the job remained the same throughout my five-month stint, they did become less taxing over time. Upon arriving at the farm around sunrise, I would immediately open the doors to the five chicken coops scattered across the farm. Releasing thousands of chickens into the great outdoors with a buffet of chicken feed waiting was how I pictured Black Friday. That is, thousands of hungry consumers bottlenecking at the doors to paradise, some of whom are inevitably trampled in the scuffle.

It was this first duty of the day that already indicated to me that chickens are stupid creatures. All of you animal-rights activists out there—bear with me. Every day, with the rising of the sun, chickens are prompted to wake up and find food. On a free-range chicken farm like Jodar, these chickens knew, at the very least, that food laid just on the other side of those wooden doors. What they were repeatedly unaware of was that piling on top of one another was not a good solution to their problem. Alas, human intervention was all that could spare them from suffocating one another to death. For those that didn’t make it, I merely tossed their sad souls into the dumpster—and on an empty stomach no less.

Next, I would check on the brooders. These are essentially stacked metal cages attached to a source of heat that give young chicks being raised for meat a better chance of survival during their most fragile life stage. Refilling the feed and water trays and verifying that the heat was set at the right temperature would have been my favorite job had it not been for the poop trays. That’s right: six massive cookie-sheet-like trays onto each of which the feces of roughly 86 chicks collected. As I mentioned before, I am only 5′ 3”, which was incidentally shorter than the top two trays. Slowly and methodically, I would slide one poop tray out with both hands over my head, carefully lower it to a trash bin, and fold the underlying newspaper in a way that prevented the poop from breaking through the paper and onto either the tray or my hands. Finally, and with much satisfaction, I would roll the steaming wad of poop into the bin. I repeated this glamorous task five more times, every day.

Now, about kicking a rooster in the chest. If you have ever been exposed to the wrath of the rooster, you might sympathize with my aggression. The chickens were fed twice each day, which I accomplished most efficiently by carrying one five-gallon bucket of feed in each hand and dumping them into the feed troughs. Perhaps due to my size or the scent of fear emanating from my pores, these roosters went into full-on Kill Bill mode every time they saw me. They chased me and trapped me in the back of the coop while I collected eggs. And at feeding time, while my hands were filled with buckets of feed, the two black and white speckled roosters (whom I affectionately named Umbridge and Voldemort) would stand up straight, flare their neck feathers, and charge at me from behind. Despite kicking Umbridge (out of self-defense) so hard that he developed a limp, I still sustained many above-the-knee bruises in the shape of a chicken’s foot—farming is dangerous business. To add to my bruised legs and ego, I learned that I was the first and only employee at Jodar to be attacked by these roosters. The problem became so cumbersome that my boss and coworkers rounded up all the roosters on my day off and gave them to a neighbor just so they would stop karate-chopping my kneecaps. I am eternally grateful.

 

Another of my glamorous duties included collecting the eggs of roughly 2,000 laying hens, which amounted to 1,600 eggs daily, give or take a few hundred. This was my favorite job (once the roosters were voted off the island) because I always felt like a toddler on Easter Sunday. Some eggs were blue, pink, brown, or white. Some were massive double-yolkers while others were the size of a gumball. The only downsides to egg collecting were the incessant screeching of thousands of chickens, the occasional chicken jumping on my back while I was bent over, and the necessity of yanking three or four chickens out of a lay box by the neck just to see if there were eggs to collect. Otherwise, this duty was by far the most enjoyable.

Compared to the hens and roosters, about whom I had unwavering opinions, I developed a complicated love-hate relationship with the pigs on par with the one between Americans and democracy. First, Jodar’s pigs lived outside in the mud and pasture, so the smell typically associated with pigs was not a factor in our love story. I loved these pigs because they were smart.  I lost count of the number of times the pigs got out of their pens by busting through weak wire or finding a malfunctioning section of electric fence. Rounding up pigs at 9 o’clock at night is maybe the most frustrating thing I have ever done. At the same time, the ridiculousness and humor of the situation reminded me how lucky I was to work outside with cute animals every day. On hot days, I would use the hoses to spray them down and create cold wallows—it was the closest thing to a wet t-shirt contest I’d ever seen.

