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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Summer, Sandwiches and Sticking Around: Interning in Boston

by Krissy Scommegna

Making the conscious effort to stick around Boston and be a part of the community isn’t necessarily what every Friedman student is looking for. Some see their time in Boston/Somerville/Cambridge as a stop on the way to their next big thing. However, taking the time early on to invest and become rooted here can open doors to incredible opportunities. Krissy Scommegna talks about how a class at Friedman led to finding an internship and eventually to her appointment as the Director of the Somerville Backpack Program

It’s a typical Friday morning during the school year and at 5:45 am, my phone is gently reminding me that it is time to get up, down a few mugs of coffee, and jump on the orange line to East Somerville to make a few hundred sandwiches. Not what you expected as the classic graduate student experience? Me neither. Shockingly, graduate school is not all grabbing evening beers and having deep discussions about Farm Bill appropriations (sorry, first years!).

The truth is, I wouldn’t be getting up at such an unsightly hour on a day I didn’t have class if it weren’t for Food Justice, an Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) class I took last fall that is cross-registered with the Friedman School. I fell hard and fast for the mission of the two organizations myself and five other students were assigned to work with that semester. My experiences working with Food For Free and the Somerville Backpack Program have considerably shaped my time in Boston, making it clear that Friedman was the right choice for me. Not only did the class help me secure a great internship, I landed a really incredible job.

Food For Free is a Cambridge-based food rescue organization that takes food that would otherwise be wasted and redistributes it to over 100 food programs and agencies throughout Boston’s emergency food system. As a group, we helped Food For Free develop the framework for an Emergency Meal Program for feeding students in crisis.

As the semester drew to a close, I knew I wasn’t ready to be done with this work. I asked Ross Richmond, Food For Free’s Community Partnership Manager, if I could stick around and work with him on the program for my Friedman internship. He obliged and from January to August, we piloted the Family Meals Program at Food For Free, taking leftover prepared foods from Harvard and Tufts dining halls, repacking the food into individual meals, and distributing the meals to people in need. Ross and I spent countless hours in a kitchen smashing up frozen blocks of rice with hammers, prying apart pieces of frozen roasted chicken with crow bars, and agonizing over the most appealing way to package and label the Family meals. Together, we produced somewhere close to 8,000 meals.

In looking for communities that would benefit most from ready-to-eat frozen meals, Food For Free became part of the Feastworthy coalition. This meant our Family Meals would go to feeding homeless families living in the State’s motel shelter system in Brighton. Feastworthy was made possible by the Allston Brighton Health Collaborative, Action for Boston Community Development’s Neighborhood Opportunity Center and their Motel Support Services, and Charlesview Inc. Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program also administered a study that tracked the health outcomes associated with program participation. Working with these different organizations was an incredible learning experience and I was able to understand just how difficult, but rewarding, it is to accomplish a task while staying true to the missions of five different stakeholders.

So what does this have to do with making sandwiches? Well, along with working at Food For Free, Ross Richmond founded the Somerville Backpack Program (SBP) in 2014, a program that provides students in need in Somerville with breakfast, lunch, and snacks on the weekend so that they are able to return to school at the start of the week ready to learn. I started volunteering each week with SBP, packing up bags of food, making too many sandwiches to count (actually – we did count and volunteers made 7,485 sandwiches over the whole school year), and connecting with parents and members of the Somerville community.

Students that participate in SBP are kids who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs and have difficulty getting enough to eat on the weekend. Each week, these students are sent home with a bag containing yogurt, oatmeal, two sandwiches, cheese sticks, applesauce, and two pieces of fruit. Last year SBP served an average of 131 kids a week at eight Somerville schools. At the end of the school year, SBP provided food for upwards of 171 students. Over the 2015-2016 school year, 5,260 bags of weekend food were sent home with kids.

There is something meditative about spending an hour or two after a long week of school putting two slices of turkey and a piece of cheese between wheat bread two hundred times in a row. That is what the Somerville Backpack Program became for me—a way to become a part of Somerville’s food assistance community and get outside of my graduate student bubble and mindset.

