Farming and Leadership with Jon Saltzman ’17

You’ve had some unique internship experiences during your summers here at Swarthmore, one of which was at a farm. Can you tell me what you did there?

Sure. So, the summer after my freshman year, I helped run a 2-3 acre teaching farm with my friend at a summer camp in southwest Michigan. I had gone to this summer camp as a camper every summer since the summer after third grade, so I’d been there forever, and I’d been a regular camp counselor the summer prior to this. So on this 2-3 acre farm in 2014, we all grew all types of veggies, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, beans, melons, and an absolute ton of basil. Actually so much basil, it was unbelievable. The purpose of the farm was essentially to teach a group of pretty privileged kids from the suburbs what growing food is like. A lot of these kids eat organic veggies but they don’t really know where this stuff comes from. It was fun to see how kids react to growing their own food. If you have a kid who normally buys his or her food at the grocery store and while at camp grows it from scratch, and sees that after 2 weeks it’s finally ready to be eaten, it’s pretty special.

And then the next year you did another internship related to food. What was that like?

Yeah. Sophomore year, after my camp counselor internship, I got interested in good food. I realized that I really liked cooking, and I started working at Pace’s as a baker, so I realized that maybe I would like to one day own a restaurant or something. The summer after my sophomore year I worked at a very hip restaurant back in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Big college town. It was one of those places where they brewed all of their own beers, where everything was local. I was nineteen so I was a host at the restaurant, which was an interesting experience because I felt like I could see everything that was happening behind the scenes. One thing I learned about the restaurant industry from this work experience is that, especially when it comes to small restaurants, the work environment is largely dependent on the attitude and personality of the head chef.

What was it like working under this chef?

Well, it was a good exposure to different leadership styles. Everyone I worked with was great, but it was tough because the head chef wasn’t too motivating or pleasant. From this experience, I think that I found a lot of solace in the people that I worked with, everyone who was under the less-than-superb management. We couldn’t control other people’s personalities, but we could control our own. You can still work well as a team even if you don’t feel like you have perfect leadership from the top down. It’s definitely hard, and it takes work, but I know that it’s possible.

And what did this internship teach you about leadership in general?

When you’re a leader, I think, you want those who you’re leading to be happy, and to feel comfortable extending beyond their strictly structured roles and into new roles that might be highly beneficial for the team. Similarly, as I found in good captains on my high school soccer team, the best captains are people who are happy to be on the field, who push you, who reward you when you do well, who might be disappointed in you when you don’t, but who aren’t going to yell at you in ways that are unnecessary.

Do you think that your cool, natural exposure to farm grown foods, like the carrots that you harvested at the summer camp after your freshman year, has influenced the way you eat and experience food while at Swarthmore?

I think the biggest thing is creativity. My older brother went to Swat and before I started here, he told me that if you put forth effort to give food at Swarthmore some love, it’ll be better. Sharples has panini presses, they have a great salad bar, they have the wok…you just kinda gotta figure out what to mix and match. Something I’ve been making at Sharples since freshman spring is a toasted English muffin, 2 slices of Turkey bacon, sriracha, and a fried egg. All of these things are there, you just have to put them together. I think working at a restaurant taught me to work with the ingredients in your fridge, and do the best you can do.

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