I am originally from El Paso, Texas, but relocated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, just before I started high school. Initially I attended JWU North Miami for my A.S. in Culinary Arts. I decided to transfer to Providence for my bachelor’s degree in Food Service Management. Once in Providence, my goals shifted from wanting to work in hotels to looking to open a small business that locally sources food and materials. I am currently focusing on my degree and working at the farm six to seven days a week.
I discovered Hopkins Southdowns Farm through Associate Professor Branden Lewis, who knows farmer Donald (Don) Hopkins.
A friend of mine had sent me a link to a post they made on Instagram about looking for an intern. At the same time, I had been looking for an opportunity to gain experience outside of a restaurant, but still within the food industry. I called them immediately — I could not think of a better way to learn about food than where it all starts.
“I could not think of a better way to learn about food than where it all starts.”
Once I began working on the farm, I started becoming more conscious about food waste, which was a big thing for me already. Working with animals and vegetables before they reach the food production stage makes you value your product so much more. I have always had a love for animals, but I had never had the opportunity to work with livestock. The experience I am getting at Hopkins is unlike anything I have done in the past and includes everything from fence work to dealing with the sheep directly.
A typical day at the farm consists of me getting there around 4pm — before Don gets home from work — to start the evening chores, which consist of watering and feeding. I will usually replenish hay in the feeders, perform small or temporary repairs to anything that breaks in the buildings, and refresh the bed pens with straw hay whenever they get too wet from weather conditions. This is usually what goes on during the week.
Once the weekend comes around, Don, his family, and I will take on heavier tasks that require more time, like:
- clearing and cleaning the pens
- fixing or rebuilding fences
- electrical wiring
- sorting sheep
- doing product pick-ups
On Saturdays I go to the Hope St. Farmers Market to sell lamb, which is helping with general customer service skills and dealing with money.
Being a photographer has also added a new perspective to the job that I had never been able to do in a restaurant. I am able to capture the way the animals interact and how they grow up in the farm. I can compare all these things to what we hear from the media about farms not treating their animals with the care and respect they deserve — which is not the case at Hopkins Southdowns, where the sheep are very well taken care of.
In parallel with working at the farm, I have also been working at Eli’s Kitchen in Warren, RI. I credit them with introducing me to the brunch style of cooking along with gluten-free and vegetarian dishes inspired by the South. I have been there since the end of winter last year — I took over from a friend who was going on internship.
My experience at Eli’s has been different from what I had expected. Previously the majority of my work had been in large-scale hotel kitchens, so the change of pace was definitely needed. It also helped me balance work and school more efficiently. Working at the farm has also strengthened my knowledge of lamb and cuts of meat, and helped me become more conscious about my own food waste in the kitchen.
PHOTOS BY MIKE COHEA