Stephanie Pharris never set out to be a FarmHer, but now that she’s here, she has found her calling. A background in food distribution led her to a role as the Equipment Fixed Asset Manager at Duncan Family Farms in Arizona. Now, over eight years later, she is thriving along with the large farm in supply chain management. Stephanie ensures produce gets to processors, and then ultimately to consumers.
Duncan Farms is 100% organic, and grows baby leaf greens in multiple states around the country, year-round. Arizona is the main headquarter of the operation, where they grow about 8,000 acres of the tiny greens. The farm’s owners transitioned to organic in the mid-90’s. At the time, they were operating as an agri-tourism operation, and wanted to ensure a safe learning environment for the kids who were visiting. By doing this, it turns out they were well positioned to transition to an organic farm. As the organic industry grew, Duncan Farms grew with it. As Stephanie put it, if you buy organic lettuce at the store in a bag, there’s a good chance it comes from Duncan Farms.
Careers in Agriculture
Stephanie works in supply chain management. She works with crop scheduling and operations, and procures assets and inputs to make sure everyone at the farm has what they need to keep growing. She now works in developing teams throughout the organization to get more people interested in agriculture.
Fields of Lettuce at Duncan Farms
During our visit to Duncan Farms, it was a warm, windy day in the desert of Arizona. We pulled up to the farm office, and were greeted warmly by Stephanie and her coworker Kelsey, who is an Agronomist.
We hopped into a work van and headed out to the fields. As we drove on the roads through the fields, it was easy to be mesmerized by the bright, leafy greens lined up. We got out to a field of spinach, and first things first, put on boot covers and hairnets. Food safety is top of mind, and a very important aspect at all times on the farm. Because their product has very little time between being harvested and ending up on our tables, it is of utmost importance to keep it clean in the field. Kelsey explained how the lettuce grows in short time periods and is harvested specifically for large orders that come in. All of the greens grown in their fields are sold through wholesale. They then go on to be washed, packed and distributed by their customers.
Lettuce Harvesting Process and Technology
We walked over to an adjacent field where there was another variety of lettuce. Duncan Farms has technology in place to track what is growing in every field, all of the growing notes, details on inputs, irrigation and more. All of the data helps them manage a very large growing area in a more efficient way. We also were able to see a crew of harvesters running. The large harvester lifted the greens right out of the soil. The people operating the machine were working quickly to sort and keep the lettuce moving down to the next step. Seeing this process definitely helped us understand how such large amounts of lettuce could be harvested quickly so quickly. While the machine was doing a lot of the work, it was clear that having farm labor workers was also an essential part of the process
We hopped back into the van and headed down the road. The farm is surrounded by a very urban area, which can be a challenge at times. Duncan Farms is also close to the Luke Airforce Base, which means fighter jets constantly take off and fly overhead. While it’s something they are used to, it was a new sight for us. We couldn’t help but stop and stare with each flyover.
Duncan Farms is creating a large impact not only in the agriculture industry, but more specifically in the wholesale market. Their efforts to get employees like Stephanie involved and developing a passion in agriculture will leave a lasting mark on Arizona agriculture for years to come.