Ross and I became close friends, and when he and his wife were asked to relocate to Los Angeles for her job, he looked to me to continue his program. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. So… I’m excited to say that I am the new Director of the Somerville Backpack Program. I really couldn’t be more thrilled about this new adventure and getting the chance to provide food for kids that really need it.

This year, we hope to expand our reach and provide food to 300 students in all elementary and middle schools in Somerville. In the fall, students from the Food Justice course will be working with SBP to develop an assessment tool to analyze food insecurity, specifically at the individual school level, to see if we are appropriately addressing need and proposing additional ways to help provide food for Somerville families. I hope to engage students here at Friedman, too; I’ll be organizing a sandwich-making afternoon one Thursday a month (details forthcoming).

Making sandwiches for Somerville students and putting together Family Meals are a bit different from my previous life of working as a chef in Northern California where I spent my evenings rolling out sheets of fresh pasta and plating up shrimp salpićon. Though it all boils down to one point. I’m realizing more and more that my passion is feeding people in any way I can. With one year at Friedman behind me and one more ahead, I’m finding a myriad of ways to make this happen.

Friedman has this incredible way of connecting you with opportunities and experiences you didn’t realize you needed or wanted. I came to school to move away from kitchen work, but the reality is that cooking is what I love and will always be a part of the work that I do. While I hope it becomes a secondary pursuit to a future in agriculture policy, I know my desire to cook for others will never leave me.

So if you have a free Friday morning, stop by Connexion at 149 Broadway in East Somerville (close to the Sullivan Square Orange Line Stop) from 8:45 am till 10:30 am and make some sandwiches, pack up bags, and help feed students at Somerville Public Schools. If you know me, you know there will be some great dance music to get your day started.

Krissy Scommegna is a second year AFE student who struggles to cook for less than 10 at a time. She is constantly thinking about food and if she hasn’t already, will probably try and convince you to volunteer at the Somerville Backpack Program or Food For Free in the near future.

Internship Spotlight: World Health Organization

by Krista Zillmer

This summer, I completed an internship at the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development (NHD) in Geneva. The NHD aims to build and implement a science-based, comprehensive, integrated, and action-oriented “nutrition agenda” at the global, regional, and country levels. One of its roles is to provide policy guidance to Member States and the international community for developing and implementing effective policies to combat the double burden of malnutrition throughout the life course.

Some of the projects and tasks I worked on included:

I enjoyed all the projects that I worked on, but I especially loved having the opportunities to attend other meetings and events. I arrived early enough to attend the 68th World Health Assembly

WHA committee meeting

WHA committee meeting

(WHA), which took place May 18-26. This annual meeting is held in Geneva and brings together delegations from WHO Member States to decide on the policies of the organization. Each year, there are different health issues discussed, which are researched and prepared by the executive board. This year, two nutrition items were on the agenda, both of which were endorsed: the outcome of the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) and the development of a core set of indicators for maternal, infant, and young child nutrition. Besides the assembly committee sessions, there were many other interesting events at the WHA. I attended panel discussions and technical briefings where I found myself conversing with ministers of health and other high level professionals.

During the course of my internship I also had the opportunity to attend other internal meetings and expert groups that convened at WHO. Although it can be difficult to be silent observer, I learned so much and always felt inspired and reinvigorated to do my work. At the beginning, I felt timid around so many experts and senior officials, but after a few times I felt very confident that I could have an intelligent conversation about nutrition issues with them during the coffee breaks.

I could go on for hours about everything I learned over the past few months, but I imagine that there two major questions that other students, particularly incoming students, would like to know:

How did I get my internship?

I applied on the WHO website in addition to a few other organizational websites, but I am convinced that those applications actually enter a black hole once you press “submit.” I had been in contact with a woman at the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition, but that internship fell through so she forwarded my information to her colleagues at the WHO Nutrition department, and a few days later I was invited to come work in the nutrition policy and scientific advice unit. Connections were extremely important in finding my internship.

Krista (third from right) with Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, and fellow interns

Krista (third from right) with Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, and fellow interns

How do you afford an unpaid internship in Geneva?

