The pictures below are one of the reason that farmers are pissed off at the industrial food supply and one of the reasons that we need the Humane Society to stand up for independent family farmers raising niche livestock. Its not the alternative farmers, the niche farmers, or even us granola crunchy hippy organic farmers that are creating the noise and confusion in the marketplace. Its the big players. Examples of three random labels from our local grocery store of Hormel (Jennie-O), Tyson, and Smithfield below. These are three of the biggest players in the meat and poultry industry. The other big players all have very similar labels. I could find a lot better labels. I'm challenging the "agvocates" to clean your industry up and quit blaming us for your problems. These are the companies you guys are aligned with. I just don't see anyone asking all of these commodity farmer advocates why the companies they are aligned with are using the misleading labels they are railing against.
I can tell you a lot of stories about my childhood on the farm, but if I were limited to stories that did not include my brother, I don't think I would have any good ones to share. Evan is only two years younger than me and when we were little, we spent a lot of time together. Whether we were feeding the chickens together or simply running around the farm (probably with our imaginary animals in tow... yes, we lived on a farm and had imaginary pets, I don't know why...), almost all of my childhood memories include Evan.
One incident that sticks out in my mind is when we were probably four and six years old. We were playing in the barn, like we normally did. We had climbed up on top of the straw bales. I don't know how high up we were while we stood on the top of the stack and looked down at the few pigs below us, but at six years old, it looked like a long ways down. Anyways, I don't remember what we were doing, but what I do remember is all of a sudden, Evan walked to the edge of the bales and pointed down. Of course I wanted to know what he was looking at, so I followed him to the edge. When I got there, what did my twerp of a little brother do? Nothing other than push me off the platform of bales and onto one of the large pigs below us.
The next 10 seconds were a blur as I screamed and ran towards the gate. (I didn't take the time to see if the pig was mad at me or chasing me, I just assumed that she was and I figured my chances of getting over the fence were greater than my chances of climbing back up the straw bales before she grabbed ahold of my leg or something.) I sprinted at the gate. Now, let me tell you, I was a very scrawny six year old. That gate had to have been taller than me. But being fueled by pure adrenaline, I threw myself over the gate in one swift motion. As I looked back, the big pig was still standing where I fell on it. (It probably didn't even notice me, I really was pretty tiny.)
I had the chance to talk to Evan the other day. Actually, I talk to Evan a lot every single day. So much, that I think we are going to get walkie talkies so that we don't have to waste time dialing each other's numbers and waiting for the phone to ring. Anyways, I got to talk to Evan with some specific questions in mind for this blog post. I hope that by reading his responses you can understand just how lucky I am to have him not only as my brother, but as my friend and co-worker as well.
How long have you worked at Gunthorp Farms? I started full time on the payroll after my junior year of high school in June 2014. The key term there is "on the payroll." I started feeding chicks in the brooder barn on a daily basis in second grade, and I've been helping Dad long before I started kindergarten. (Side note: As of December 19th, Evan is now 20 years old. He's been a full time employee since he was 17 years old.)
In your words, what do you do at Gunthorp Farms? My official job title is Plant Manager, but that's more so for Brushy Prairie Packing (our processing plant business's name) more-so than for Gunthorp Farms. I would consider "Plant Manager" less than my full job description, since that is just the portion for Brushy Prairie Packing. Plant Manager is a majority of my hours and most of my work. I oversee the employees on a day to day basis during slaughter, processing, cleaning, and everything else that occurs within the processing plant. I am in charge of regulatory compliance with USDA, human resources (all of our hiring and firing), corresponding with customers on processing questions, relaying weights to billing, and repairs (electrical, pneumatics, mechanical, plumbing, etc.).
On the farm side of the things, I am the purchasing director, so I am the only one who can give final clearance on purchases. I also help the farm guys with scheduling and oversight when needed. I am involved in planning for the farm and figuring out how the farm and processing plant can work together. Unofficially, I don't know what my title would be even, because I do more than "Plant Manager" entails. Maybe Administrative Assistant, because I do a bit of everything?