The hate part of this love-hate relationship can actually be blamed on the poor infrastructure that was set up for feeding. Most farms have one large trough or automatic gravity feeder for their pigs, but not at Jodar. Not even close. I filled five-gallon buckets with feed and beer byproducts (which we called brew), lifted the buckets over to the outside of the pigs’ fence, set them down, climbed over the fence, bent down to lift the buckets into the pen, then proceeded to walk to all of the small feeders scattered around the large encampment. All the while, the pigs became unbelievably and unmanageably excited that it was breakfast or lunch time. And there I was in the mud with them—a small, helpless, feed-hauling mammal. It should impress you to know that they only knocked me to the ground once in my five months of feeding them. I’m pretty proud of that.

Lastly, the most memorable job was the weekly chicken slaughter. Every Tuesday, the person with the closing shift would accompany our boss, Aaron, in rounding up the fattest 250 broilers from the oldest of the four chicken houses, each containing 500 broilers (give or take the few temperamental birds that lost their will to live at some point in their 10-week journey to slaughter). My wrists would be so sore the next morning from repeatedly grabbing three chickens by the legs in each hand (the guys could lift five), that the only way to drink my coffee was to perform a graceful tipping bird motion of my face onto the rim of my mug, and slurp.

On Wednesdays, we hung the birds by their ankles on metal hooks that closely resembled the large paddle attachments for an electric stand-up mixing bowl. They became rather calm and limp as they lay upside down, blood rushing to their heads as they glimpsed the ominous black bins below, with the sun beaming off their white feathers.

First, one of my coworkers would painlessly zap each chicken in the neck with a stun knife that essentially put them to sleep. Then, my other coworker (both of them men—actually all of them men except for me) would follow by slitting their throats with a knife, allowing the blood to spill into the black bins underneath. Once enough blood had been spilt, the chickens were placed 10 at a time into a hot water bath and rotated on a timed cycle until they were properly sanitized.

This is where I came in. First, I removed the steaming chickens from their bath and placed them breast-side up on the plucking machine. Then, I would lock the door of the plucker and slide the birds into a cylindrical basin fitted with black rubber fingers that spun the birds at high speed before the machine automatically unlocked and flung the chickens onto a metal catch. My sexy job in this process was to pluck the few remaining feathers off the chickens’ armpits and butts. Lastly, several Hispanic women processed the chickens until they eventually resembled the whole chicken you buy in the store and roast with a salt-brine and a few sprigs of rosemary. From start to finish, including cleaning, it took 10 people about three hours to slaughter 250 chickens.

Not too shabby for a hard day’s work.

Sam Jones is a first year student in the AFE program who worked on farms for two years after graduating from the University of Puget Sound. Her interest in agriculture began in the summer of 2012 when she WWOOFed in France and Scotland. She likes to cook, be outside, drink wine, and dreams of one day living in Italy.

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On the Present Past and the Struggle for Land Justice

by Kathleen Nay

On Wednesday, September 20th, Grassroots International hosted a reading and panel discussion with authors of a new book from Food First, entitled Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons at the Tufts Health Sciences Campus. The event was co-sponsored in part by the Tufts Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy (UEP) program, Friedman Justice League, and Friedman Student Council. Student Kathleen Nay reflects on what she learned. (A version of this article was also published at UEP’s Practical Visionaries blog.)

Land Justice Book Tour. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Land Justice Book Tour. Photo: Kathleen Nay

In undergrad, I had a history professor who liked to remind us that “the past is always present.” He opened each class period with a quirky anecdote tying the distant past to today. We learned things like the origin of the phrase “to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and the ancient beginnings of practices we think of as quite modern: applying makeup or playing table games. He used the phrase as a mnemonic device to encourage students to remember the importance of history. While most of the historical snippets he shared escape me now, the idea that the roots of the past reach like tendrils into the present is something I still think about often.

But history is not always a quirky story about babies and bathwater. For many, historical oppression manifests as inherited present-day trauma. I’ve been reminded of this throughout my time in the Friedman and UEP programs, where I’m not only learning what it means to be an expert in my field (environmental and agricultural policy), but also where I’m learning to confront privilege in my life and practice, so as not to become a policy “expert” who ignores the lived experiences of others.

