Well, 8 weeks has flown by! Today is the last day of my apprenticeship with Firsthand Foods. It has been a truly transformative and enriching experience. I came in knowing that I would learn about how local food supply chains work, but I am leaving with so much more.
During my time, I connected with farmers, processors, transporters, retailers, and end consumers, as well as friends and families of those involved in our local food community. I learned about humane animal husbandry, fair and equitable business, the interest of retailers and restaurants in sourcing local sustainable products, and the amount of care, attention, determination, and resiliency it takes to work in the local foods world – and succeed. Through farm visits, documenting supplier relationships, conducting interviews, and market research, I developed my communications and marketing skill sets, and also deepened my awareness and understanding of the relationships that make supply chains work.
The day-to-day, hands-on work that Firsthand Foods does in order for sustainable meats to get from local farms onto your North Carolina fork has been inspiring. Here are some highlights:
– Visiting Don York’s cattle farm in Julian, NC on the second day of the job to check on potential beef supply. Jennifer and I arrived just in time for the vet to perform pregnancy checks on the cows
– Tina and I ventured to the Upper Mountain Research Station at Laurel Springs for the NC Cattlemen’s Association meeting. Hearing cattle farmers express their needs and interests in relation to improving the health and prosperity of the local cattle industry made it clear how much time, care and effort they invest into the system.
– Before our customer appreciation party, Jennifer and I met with our processors Acre Station and Chaudry Halal at the Durham Co+op so that they could see the Firsthand Foods meat case. It was a very cool experience to see the different members of the food supply chain – processors, food hub, and retailer, engaging the physical product that their supply chain created.
– My main project this summer was writing a report for the USDA documenting the partnership between Firsthand Foods and UNC-Chapel Hill. The aim was to demonstrate a successful working partnership whereby an institution is able to successfully source critical volumes of local sustainable foods through a food hub. This entailed a lot of research and interviews, which made use of my recently acquired bachelor’s in anthropology!
Moving forward after my apprenticeship, I’m headed to Vermont Law School for their Master of Food and Agriculture Law and Policy program. Last summer I worked on a small-scale permaculture farm, and will be learning the law and policy side of food in the fall. What was missing for me was how foods get from farm to market, and the ways those food dollars sway policy decisions in relation to regulation of agriculture, grant support of farms, land access, programming and support for entry-level farmers, etc. My experience with Firsthand Foods has helped me fill that gap, especially with regards to the local foods market.
Thank you Firsthand Foods for all you’ve taught me and all the experiences you have given me. I will continue to seek out local and sustainable meats, and will take all the lessons, advice, and inspiration you’ve given me into wherever my career in local food systems takes me next.
Wishing you all a wonderful rest of summer!