Well, it really helps if you find out that you have relatives that live in Geneva and they recently moved to a new apartment that has an extra bedroom. I really wish I had better advice, but the honest truth is that I got lucky. If I didn’t have free rent, this internship would have been a huge expense. It’s an unfortunate situation that the UN system is trying to grapple with currently.

Most of my intern friends had no funding or support from their universities and had to find affordable housing. For cheaper housing, people will rent rooms in foyers, which are like dormitory-style accommodation. However, these are in high demand, so they must be arranged early in the spring. The majority of my intern friends just sub-leased apartments, mostly from university students who left for the summer. Another option is to live in one of the nearby French suburbs.

Public transportation is quite good in Geneva, and a monthly pass costs about the same as one in Boston. If you are under 25, you get a discount, too.

As for entertainment, Geneva offers many free and low-cost events: museum days, festivals, sunrise concerts, salsa dancing in the park, outdoor movies, and intern spin and yoga classes at WHO, to name a few. Furthermore, Switzerland is an undeniably beautiful country with many spots to find outdoor adventure. In Geneva, you can swim in the lake or even take a float down the Rhône River on hot afternoons. Just outside the city, there are plenty of trails through vineyards and nearby mountains with spectacular views.

To all the new students reading this, whether you are hoping to find an internship in Boston, in the U.S. or somewhere overseas, my advice is to be bold, don’t be afraid to use your connections, and then work hard to prove your capabilities. Best of luck this year and see you around Jaharis!

 Krista Zillmer is a second-year FPAN student who is passionate about maternal, infant, and young child nutrition. This is her first time contributing to the Friedman Sprout.

10 Things You Should Know about HEAT

by Sarah McClung

I’m not here to give you tips to beat the heat on long summer runs or suggest a hot oil treatment for split ends. “HEAT” here refers to “Hostile Environment Awareness Training.” I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the last three months in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, to work as an intern on a maternal and child health program funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID). I worked with a private contractor responsible for the delivery of the program and was thankful for the company’s HEAT presentation at the beginning of the summer, it provided valuable information for anyone pursuing a career in international development. Here are 10 important things you should know about working in a hostile environment:

1. The Go Bag

After September 11th, you may remember discussions of the concept of a “go bag.” It’s a bag you keep close to you, sometimes physically on you, at all times. A go bag consists of essential items that vary depending on your location. In Pakistan, my go bag was my purse, which contained my passport, cash in multiple currencies (Pakistan rupees, AED dirham, and U.S. dollars), a cell phone with a local and international SIMM card, a charger, a lighter or matches, and a bottle of water. This was everything I would need to depart the country on short notice.

2. Avoid Routines

In Pakistan foreigners are targets for kidnapping. To mitigate the risk of kidnapping we were taught to avoid routines. Establishing a routine can be a way of getting settled in a new place but in a city where you can become a target it’s best to avoid developing any set schedule that could make it easier for observers to pick you up when you’re most vulnerable. We made a point of leaving for work at different times and taking different routes, varied the spots we’d visit for lunch, and changed the times we would go grocery shopping, to the mall, and even to the gym.

3. Know the Safety Spots

We have all heard the safety instructions before take-off on an airplane but rarely give them deep consideration. This summer I had to consider my exit strategy anytime I entered a new building or room to be prepared to respond to intrusion, attack, or natural disaster. I slept on the first floor of a two-story house and the “safe-room” (bullet proof/fireproof/shatterproof glass) was on the second floor, the bedroom of the only permanent international staff member. This meant I needed to memorize the steps to take in the event of a home intrusion: the quickest way to get to the safe room and where to go if it was inaccessible. Fortunately, I never had to make this trip, but I did have to recall natural disaster guidance when an earthquake woke us up around 3 am. I had just watched a horror movie, The Babadook, and when rumbling furniture woke me up I thought for sure the monster had come to get me. Despite my confusion I did manage to remember earthquake safety protocol and run outside rather than upstairs.