On the evening of September 20, around sixty people gathered to hear from the editor and coauthors of a new book from Food First, entitled Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States. Land justice is the idea that people and communities that have been historically oppressed have a right to land and territory. The book’s 20 contributors examine themes of privilege in property ownership; black agrarianism and liberation; women’s work on the land; indigenous leadership; migration and dispossession; the implications of transnational food regimes; land-based racism; and finally, opportunities for activism and healing. Notably, the volume includes a chapter on land access written by Caitlyn Hachmyer, a 2013 alum of Tufts University’s Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy program.

The evening began with a short mistica ceremony that grounded us, leading us to reflect on our relationship with the Earth and our place upon it. We honored those who have sacrificed (and are sacrificing) everything on the front lines of land justice; and reflected upon the ways in which we might continue learning and offering solidarity to those fighting for land justice. On the ground in front of us were seeds, soil, and signifiers of the struggle against capitalist interests and colonialist occupiers of contested land.

Mistica Ceremony. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Mistica ceremony. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Director of Food First and coeditor of the new book, Eric Holt-Gimenez opened with a reading from the volume’s introduction, which reflects on a mythos well-known to Americans and to New Englanders in particular, wherein Squanto [Tisquantum] shows the pilgrims how to plant herring alongside corn, to nourish the crop and ensure a plentiful harvest. What the mythic Thanksgiving story fails to capture, however, is that Tisquantum was a captive of European explorers. While held in Europe for 16 years, his tribes—the Massasoit and Wampanoag peoples of the “New World”—were decimated by disease introduced by the colonists who overtook their homeland.

The story of early America doesn’t offer much more hope for agrarianism. Over the next centuries, dispossessed British, Nordic, and European peasants led the transition from agrarianism to the Industrial Revolution, and over time agriculture became less about feeding people and more about feeding the capitalist machine that is corporate agriculture. Holt-Gimenez’s introduction to the book sets the historical stage by emphasizing that “racial injustice and the stark inequities in property and wealth in the US countryside aren’t just a quirk of history, but a structural feature of capitalist agriculture… In order to succeed in building an alternative agrarian future, today’s social movements will have to dismantle those structures.” When you begin to examine—really examine—the root causes of hunger in our country, he says, it all comes back to the land. The past is always present.

But there are seeds of resistance, and their stories are told in Land Justice.

The first author to speak at Wednesday’s panel was Kirtrina Baxter, whose contribution to the book centers on black women healing through innate agrarian artistry. In her talk, she introduced the concept of women as seed keepers. “Black women’s acts of creating are often relegated to carrying the seeds of the human population,” Baxter and her chapter coauthors write, but “through historical and contemporary narratives of Black women agrarians, activists, and organizers, we describe innate agrarian artistry as the creative, feminine use of land-based resistance to simultaneously preserve the people and soil.” Baxter et al. acknowledge women as creators—not simply as prolific wombs, but also as literal and spiritual seed keepers, carrying on the traditions of seed saving and telling “seed stories,” (the cultural missives that get passed down along with the seeds). Baxter’s chapter in Land Justice celebrates the historical resistance “of which Black women have woven quilts, sang spirituals, and foraged from the land for survival.”

Suyapa Gonzalez was the next panelist to speak. Though not a contributing author, Gonzalez is an organizer with GreenRoots, a community-based organization in Chelsea, Massachusetts committed to achieving environmental justice through collective action, unity, education, and youth leadership. Through a translator, she gave a rousing appeal for land justice in Chelsea, where much of the soil is contaminated from years of chemical dumping, and where 72% of households are renter-occupied. “After God, it is to la madre Tierra that we owe our lives. If [our Mother Earth] dies, we will also die,” she opened, and ended with a call for everyone to demand better protections for the land that gives life.

Panel speakers from left: Eric Holt-Gimenez, Kirtrina Baxter, Hartman Deetz, Suyapa Gonzalez (and Friedman AFE student, Nayla Bezares, translating). Photo: Kathleen Nay

Panel speakers from left: Eric Holt-Gimenez, Kirtrina Baxter, Hartman Deetz, and Suyapa Gonzalez (with Friedman AFE student, Nayla Bezares, translating). Photo: Kathleen Nay

The final coauthor to speak was Hartman Deetz, a member of the Mashpee-Wampanoag tribe and an activist for land justice and indigenous rights. Deetz owns two acres of Mashpee land in Cape Cod—two acres of land, he emphasized, which has perpetually been under Mashpee ownership and never owned by white men. He pointed out that North America is entirely stolen land, evidenced by the many places across the continent bearing now-familiar American and Canadian names, but rooted in indigenous words: Nantucket Island, Massachusetts; Narragansett, Rhode Island; Nashua, New Hampshire; the Dakotas; Ottawa, Ontario; Winnipeg, Manitoba; even Massachusetts itself. It’s a long list.