FamilyFarmed is asking for articles to include in their “Growing Young Farmers” series. You’re obviously young, but do you consider yourself a farmer? Yes and no. By my own definition, no, I’m a plant manager/corporate director. But in the grand scheme of things, if you take out the people like me, how many farmers are there really? I still dive into some production activities too and provide some oversight for the farm employees. I’m also involved in decision making for the farm. When we’re short handed over the summer, you can find me helping set up waterlines or moving ducks to pasture. When I was still taking classes in Fort Wayne, I would almost always drive "around the block" to see the animals, because I knew I might be able to spot issues that someone who didn't grow up around animals their whole life could miss. I think “farmer” is more so a mind set, if you have the skills you will put them to good use.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? A farmer. Definitely. (There was no pause or hesitation to that answer.)
Do you still want to be a farmer when you grow up? What is the definition of a farmer? I think a farmer is all encompassing and I want to be involved in agriculture, both on production and processing. I would like to someday be more of a "macro-manager," so I could oversee both the processing plant and the farm. I see what needs to happen day to day, but I also see the big picture. I want to make the big decisions that help make the day to day tasks possible and efficient.
Dad has spent years making a name for himself in the farm to table movement. Do you see yourself becoming an advocate in the industry as well? I don’t think I’ll hop on as many planes as him, but I think one of the biggest things you can do as far as advocacy work is just to do the very best in what you’re doing. Some people go out and talk about what needs to happen, I want to be the example they talk about and the pictures they show. I want to prove that it is possible to have a very small USDA inspected processing plant and that it's actually happening.
How did it feel to be the youngest delegate at Slow Meat? I didn’t have the confidence to speak up as much as I probably should have, but I definitely felt like I belonged there. I understood everything that was happening. Everyone else was a professional in their field and they were very specialized. Everyone had their thing they were good at and I feel like no one really brought the same things to the table that I did as a young person with a diversified production and processing background.
What was it like taking on management responsibilities at such young of an age? It was very difficult in the beginning. We probably brought on a lot of our own problems because we didn’t have a well established hierarchy. That was my biggest challenge, creating a hierarchy. People respect me now. They know that I know what I’m doing. They know that I’m on their side. If they mess up, they know that I want to help them and retrain them so they can do better. I made friends before I made employees. While I was making friends with them, I didn’t really have their respect yet so I had to help them learn what to do, I couldn’t just tell them what to do.
What’s your favorite part about working at Gunthorp Farms? Seeing the job well done. When the truck goes out early, when the orders are filled correctly, when the customers are happy with our products… that’s the best part. It’s nice knowing that what we do isn’t the norm for the industry and we’re still making it work. We’re not at a point where economies of scale help us out any and we’re not at a point where the processing equipment manufacturers even think about us, but we’re still succeeding.
What is the biggest challenge that you face with working at Gunthorp Farms? Getting people who see the vision. People need to see what we’re here for. It’s not hard to get people to come in and do menial tasks, but it’s hard to find someone who has any passion about what gets sent out the door.
Do you have any generic advice for someone who is looking to work in this small farm industry, whether that be in the production or processing side of things? You can never be too well prepared. You’re never going to look back at yourself yesterday and get mad at yourself for doing too much of today's work.
As many of you probably know, my dad had surgery on his knee on December 2nd. The surgery was long overdue, partially because Dad simply refused to be restricted during the summer or during the madness that is Thanksgiving turkey season. When Dad finally had his surgery, I know he was worried about how we would do without him for awhile. I am very pleased to tell you that everything has been running smoothly without the help of Dad, largely because of Evan stepping up to the plate. He trained employees to run the plucker and the scalder during poultry slaughter. He took over our testing program. He runs the smokehouse on his own. Evan had some really big shoes to fill, and he did so without complaint.
Evan is always the behind the scenes force that gets things done at Gunthorp Farms. He does so with too little sleep and often too little appreciation. Lately, we have gotten quite a few "testimonials" from customers about how smoothly things seem to be running since Evan and I have taken a bigger role in the family business. Let me tell you what, I might be behind most of the communication with our customers, but Evan is the force that keeps things running smoothly and all of us at Gunthorp Farms appreciate that more than he knows.
The Big Sister, Kara
Allow your passion to become your purpose and it will one day become your profession.
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