4. Be Aware of Surveillance Activities

Our project maintained a policy of absolute transparency, and individuals were encouraged to behave as though they were under surveillance at all times. It’s easy to think “well, I have nothing to hide, I’m not doing anything wrong,” but one must also consider how the most innocent activities might appear to others. In Pakistan, the government is known for heavy surveillance, especially of the activities of foreigners, and it was best not to engage in any activity, however innocent, that may seem suspicious and send the wrong message.

5. Learn to Navigate Intelligently

Do you know how to use a compass? I definitely did not before I visited Pakistan. It is important to learn the basics of navigation in a new setting: i.e., how to locate yourself on a map, the location of reference points, and at the very least how to use the Google Maps app. You want to be able to get yourself home or somewhere safe should you find yourself stranded alone.

6. Master All Technology

If your Security Advisor gives you some sort of tracker or installs a specific app on your phone, learning how to use it properly is a must. The last thing you want is to have to fill in endless fields of contact information in an app you haven’t used yet when you need it to work. On a work trip to Afghanistan I was given a “Pocket Buddy,” a personal tracker, and forgot to charge it regularly. After a few days the tracker died and the security team had to initiate the missing staff member process. They were unimpressed to discover that I just had an “oops” moment.

7. Acknowledge the Reality of Kidnap/Hostage Situations

Are you prepared to go into an environment where you are at risk of kidnap? Do you know what to do if you are kidnapped? The answer to the first question is something you should explore on your own, and I took my time with it before committing to travel. The second question is one you should be able to answer affirmatively. There are entire courses on how to manage these situations and I just got a quick overview, but here are some of the main principles:

  1. Thwart the abduction if possible; if you see it coming do everything you can to avoid it!
  2. If it is unavoidable, be observant and make mental notes of your captors and surroundings.
  3. Put your captors at ease, try to remain calm and cooperate. Accidents and violence are more likely when people become nervous and angry.
  4. Try to communicate with other captives if there are any.
  5. Keep track of time and patterns.
  6. Only attempt to escape if the most obvious exit presents itself. Attempting to escape can sometimes be more dangerous than just waiting to be rescued.
  7. In a rescue situation try not to interfere with the operation—just stay out of the way and follow the rescuer’s instructions.

8. Conflict Management and Situational Awareness

I was sort of surprised to receive coaching on verbal communication, but in unfamiliar settings, especially where multiple languages are spoken, conversations can turn into arguments and sometimes escalate to risky situations. This portion of the training involved verbal communication, expressing yourself clearly and calmly, avoiding misunderstandings and how to manage situations that escalate. For example, using words such as “we,” “us,” and “our” might be used in a discussion with the potential to lead to finger pointing and defensiveness.

9. Blending In

Shalwar Kameez

Sarah in an evening shalwar kameez

In Pakistan, women dress more conservatively due to traditions and religious beliefs. Though Islamabad is a modern city I found it easier to wear traditional salwar kameez every day—the tunic-like top with matching trousers—for socially-acceptable coverage. Dressing similarly to locals in your new setting can be about more than cultural sensitivity but minimizing security risk, as well. On a day trip to Peshawar, the capital city of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and a less secure city than Islamabad (the site of the Taliban school attacked in December 2014), I was told I’d need to wear hijab—to cover my head completely. I realized it was not only a sign of respect during Ramadam (Ramzan in Urdu), but also to look inconspicuous from the car window while riding around the city.

10. Adhere to All Security Protocols At All Times

On the same day trip to Peshawar, I thought our Security Advisor was joking when he told me to text him every 30 minutes until I was back in Islamabad. Sometimes security protocol interfered with our day-to-day lives (i.e., prohibiting weekend plans, requiring us to work from home, restricting parts of the city, etc.) but I appreciated that the Security Advisor was an expert and not intentionally making life more complicated. In any setting requiring more safety precautions than usual it’s best to comply and not push back.

I had a wonderful time in Pakistan and hope to return. I thankfully did not have to utilize any of the more intense security measures. I expect that most of what I learned in the HEAT course is relevant in any new city, and I appreciated that it was never about scaring participants but rather situational awareness and risk management.

Sarah McClung is a first-year FPAN student who enjoys running to trap music and forcing vegetables on friends and family.