But the taking of indigenous land is not simply a footnote in the distant past. Here too, the past is present. Today the Mashpee-Wampanoag tribe is fighting the government for federal recognition of their tribal status and rights to retain ownership over 11,000 acres of ancestral land. Unfortunately, it’s a situation not unique to the Mashpee; in his Land Justice chapter, Deetz recounts his experience standing alongside the Standing Rock Sioux in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. People are still losing lives and livelihoods in the struggle for land justice.

Small group discussions. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Small group discussions. Photo: Kathleen Nay

The evening closed with a chance for attendees to break into small groups for discussion and reflection. My group took the opportunity to consider just how present the past really is. We reflected on how the histories of indigenous peoples and people of color, so deeply tied to land ownership (or lack thereof), are all but erased in our culture. I left with a deeper resolve to seek out those hidden histories, to use my profession and practice to amplify efforts for democratic community control of land, and to lend my support to organizations that do the same.

Kathleen Nay is a third year AFE/UEP dual degree student. This summer she discovered Native-Land.ca, a resource to help North Americans learn more about the indigenous histories and languages of the region where they live. If you have a zip or postal code, you too can learn more about your home on native land.

Dig In to DINE this School Year!

by Bridget Carle and Casey Florea, DINE

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Sprouting Peas in the DINE Rooftop Garden. Photo: Mike Zastoupil

Want to share your knowledge and enthusiasm with the local community? Here’s your opportunity—the Dig In! Nutrition Education (DINE) program has been operating for more than 10 years right in our backyard. It’s a partnership between Friedman students and neighboring Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown, offering Friedman students the chance to share our excitement of nutrition and food with cute third graders.

The third-graders and teachers alike really appreciate the creative lessons that Friedman students bring each time and it’s rewarding for Friedman students to share their experience with these eager kids. Several times each semester, Friedman’s graduate students teach lessons on nutrition, life science, gardening and the importance of healthy foods.

This year’s DINE organizers, Bridget Carle and Casey Florea, are excited to get started but will need committed teachers! As the lessons are only 45 minutes, once a week, a few times a semester, it’s a volunteer opportunity that doesn’t require a big time commitment but is a lot of fun. Please reach out for more information. We look forward to getting started!

Contact:

 

Agricultural Workers Should Organize

by Maddy Bennett

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a farm workers’ rights group founded by laborers on Florida’s tomato farms. The organization now operates in many states to secure fair wages and to oppose involuntary servitude in the U.S. agriculture industry. CIW succeeded in bringing large food retailers to meet the terms of the group’s Fair Food Program. The work of CIW proves that when labor organizes to reclaim its rights, society benefits. Learn more by attending Friedman Seminar on April 19.

The valorized “efficiency” of the American farming system has historically relied upon shamefully poor living and working conditions for farm laborers, who, in the post-slavery era, were often immigrants. Slavery, indentured servitude, sharecropping, and guest worker programs provided exploitative and profitable business models rooted in unjust and predatory landowner–laborer relations. Today, the mistreatment of labor in agriculture remains a national embarrassment and a poignant reminder of our country’s apparent incapacity to rectify the historical and ongoing injustices committed against these indispensible yet highly vulnerable workers.

Now more than ever, large-scale fruit and vegetable farms in the United States are heavily dependent on migrant labor coming largely from Mexico and Central America. As most of these migrants are undocumented, they live and work under especially precarious conditions and may therefore be hesitant to organize to demand better wages, humane working standards, and an end to human trafficking, sexual abuse, and gender-based violence prevalent in farm labor. Yet those who dismiss farm labor abuses allege that the current paradigm is a necessary evil—or simply an inevitability—required to meet both the scale of production and low prices demanded by consumers. Not only is this patently false, but such a facile argument serves to discredit the development of alternatives to oppressive practices in the American farming system. In fact, one such alternative has proven its success in securing workers’ rights without unduly burdening farm owners, food retailers, or consumers.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a workers’ rights and social justice organization started by farm laborers in Immokalee, Florida in 1993 in response to falling wages in the state’s tomato industry. CIW gained influence and industry recognition after organizing a hunger strike, a series of work stoppages, and fast food franchise boycotts that brought about improvements in wages and working conditions for tomato harvesters in Florida. CIW has also led the fight against endemic human trafficking and slavery taking place on American farms.

