I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with Carol Ann Patterson, founder and president of The Pathfinders Research & Management Ltd. As a food scientist by training with 25 years of experience in the food industry, Carol Ann has built up an impressive portfolio of experience. Starting off working in food plants as a quality control technician, she soon found herself pursuing graduate work in food microbiology and food safety with a focus on fermented meats, beer, and fermented dairy products. Eventually, she joined the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture as a food scientist before moving on to start her own company in 2000 primarily working with small food processing businesses.
Carol Ann’s journey with ISCA-AIDC started when ISCA’s president, Lloyd Dalziel, posted a notice in university science departments looking for a food processing specialist to go to Haiti and work on jam production. Carol-Ann’s experience working with jam processes and condiment makers in the Ministry of Agriculture made the opportunity seem like a natural fit. As a result, she has been an invaluable asset in our work in Haiti and has since been to Haiti three times over the past two years
Carol Ann describes her first time in Haiti as being dedicated to hands-on training by teaching the women in the group basic food processing skills for jam making such as fruit preparation and heat processing. She also spent time on basic microbiology such as spoilage organisms and other organisms that make you sick. Quality control in terms of personal hygiene and sanitation was also covered extensively. What was interesting, Carol Ann noted, was that “the women who were involved in the project came from diverse backgrounds–older, younger, different work and educational experiences, with and without children”. Since commercial jam making requires math, she spent a fair bit of time reviewing and teaching the women how to do the necessary calculations. Subsequent trips were more focused on expanding the industrial side of the project, the actual jam production process, and defining the different business roles in the group.
Despite challenges such as market access, and cultivating necessary skills such as sales, the experience was a rewarding one. She described how it was enlightening to realize that “people are people no matter where you go and by having respect for people, for their culture, for their way of life, that’s rewarding in and of itself. I love to teach, so watching the women talk among themselves and seeing that some of the women who understood something really quickly and figured out how to explain it to another woman was amazing to watch.”
Carol Ann’s advice to students and future volunteers looking to get involved in the fast-growing food industry and sustainable agriculture is to “understand what’s going on in that country and what is possible. I am a real believer in grassroots development and starting small by providing a framework that people can succeed in. The best way to operate is to be humble and be able to adjust your teaching style to the learning styles of the people that you teach.”
Written by: Diana Anton, ISCA-AIDC’s Social Media Coordinator