This summer, twelve University of Vermont students worked for Vermont food businesses as interns with the Next Generation Food Systems Internship program. Over the course of the summer, they churned ice cream, tended crops, marketed products, managed client accounts, and more, all with the goal of gaining professional experience with local value-added food entrepreneurs.
Some were established Vermont businesses, such as Butterworks Farm; others, like Wild Branch Foods, are still trying to make their way out of the startup phase. All were grateful for the skills, enthusiasm, and energy that their interns brought to the job. The program, in its second year, also provides financial resources that help with the costs associated with bringing on an intern. Thanks to an anonymous donor who has dedicated funding to support this immersive educational experience for students, internship host expenses are partially subsidized.
“The Next Generation Intern Program provides interns an excellent opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom to a real world, small food systems business in Vermont,” says Matt Myers, UVM Food Systems Internship Program Coordinator.
While the program is open to students in any major, it provides an especially valuable opportunity for students pursuing a major in Food Systems in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“Applied education, research, and outreach are the core of our mission,” says Kate Finley Woodruff, Associate Dean for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “These internship opportunities are deep, meaningful, and impactful, and are foundational in the development of career goals and a lifelong passion for creating sustainable food systems.”
Students interned with following food businesses during the 2017 program: Boundbrook Farm, Garuka Bars, Island Ice Cream, Vermont Tortilla Company, Kimball Brook Farm, Wild Branch Foods, Pumpkin Village Foods, Butterworks Farm, Fisher Brothers Farms, Grow Compost, Groennfell Meadery, and Sugarsnap Catering. Read on for some of their stories.
Intern: Katie Campbell, senior Nutrition and Food Sciences major
Host: Kimball Brook Farm
Kimball Brook Farm is a 210 cow organic dairy located on 200 acres in North Ferrisburgh, Vermont, and a creamery in Hinesburg, Vermont. As an intern, Katie Campbell offered product demos at local stores and food events and worked in the office handling sales and invoicing.
“We originally brought Katie on to do mostly demos and food events at local stores, which freed me up to do more out-of-state marketing,” says Mary Fisher, Marketing & Demo Coordinator for Kimball Brook Farm, “but we had some unexpected staffing changes earlier in the summer and Katie went into the office and trained to take orders.”
“I had worked on a farm and in a restaurant before, Campbell explains, “but I had never done product demos or worked with QuickBooks. There are only two people in the office, and we sell to 200 stores, all the way to Virginia. So there are a lot of orders to take every day.”
Campbell says that when she’s out doing demos, it’s not hard to promote the milk, because she has so many good things to say about the farm. “I’ve learned that I’m a big people person. It’s nice because it doesn’t feel like I’m doing marketing—I’m just sharing information, like how Kimball Brook is a family-run dairy, they have 200 cows, which are 95% grass-fed, and always organic.”
“One of the most important things I’ve learned in this internship is the difference between organic and conventional dairy,” she says. “The biggest difference is confinement; conventional dairy cows barely see daylight, but our cows are out all day.”
Plus, as a nutrition major, Campbell is tuned into the way that grass-feeding changes the flavor and quality of the milk. After college, Campbell hopes to provide nutrition coaching for people at risk for obesity or type 2 diabetes.
Intern: Marley Myers, senior Environmental Studies major
Host: Garuka Bars
Garuka Bars, a Burlington-based producer of handmade energy bars, has the kind of origin story that makes you feel like anything is possible. Founder and owner Mike Rosenberg, an outdoor enthusiast, developed the recipe while recovering from an injury. He was looking for a tasty combination of ingredients, and after finding one that included peanuts, cranberries, and raw honey from Champlain Valley Apiaries, he decided to take it to market.
Now the company is selling in retail stores in Vermont and beyond, and shipping direct to consumer across the country. Their customers have come to expect the small, hand-written notes that are included in each shipment, and some have even signed up for a monthly subscription.
UVM senior Marley Myers spent her summer helping Garuka Bars get their product out the door. The production process starts by mixing the ingredients in a large pot, which gets heated in order to distribute the honey. Each batch is then pressed into forms that need to cool before being cut and packaged by hand.
“It was great having Marley part of our Garuka Bar team,” says Lauren Gilhooly, Garuka Bars Operation Manager. “From day one, she hit the ground running and was an asset to our production force and our Burlington Farmer's Market crew. She also developed and implemented independent marketing projects.”
In addition to the hands-on experience of producing the bars, Myers appreciated learning about the other aspects of running a small business. “I got a much better understanding of how a small scale food business runs and what it takes to make it grow,” she says. “I learned from Mike, the founder, how important a high emphasis on good and authentic customer service is. I really enjoyed working the farmers market and getting to talk to all different people around Burlington.”
Intern: Sophia Giovannetti, senior Dietetics major
Host: Fisher Brothers Farm
Sophia wanted to spend her summer working on a farm. The processing side of things was an afterthought, but it became her favorite part. Who can blame her, considering she spent her summer making ice cream?
Sophia Giovannetti is a senior dietetics major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This summer she interned at Fisher Brothers Farm, a berry farm and ice cream producer in Shelburne, Vermont.
The farm is primarily a berry farm, growing 3 kinds of blueberries, 2 kinds of blackberries, 4 kinds of raspberries, Marquette grapes, aronia berries, and elderberries. This summer, they expanded into making ice cream, including several flavors featuring their own berries. Sophia spent her first week doing farm work before her hosts, Bob and Becky, introduced her to each stage of the ice cream making process. From then on, “I was almost exclusively making ice cream,” she says.
"The Next Generation internship has been a great opportunity for our young farm to build its value-added, fresh berry Sisters of Anarchy Ice Cream brand,” says Becky Castle, co-owner of Fisher Brothers Farm. “Sophia thrived in learning about all aspects of the business, from taking care of the berries and ice cream production to sales and marketing and generally serving as a brand ambassador. We can't imagine our second summer in operation having been as successful without her."
In addition to making the ice cream, Sophia attended some of the larger events to help sell ice cream. She takes a lot of pride in the ice cream they produced, and she says she enjoyed talking to customers about it.
Considering her major in dietetics, how does she feel about spending her summer producing sugar-filled desserts? She doesn’t have any problem with it. “The most important thing is to have a balanced diet,” she says. “Everything in moderation.”
If you are interested in contributing to this program, please contact UVM Foundation development officer Howard Lincoln at (802) 656-2509 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more intern stories, visit the UVM Food Systems Internship Program website.