Six years ago, CIW rolled out the Fair Food Program (FFP) that educates farm workers about their rights and conducts third-party monitoring to ensure that just labor practices are being followed. FFP enlists large retailers, including Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, to sign on to be Fair Food Certified. By paying a premium, retailers help finance the enforcement of good labor standards, thus ensuring that worker dignity and human rights are upheld on tomato farms in Florida. Since 2015, FFP’s reach has expanded to farm laborers across six other states. Through its Campaign for Fair Food, CIW has educated consumers about the causes of and solutions to the rampant abuses against farm laborers. Mobilizing consumers to apply pressure to the largest food retailers has led to 14 companies joining FFP.

CIW is proof that farm worker agency, the right to organize, and cooperation among laborers, farm owners, and corporate retailers can help eradicate the scourge of unfair and inhumane labor practices and abuses in American agriculture, and that doing so need not come at the expense of consumers.

To learn more about CIW and its endeavors, please attend the Friedman Seminar on April 19—brought to you by the Friedman Justice League—during which CIW organizers will share their experiences, successes, and struggles.

Maddy Bennett is a second-year FPAN student and anti-work leftist from subtropical Texas. She enjoys vegan baking and tweeting hot takes.

Following our Food: A Northern California Supply Chain Adventure

by Christina Skonberg and Krissy Scommegna

How do people at different points of food production make decisions? As part of a directed study on Sustainable Supply Chain Management, Friedman students Krissy Scommegna and Christina Skonberg spoke with representatives at three different food and beverage businesses in California to learn how producers weigh costs and benefits to yield optimal results.

While the Obamas packed up the last of their belongings at the White House on January 19, 2017, we walked through the doors of Jaharis for our last first day of school ever (hats off to the indefatigable PhD students who may still have a few more to go). As we anticipate our transition away from Harrison Avenue in May, we reflect on this crossroads between academia and employment. The Agriculture, Food, and Environment curriculum has taught us to use sound data sources and unbiased modeling techniques to substantiate every claim we make, encouraged us to address how the food system disproportionately advantages some at the expense of others, helped us develop a systems approach to analyzing food production and consumption, and much, much more.

As we embark on one last semester of group study sessions and post-class beers, we return to a central question that drove many of us to attend graduate school in the first place:

How will we effectively apply these tools to real situations involving real people beyond the boundaries of academia? Do farmers in the Northern Plains actually develop quantitative models to determine which wheat varieties they should cultivate given climatic conditions, prices, and market demand? Do food and beverage packaging specialists conduct elaborate life cycle assessments to determine which materials have the lowest carbon footprint? Do retailers meticulously vet suppliers based on environmentally sound soil management practices? Or, do many of these producers forego elaborate methodologies to instead make decisions based on instinct and habit?

In our last four months at Friedman, we’re seeking to address some of these questions through a directed study on Sustainable Supply Chain Management. In speaking with over 20 food industry professionals who operate at different points of diverse supply chains around the country (read: Nebraskan cattle ranchers, Californian coffee procurement specialists, and Pennsylvanian butchers), we hope to explore how food producers optimize outcomes given their unique goals and constraints. In the classroom, we immerse ourselves in the minutiae of soil health, herbicide resistance, tillage techniques, and other important facets of on-farm production. Through site visits and interviews, we hope to deepen our understanding of decisions and tradeoffs beyond the farm gate and into the manufacturing, distribution, retail, and waste sectors of the wider food system.

Eager to escape the New England winter and set out on our supply chain quest, we ventured to Northern California over winter break to conduct our first few interviews. Below, we share stories from a handful of the inspiring producers we met.

