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Students at Morrisville State College Get Taste of Working World at Nelson Farms

MORRISVILLE, N.Y.—Mary Jo Middaugh leaned over a large silver bowl and carefully examined its contents before hand-picking a couple pieces of ginger root and tossing them aside.

“I know how she likes it to look,” Middaugh said. “She is very particular about the consistency of her product.”

Middaugh, a student in Morrisville State College’s dietetic technician program, was referring to Tanna Roten, a client from Cooperstown, NY, who makes different kinds of chutney at Nelson Farms, a small-scale food processing facility located on Route 20 in the village of Nelson. The facility is run by the Morrisville Auxiliary Corporation (MAC), a not-for-profit organization which supports Morrisville State College.

Middaugh, 39, of New Woodstock, N.Y., is one of many Morrisville State College students putting her knowledge and skills to work while gaining hands-on experience working at Nelson Farms. She’s partnered there with Kirsten Naylor, 22, of Fenner, N.Y., a fellow dietetic technician student, fulfilling a requirement for their Community Nutrition class.

The two spend a lot of time at Nelson Farms, an imposing establishment which is gaining notoriety among those who have commercial food ideas and recipes and need help launching their products.

Clients are provided with opportunities to develop, produce, distribute and market their own products which they may not otherwise have been able to do because they lack sufficient capital, and/or access to a commercial kitchen or knowledge of health regulations.

Nelson Farms, which boasts three kitchens and an assortment of standard kitchen equipment and specialized machinery to produce and package most food products, helped Roten turn her 20-year hobby of making chutney, a pungent relish made of fruits, spices and herbs, into a thriving business, Chutney Unlimited.

The entrepreneurial spirit associated with the facility is helping to boost the economic development in the community—but the icing on the cake is the experience students are gaining being a part of it all.

Students in the Community Nutrition class, for example, assist with various tasks including product development, developing marketing plans, formulating recipes, testing recipes, designing product labels and determining nutrition analysis for the labels, according to Marie Smith, professor of nutrition, who teaches the Community Nutrition class.

“The students are learning things—valuable hands-on techniques that would not be possible in the classroom,” Smith said. “They actually work directly with clients to develop product marketing plans, research target markets and develop communication tools for those target markets.”

And they’re learning the basics of commercial cooking while gaining knowledge about the food-service industry as a whole, learning food safety and sanitation and aspects of kitchen management along with other specialties.

Middaugh knows the value of her education at Morrisville State College. The hands-on approach to learning and the outstanding technology offered are among the reasons she chose to pursue her passion in nutrition at the college.

“The program and my classes are providing me with all of the tools I will need to be successful after I graduate,” Middaugh said. “The information and technology is up to date and the dietetic technician program is accredited by the ADA (American Dietetic Association).”

Clinical hours prepare students for the work force by exposing them to real patients/clients in a clinical setting where they utilize their communication and critical thinking skills.

“Students get a chance to apply their knowledge by using diet therapy and nutrition skills and educational methods to relay that information to the patient and offer educational materials to the patient as well as to the community,” Middaugh said. “Students are exposed to acute care, chronic care, long-term care, rehabilitation and community outreach and public service opportunities.”

They’re also visible in the community, representing the college at health and career fairs and at various community sites during their community nutrition rotations, including hospitals, nursing homes, school lunch, day-care and meals-on-wheels programs.

“Students get a good birds-eye view of all of the possibilities in the nutrition field so they can better decide what area they would like to pursue further or specialize in,” Middaugh said. “There are many avenues in nutrition that one can choose as a career.”

Ultimately, the experience students are gaining is giving them a competitive edge when they enter the work force.

“They gain practical skills necessary to excel in the job market,” Smith said. “They learn about professionalism, time management, discipline and effective communication skills.”

“When you are learning and working in a real life, functional environment, you have a better ability to understand the structure and flow of a business or system,” Naylor said. “I am able to see where problems can occur and how they are handled, where strengths of the system are and how they can be developed.”

“Students gain so much experience working in a commercial kitchen,” Karen Metz, a production coordinator at Nelson Farms, said. “When they go out into the work force, they are prepared and are not overwhelmed or surprised by anything.”

That goes for state and federal health regulations, too.

“They learn first-hand about safe food handling,” Smith said. “Applying this in a real-world setting as opposed to learning about it in class is a whole new experience.”

On top of that, they’re gaining technical expertise learning how to test the acidity of foods and how to upscale small recipes.

“Converting recipes to larger sizes can be tricky,” Naylor said. “People don’t realize there is a lot of science behind doing this.”

Nor do they realize how much time and effort go into making a product or trying to perfect a recipe.

That’s why Roten appreciates the help and insight she gains from students and relies on their classroom knowledge.
“Working with Morrisville students has been terrific,” she said. “They are very interested in what I am doing and there are times when I have questions and they are able to answer them.”

Working with clients has been equally important to students.

“I realize that I can start my own business if I really want to when before, the idea intimidated me,” Naylor said. “I am getting a better idea of how to go about starting and running a business and this has sparked my interest in designing product packaging and labels.”

“Tanna’s passion and knowledge is inspiring to me,” Middaugh said. “She is mindful and has a keen attention to detail in every aspect of her product development and I am learning a lot from her.”

“The whole system and concept of Nelson Farm's is unique. I was glad I had the chance to experience a line of work that diet techs can get into,” Naylor said.

Among Middaugh and Naylor’s greatest accomplishments at Morrisville State College are their clinical experiences.

In addition to working at Nelson Farms, Middaugh completed summer field work at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Syracuse.

“That experience introduced me to a completely different type of client with special needs,” she said.

And they’re both learning the importance of adapting to varying situations and client needs.

“There is no cookie cutter formula in working with the public. A nutrition professional needs to be flexible, to be able to adapt to a client’s specific needs and have the knowledge and exposure to these different backgrounds in order to do so,” Middaugh said. “Morrisville State College provided me with a diverse array of opportunities and situations with clients from several genres.”

When they complete their commitment at Nelson Farms, Middaugh and Naylor will be doing educational and nutritional programs with a track walker’s organization on campus and the Children’s Center at Morrisville State College, Inc.

A county store, connected to the Nelson Farms facility, carries an array of clients’ products including barbecue sauces, salsas, mustards, dressings and chocolate sauces. Roten’s product line, which includes spicy and mild garlic and ginger chutney, lemon-fig chutney and garam masala, a toasted spice mixture that has a myriad of uses as a spice or meat rub, can be purchased in the store.

For more information about the dietetic technician program, call the Admission Office at 800-258-0111 or visit www.morisville.edu.

Morrisville State College offers more than 70 bachelor and associate degrees and options. Considered to be one of the most technologically advanced colleges in the nation for its ThinkPad University program and wireless technology initiative, the college recently became the first in the nation to comprehensively replace landlines in residence halls with individual cellular phones. Morrisville State College was also chosen as one of the top five colleges in the nation for campus activities by Campus Activities magazine.

The Morrisville State College Norwich Campus offers programs in business, computer technology, office administration, liberal arts/education transfer, nursing and early childhood to Chenango County area residents and employers. Students may also apply coursework to other associate or bachelor degrees at the main campus.

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