Food chemistry students explore ag careers

Cook County Farm Bureau, local food companies partner to provide students food science information, career advice.

East Leyden High School students examine labels of some Vanee Foods Company products, including shelf-stable entrees, gravies, sauces, soups and soup bases. The students participated in Cook County Farm Bureau’s Ag Careers Experience Day. (Photo by Diane Merrion)

By Diane Merrion

“If you are looking for a college major that will lead to a job, food science is the place to look,” said Luke Vanee as he hosted a student tour during the Cook County Farm Bureau Ag Careers Experience Day for food chemistry students from East Leyden High School in Franklin Park. 

Founded in 1950, the Vanee Foods Company manufactures shelf-stable entrees, gravies, sauces, soups and soup bases, and serves a diverse customer base from three facilities in the Chicago suburbs. In addition to touring a processing plant, students also spent lunch learning the college and career path offered by the company, including the importance of using chemistry and science classes that are a part of the high school curriculum.

“There’s never been a better time to enter this industry with advancements in technology and increasing demand for quality food products,” Vanee noted. 

Earlier in the day, Cager Stone from OSI Group in Chicago shared similar advice as he explained jobs at the company. OSI is the premier global supplier of custom value-added food products to the world’s leading foodservice and retail food brands and is one of the largest privately held companies in the United States. 

Stone explained careers in engineering, maintenance, production, operations and quality assurance, and discussed the qualities they seek in candidates they hire. OSI’s commitment to continuously improve its sustainability impact was also reviewed with students.

Both tours provided outstanding connections from farm to table by showing students food production from raw materials to packaged goods. Seeing pork belly go from raw meat to sealed and packaged bacon bits was just one example of the many end products students saw being processed. 

The trip was funded by the Cook County Farm Bureau Foundation and Fund for Rural America in order to provide outreach to urban students on the vast connections between urban and rural agriculture opportunities.

Diane Merrion serves as agriculture literacy coordinator at Cook County Farm Bureau.

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