Front Porch Farms: Healdsburg, California

Interviewee: Johnny Wilson, Farm Manager

Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg, California Photo from Front Porch Farm’s Official Website: https://fpfarm.com/

Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg, California
Photo from Front Porch Farm’s Official Website: https://fpfarm.com/

On a rare rainy day in Northern California, we trekked to bucolic Healdsburg to see how Front Porch Farm Manager Johnny Wilson cultivates the scenic 110 acre, 30+ crop farm. Perhaps most famous for their perennial cut flowers, wines, and Italian heritage polenta, Front Porch Farm is in many ways a paradigm of ecologically sound production. Drip irrigation systems line orchards, organic compost fertilizes fields, and their giant but gentle puppy Hilde assists in predator control. When asked about how the team determines which seeds to select from catalogs like Baker’s Creek and Seed Savers Exchange (yes, farmers still buy seeds from catalogs!), Johnny explained that while profitability is an undeniably important factor, the team also focuses on the ecological and cultural significance of crops. Enriching the agricultural diversity of Sonoma County (winegrape cultivation currently dominates the region), maintaining a polyculture system that fosters long term soil health and wildlife biodiversity, and experimenting with new varieties that excite the team are all considerations that go into the seed selection process. For Front Porch Farm, the generation of social and environmental value is inextricably linked to the success of their business. To see what diversified farming looks like at Front Porch, check out the map of their impressive agricultural mosaic in Healdsburg.

Blue Bottle Coffee: Oakland, California

Interviewees: Jen Flaxman, Learning and Development Manager & Melissa Tovin, Finance Operations Manager

Blue Bottle’s Roastery and Production Facility in Oakland, California Photo from the Washington Business Journal, December 2016

Blue Bottle’s Roastery and Production Facility in Oakland, California
Photo from the Washington Business Journal, December 2016

Jen Flaxman and Melissa Tovin of Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland are intimately familiar with the complexity of international supply chains. As the Learning and Development Program Manager, Jen ensures that effective employee training and education programs help Blue Bottle employees in California, New York, and Japan thrive in their jobs. Melissa is Blue Bottle’s Finance Operations Manager and she spends much of her time forecasting appropriate procurement quantities for all Blue Bottle cafes (there are 33 globally). Among the many fascinating things we learned from Jen and Melissa was that much of the decision making around procurement quantities of green coffee (unroasted coffee beans) lies within the Finance department of Blue Bottle rather than in the Production department. Melissa—a veritable Excel whiz—explained that this improves accuracy in predicting and meeting demand, allowing the company’s green coffee buyers to focus their energy on developing supplier relationships in the field and upholding coffee quality standards. For Blue Bottle, technical tools like modeling are critical to supply chain decisions, and starting this summer you can taste the quality yourself in Boston. (Students in Chris Peters’ Food Systems Modeling course this semester may want to take note and highlight those analytical skills on their resumes!).

Three Thieves: Napa, California

Interviewee: Roger Scommegna, Thief

Left: Current Packaging for Bandit 1L Tetra Pak; Right: Roger Scommegna in his element Photos Courtesy of Roger Scommegna

Left: Current Packaging for Bandit 1L Tetra Pak; Right: Roger Scommegna in his element
Photos Courtesy of Roger Scommegna

Over a warm cup of non-Blue Bottle Coffee in Berkeley, we discussed the wine industry with beverage entrepreneur Roger Scommegna. Full disclosure, he may have been coerced into this interview due to family ties. As one of the founders of Three Thieves, Roger has spent the past 16 years working to bring high quality wines to the masses at low prices—a noble cause for grad students on a budget. Three Thieves achieved this model by initially packaging their wine in one-liter glass jugs and later establishing an offshoot brand, Bandit, available in half and one-liter Tetra Paks instead of traditional bottles.

Roger provided many insights into the beverage industry, but perhaps most interesting was his perspective on getting products into retail establishments. Roger discussed “gatekeepers” (wine buyers at different grocery chains like Safeway and Costco), and their authority in determining which products to purchase, in what quantity, and at what frequency. While one might expect grocery chains to use a reliable algorithm to determine which products will fare best on shelves, these gatekeepers often make decisions based on the crucial relationship forged between client and buyer. This camaraderie, the client’s ability to highlight differentiating features of their product, and even the restaurant where the business dinner takes place can all sway purchasing decisions. The gatekeeper is a powerful stakeholder in this context and can have a profound influence on a supplier’s brand. Roger recounted an instance when a purchaser told him that while his grocery chain had once regarded Three Thieves as a cutting edge brand, a lack of rebranding efforts had rendered their products outdated. In a successful response, Three Thieves conducted a branding overhaul and regained the favor of this key buyer.

