Ricketts, who graduated from UD in the spring of 2012 from the Department of Animal and Food Sciences with a concentration in pre-veterinary and animal biosciences, is the farm intern at Meadowset Farm and Apiary in Landenberg, Pennsylvania. Meadowset, a farm that focuses on practicing sustainable farming to produce all of their products, is a sheep micro dairy owned by Tom Schaer and Barbara Dallap Schaer—both of whom are large animal veterinarians.
Meadowset sells sheep cheese, eggs, lamb, honey and other various farm products available at the farm’s store. The cheese can also be found Va La Vineyards in Avondale, Pennsylvania, and at the restaurants Talula’s Table in Kennett Square and Talula’s Garden in Philadelphia.
Ricketts explained that the micro dairy, which milked 28 sheep last season, has two different styles of sheep cheese: pecorino and tomme. “The pecorino, which is an Italian style cheese, is very comparable to a parmesan, and the other one is a tomme, which is a washed curd cheese which reduces the acidity making it a milder cheese,” said Ricketts.
Ricketts said that while her official title is ‘Farm Intern,’ she has various responsibilities on the farm. “My duties range everything from just your every day feeding to watching to see what the animals’ health levels are, and I’m also running the farm store on the premises so I’m dealing with people directly, selling products and trying to market our cheese a little bit.”
This last part has been the most eye opening for Ricketts, as she explained that she did not take a lot of food-agriculture classes while at UD. “I’ve been going around to local natural food markets and dropping off samples of lamb and trying to make sales there which is pretty new to me,” said Ricketts. “I’m kind of learning that all on my own.”
What she did have while at UD was a lot of hands on experience working at a dairy, which she said was one of the main reasons she came to study at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“I grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore so there was no farming background,” said Ricketts. “I came to Delaware because of the Ag school and because of the farm being right there. That was a big draw to me and I started working on the UD Dairy farm my sophomore year so that’s where my interest really started.”
Ricketts, who also raised seeing eye dogs for the Puppy Raisers of the University of Delaware (PROUD) organization on campus, fed the calves and milked the cows while at the UD farm, all the while trying to pick up as much knowledge as she could from Richard Morris, dairy manager, and the rest of the UD farm staff.
Explaining that her original plan was to go to veterinary school, Ricketts said she eventually realized that vet school just wasn’t in the cards at this point and time in her life. “Working on the farm and being in classes like professor Tanya Gressley’s ‘Dairy Production’ sort of opened up my eyes to the fact that there are probably other things out there that can make me just as happy as being a veterinarian,” said Ricketts. “Vet school isn’t for everyone and I just kind of hit a wall one day and had that realization that there are others things that I think I need to look into before I say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go to vet school.’”
Still, sometimes working on the farm comes as a shock to her. “If you would’ve told me my freshman year that I was going to be working at a dairy farm making cheese I would’ve said you’re crazy,” said Ricketts.
She said that her favorite part about working on the farm is getting to work outdoors. She also said that she enjoys getting to have her old sorority, Sigma Alpha, come out to the farm to do service projects and that those in the sorority who are interested in pursuing veterinary careers get to learn first hand from the farm owners. Ricketts said that Tom and Barbara Schaer are “great people and they’re very enthusiastic about what they do so it’s kind of hard to not love your job when you’re working for people like that.”
“A lot of the girls in Sigma Alpha are still very much in the mindset of going to vet school so them talking to Tom and Barb I think is helping them figure things out too,” said Ricketts. “So that’s been really exciting for me, the past couple of weeks being able to connect everything that I’ve had in my life the past couple of years.”
Article by Adam Thomas