Land O’Lakes, Inc. Quality Manager spent two weeks advising and training a packing facility in Egypt
Since 1987, we have been delivering a range of agricultural expertise to developing countries via the Farmer-to-Farmer program which sends American volunteers on short-term assignments to address needs of agribusinesses and farmers. Today, we’re talking to Joel Biggs from Land O’Lakes, Inc. about his recent assignment in Egypt.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Joel: I’ve been with Land O’Lakes for almost 10 years and am currently a Quality Manager at a spreadable butter facility in Kent, Ohio. My interest in this industry started back when I was going to school and working part-time at the Brigham Young University Creamery. I enjoyed working in food production. This evolved into a Food Industry Management degree at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. In the years following graduation, I worked for a cheese manufacturing company in California, and now, here I am at Land O’Lakes.
Let’s hear about your Farmer-to-Farmer assignment.
Joel: The two-week assignment was to advise a vegetable packing company with packhouses in Nubaria, Egypt. The first week we visited two pack houses and one supplier’s field to assess operations – how they were growing, transporting, washing, packing, labeling and managing quality of produce. We then developed a training guide for their workers, which we used during week two.
We talked about flow of people in and out of the facility, cross-contamination, protective clothing – ways for them to become more marketable to current customers and potential future contracts. Egypt, with support from another Land O’Lakes Venture37 project, is currently developing an internationally recognized food safety regulatory body, so this packing company wants to get ahead of the standards. They were eager to listen and consider my ideas.
What did you learn?
Joel: I took a hard look at my approach to this work. The food at this packing facility is handled differently than it would be in a dairy plant. People were bringing in raw vegetables covered in dirt. I had to adapt to the product and their culture. We must be careful not to force our own thoughts and ideals onto others. At the same time, it’s food and it requires careful handling. I had to take my time to understand myself, the culture and the problem before tossing out a solution idea.
I also needed to communicate efficiently. Every conversation was through a translator. I had to be succinct. I had to choose my words wisely. This is a skill I should use in my every day.
Did anything strike you about life in Egypt?
Joel: The experience reaffirmed what I understand more and more as I travel. Daily life may look different from one place to another, but we are more alike than different. We all have the same desires – to feel safe, happy, to give our children what they need to thrive.
I also really enjoyed learning about agriculture there. For centuries, Egyptians have found a way to get water to arid places. It shows resilience of the human spirit.
This was such a great experience. I would recommend volunteering with Farmer-to-Farmer to anyone.
Interested in learning more about volunteering for a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment? Contact Aimee Foster at AFoster@landolakes.com.