At this early stage in our adventure, we’ve learned that—as is typically the case in science—the answer to our question about how producers make supply chain decisions depends. It depends on product, scale, metrics of success, and several other factors. Some decisions are based on models and economic analysis while others are more grounded in personal experience and preference. We look forward to speaking with the rest of our gracious interviewees over the course of the semester to learn more about the tools and motivations people use to make discerning production decisions. We’re indebted to the professors and faculty who’ve poured their energy into honing our technical skills and expanding our intellectual curiosities, and we hope that this opportunity helps bridge our academic lives with the professional endeavors we pursue after graduation.

Christina Skonberg is a 2nd year AFE student from Berkeley, CA who is trying to embrace the New England winter but couldn’t resist smuggling a suitcase full of Californian produce back to Boston in January. Krissy Scommegna is also a 2nd year AFE student who was happy to see her home in Boonville, CA in its rainy glory in January, even if it meant digging trenches against flooding and building fires in the wood stove to stay warm. Second-year AFE student Carrie DeWitt will also be participating in this directed study, but was unable to attend meetings in California in January. Stay tuned for more information about their end of semester presentation on Best Practices in Supply Chain Management, coming in May.

AFE Students Visit University of New Hampshire’s Fairchild Dairy and Organic Research Farms

by Kathleen Nay

On Saturday, October 22, students from the Fundamentals of U.S. Agriculture and Agriculture, Science and Policy II classes visited two dairy farms at the University of New Hampshire. Kathleen Nay documented the field trip for the Friedman Sprout.

The maternity barn at the University of New Hampshire’s Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center. Fairchild is a conventionally-run dairy operation, typical of those seen across New England. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Saturday mornings are normally for sleeping in—the one rare day a week I can afford a leisurely wake-up time. Not today. Today my alarm is set for 5:30 am; I’m joining my fellow Agriculture, Food and Environment students for a day trip to visit two dairy farms at the University of New Hampshire: the Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center in Durham, NH, and the Organic Dairy Research Farm in Lee, NH. Hot tea in hand and warm oatmeal in my belly, we make our way up I-95 and take in the beautiful fall colors along the drive.

Dr. Pete Erickson, professor of biological sciences and extension dairy specialist, meets us at the Fairchild Dairy where he introduces us to his doctoral student, Kayla Aragona, who manages several pregnant cows and calves in her research on colostrum quality. (Colostrum, the first milk produced after a cow gives birth, is key in supporting the health of her young calf.) They give us a tour of the Fairchild Dairy, a typical New England dairy operation that is home to about 90 milking-age Holsteins and Jerseys and 70 young replacement heifers. The facility relies heavily on undergraduate student labor, including students participating in the CREAM program (Cooperative for Real Education in Agricultural Management).

Before entering any of the barns at Fairchild Dairy, we slip plastic disposable boots over our footwear. This is a biosecurity measure meant to prevent the spread of pathogens to or from the farm animals. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Before entering any of the barns at Fairchild Dairy, we slip plastic disposable boots over our footwear. This is a biosecurity measure meant to prevent the spread of pathogens to or from the farm animals. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Students begin the tour of Fairchild’s maternity barn. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Students begin the tour of Fairchild’s maternity barn. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Dr. Pete Erickson leads us on a tour of the facility and answers students’ questions about the New England dairy industry. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Dr. Pete Erickson leads us on a tour of the facility and answers students’ questions about the New England dairy industry. Photo: Kathleen Nay

 Second-year AFE/UEP student Tessa Salzman makes friends with a mama cow. Milk production from these mamas averages 26,000-27,000 pounds per cow per year. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Second-year AFE/UEP student Tessa Salzman makes friends with a mama cow. Milk production from these mamas averages 26,000-27,000 pounds per cow per year. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Dr. Erickson passes samples of corn silage around for students to feel and smell. Silage, a fermented, high-moisture stored fodder, is a primary ingredient in ruminant feed. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Dr. Erickson passes samples of corn silage around for students to feel and smell. Silage, a fermented, high-moisture stored fodder, is a primary ingredient in ruminant feed. Photo: Kathleen Nay

As a bovine nutrition specialist, Dr. Erickson knows a lot about dairy cows’ diets. Here, he shows us a mixture of dried citrus pulp and beet pellets. Beet pellets are a byproduct of sugar manufacturing. Photo: Kathleen Nay

As a bovine nutrition specialist, Dr. Erickson knows a lot about dairy cows’ diets. Here, he shows us a mixture of dried citrus pulp and beet pellets. Beet pulp pellets are a byproduct of sugar manufacturing. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Blood meal, a byproduct derived from the poultry industry, is a high-protein supplement added to cow feed. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Blood meal, a byproduct derived from the poultry industry, is a high-protein supplement added to cow feed. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Pictured: Friedman professor Tim Griffin. This is the sixth time Tim Griffin and Chris Peters have brought AFE students on this field trip to the UNH dairies.

