Agriculture and Nutrition From the Ground Up
Emily Kunelius, a graduate of the Food Service Management (Now Culinary Arts and Nutrition) concentration Dietetic Technician, talks about her passion for nutrition and agriculture and how the Thompson School helped her toward an apprenticeship that will inform her future career.
I started at the Thompson School as a non-traditional student in the fall of 2008. I had been working for the previous 7 years in various full time positions. During my years in the “working world,” my strong interest in nutrition really became apparent to me and I decided to return to school to obtain a degree in nutrition. I was attracted to the Thompson School because of its Associates Degree program in dietetics as well as its hands-on approach to learning. The Thompson School was a great fit for me not only because of its hands-on approach, but also because of its small class sizes. The small classes allowed the opportunity for great discussions, and I was not just another name on the attendance sheet. The teachers became friends and they were always there to give guidance or just to chat. The teachers at the Thompson School are all passionate about their fields, and desire to share their knowledge with their students. This makes learning so much more interesting and fun.
Along with my passion for nutrition, I have a strong interest in agriculture and wanted to be able to combine these two fields. While studying nutrition, I knew that I was leaning towards community nutrition rather than working in a clinical setting. During my last semester, with the help of my advisor, I was able to take classes in Community Nutrition as well as Local Foods for Local Tables. These two classes helped to bring my whole experience at the Thompson School together. I believe that in order to make healthier communities, we are at the point where we need to start from the ground and work up, literally. It is important for people to understand where their food comes from, and know what they are actually eating. In this way, they can gain an appreciation of the farmer who grows what we eat. We are at an exciting time right now, because communities truly are becoming more interested in farming and local foods. As graduation approached, I wondered, “What is available for me to combine these two interests together?”
The answer came in the form of an apprenticeship at Jones Family Farms in Shelton, Connecticut. Terry and Jean Jones, UNH alumni themselves, were at the campus in late winter of 2010 to give a presentation about their farm, and happened to meet my professor and advisor, Nancy Johnson, in the hallway. Jean Jones is a registered dietitian, and spoke to Nancy about their apprenticeship program; wondering if perhaps Nancy had a student that might be interested. I immediately came to Nancy’s mind. Within a matter of days, I went from not knowing what I would do after graduation, to seriously considering a 7 month apprenticeship in CT. I applied for the apprenticeship and was accepted, and a week after my graduation, I moved down to Jones Family Farms.
Jones Family Farms is a 400 acre farm in the Southwestern corner of Connecticut, about 1 hour from New York City. Their major crops are strawberries, blueberries, pumpkins, and Christmas trees. They also operate a harvest kitchen and a winery. Last year they added vegetable production after many years of not growing vegetables for the public. The public’s growing interest in local foods was a major factor in encouraging the Jones’ to begin vegetable production again. Last year Jean Jones opened her Harvest Kitchen facility. The Harvest Kitchen has been Jean’s dream for many years. This facility contains a commercial production kitchen as well as a teaching kitchen. The kitchen is the site of year-round cooking classes for the public. The classes focus on teaching cooking techniques as well as how to cook seasonally and locally. Most of the classes start with the “students” going out to the Harvest Kitchen garden to harvest the produce needed for the class. The students actively participate in the cooking of the recipes, and then everyone sits down together around the large kitchen table to enjoy the meal.
This apprenticeship opportunity was a perfect blend of agriculture and nutrition. It allowed me to experience being the “farmer” as well as bringing an awareness and appreciation of farm fresh food to the community. I participated with the retail aspects of the farm during berry, pumpkin, and tree seasons. This allowed me to see the farmer/consumer relationship. During the spring and summer months I also put in many hours of weeding strawberry and pumpkin fields. I harvested large amounts of strawberries, blueberries, vegetables, and grapes. I helped with the cooking classes and other events held at the farm. I participated in the new summer farmer’s markets that were held at the farm on Fridays. During the fall and winter I was one of the principle bakers of the thousands of cookies that we sold during the pumpkin and Christmas tree seasons, allowing me to gain experience in a production kitchen setting. The apprenticeship included housing right at the farm, as well as a stipend. I found this whole experience to be a great starting point to pursuing a future position in a community nutrition setting.
The Thompson School set the stage for this opportunity, giving me the education and hands-on experience that I needed to be eligible for the apprenticeship. I am thankful for the time I had at the Thompson School and for my teachers who helped me to achieve my goals. The Thompson School is a dynamic and innovative learning environment that aspires for its students to succeed in all aspects of their studies. This results in unique and personal learning experiences which culminate in lifelong rewarding careers, and I am grateful for that.
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