Pictured: Friedman professor Tim Griffin. This is the sixth time Tim Griffin and Chris Peters have brought AFE students on this field trip to the UNH dairies. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Dr. Erickson shows students the dairy’s stores of animal bedding. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Dr. Erickson shows students the dairy’s stores of animal bedding. Photo: Kathleen Nay

A young Jersey calf reaches to scratch an itch. The dairy houses approximately 90 milking-age Holsteins and Jerseys, and 70 young replacement animals, which will become the new stock of milking cows once they reach maturity. Photo: Kathleen Nay

A young Jersey calf reaches to scratch an itch. Fairchild houses approximately 90 milking-age Holsteins and Jerseys, and 70 young replacement animals, which will become the new stock of milking cows once they reach maturity. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Students observe the Jersey herd up close. The milk from the Jerseys and Holsteins at Fairchild is sold to consumers as fluid milk and—everyone’s favorite dairy treat—ice cream. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Students observe the Jersey herd up close. The milk from the Jerseys and Holsteins at Fairchild is sold to consumers as fluid milk and—everyone’s favorite dairy treat—ice cream. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Holsteins watch as we peel off our protective boots and get ready to head to UNH’s organic farm. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Holstein cows watch as we peel off our protective boots and get ready to head to UNH’s organic farm. Photo: Kathleen Nay

After an extensive tour of Fairchild, we head seven miles down the road to the university’s Organic Dairy Research Farm. Established in 2005, this facility was the country’s first organic dairy operation at a land grant university. The farm houses roughly 100 organic Jersey cows, heifers and calves, and the property includes 275 acres of woodlands, crop and forage production, and land for pasture.

Brand-new calves greet us upon arrival at the Organic Dairy Research Farm. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Brand-new calves greet us upon arrival at the Organic Dairy Research Farm. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Students pose for a feeding photo-op. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Students pose for a feeding photo-op. Photo: Kathleen Nay

The organic herd is exclusively Jersey cows. As a breed, Jerseys are prized for the high butterfat content of their milk. These cows average 43 pounds of milk production per day. Photo: Kathleen Nay

The organic herd is exclusively Jersey cows. As a breed, Jerseys are prized for the high butterfat content of their milk. These cows average 43 pounds of milk production per day. Photo: Kathleen Nay

The milk from UNH’s organic herd supplies Stonyfield Yogurt, an organic yogurt company located in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Photo: Kathleen Nay

The milk from UNH’s organic herd supplies Stonyfield Yogurt, an organic yogurt company located in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Photo: Kathleen Nay

UNH’s organic dairy was the first of its kind to be established at a land grant university. Primary areas of research include dairy nutrition and feeds, pasture quality, forage production, compost production, and natural resource management. Photo: Kathleen Nay

UNH’s organic dairy was the first of its kind to be established at a land grant university. Primary areas of research include dairy nutrition and feeds, pasture quality, forage production, compost production, and natural resource management. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Friedman professor Chris Peters (in yellow) walks the pasture with Dr. Erickson and UNH graduate student Kayla Aragona. UNH manages 55 acres of pasture, in addition to 120 acres of woodlands and 100 acres of crops and forage. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Friedman professor Chris Peters (in yellow) walks the pasture with Dr. Erickson and UNH graduate student Kayla Aragona. UNH manages 55 acres of pasture, in addition to 120 acres of woodlands and 100 acres of crops and forage. Photo: Kathleen Nay

The University of New Hampshire’s Fairchild Dairy is open to the public seven days a week between 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. Visitors can observe milking at 3:30 pm.

Kathleen Nay is a second-year AFE/UEP student and has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography. In undergrad, she spent a semester photographing life on a small organic raw-milk dairy in Baroda, Michigan.