Name: Janeé Parker
Hometown: Bentonville, Arkansas
Title/Position: Food Technologist functioning as a Food Safety Specialist
Briefly describe your role: I work for McKee Foods which is best known for our line of Little Debbie brand snack cakes. Overall, my main role is to help ensure that every Little Debbie is a safe and quality product that brings a smile to our consumers! I work in a large bakery in Gentry, AR that employs around 1,500 people. Every day is a little different which is one of my favorite parts of my job! Whether it be teaching employees the importance of food safety, helping to improve the hygienic design of our equipment and facility, or participating in the weekly taste tests, I truly love what I do. Some of the other roles I have are to help us make sure we are following FDA laws and regulations and BRC Global Standards, inspect/audit our sanitation practices and procedures, and help maintain a good food safety culture in our plant, as well as company wide. I also manage a small team that oversees ingredient testing, environmental monitoring program, food safety issues, and other special projects.
Q: Is what you’re doing now what you always pictured you would do?
A: Hmm.. yes and no. I can’t say I even knew there were jobs like what I am doing now, but looking back at how I got here, I can see how my past experiences were setting me up perfectly to find my niche. Growing up on a small family cattle farm and being heavily involved in 4-H from the time I was 5 years old until my last year while serving as the Arkansas 4-H State President, I always knew I wanted to stay involved in agriculture by owning my own farm and giving back to the organization who shaped me into who I am today. I love being able to say that I am living out that dream after my husband and I bought our 100 acre farm in Maysville, AR a year and a half ago. We have a long way to go to make it what we want, but it is so fun getting to build our dream farm together a little step at a time. This all wouldn’t be possible without 4-H though. My husband and I actually met in our local community 4-H club when we were just 8 years old. We both had a passion for showing cattle which helped build a foundation for our friendship to grow. 4-H also provided opportunities for me to learn and develop a passion for food safety while participating in events like the state and national Food Bowl and FCS Skill-a-Thon competitions. When it came time to apply for college, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I loved science and loved food safety and nutrition, so when I found food science I figured it would be a great match. I was able to get an internship at McKee Foods thanks to the help of a close family friend from 4-H, which then opened doors to a full time position later down the road. I did serve as a County 4-H and FCS Agent in Franklin County right after graduation for a short time which was so special because my mom, Janice Shofner, was and is one of the Benton County 4-H Extension Agents along with Jessica Street. Although I loved my time as an agent, I know that where I am today is where I am meant to be.
Q: What do you see as the greatest challenges for women in your chosen industry? What are the greatest opportunities?
A: The greatest challenge for women in the ag industry is the same as the greatest opportunity and that is to find our voice and own our seat at the table. Although it has been a heavily male-dominated field, women are quickly increasing our presence in the industry and proving that we have the ability, skill, and knowledge to have a major part in paving the way for the future of ag. I speak from experience when I say it is easy, as a young female in the workforce, to get ‘imposter syndrome’ when you are sitting in a room full of older men who have been in the industry sometimes longer than you have been alive, but it is so important to remember that your voice and the unique perspective that you bring to the table matters.
Q: Who has inspired you in your life/career?
A: I am so thankful to have so many strong role models in my life and my career so far, but the strongest and most consistent would have to be my mother and my grandmother. They have shown me what it means to be equally strong and caring as well as selfless and confident and how to love and trust God in any circumstance. My grandmother, or Mamaw as I liked to call her, was the brightest light in any room she entered. She could check on the animals, snap a big pot of green beans from the garden, and fix a big dinner for the family all while teaching you life lessons and making it all look easy. She never allowed the words “I’m bored” to be said in her household and I don’t think I’ve said it since. Her and Papaw would give the shirt off their backs if it meant it would help someone else. My mom has the same selfless qualities and strong work ethic that I so greatly admire. She is constantly encouraging, helping, and teaching not only me, but every past and present 4-Her because she sees the potential in everyone. She taught me that if you’re going to do something, then you might as well do it the right way and go all out. I am so thankful to know that her and my dad are always in my corner cheering me on.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring professional?
A: Building real relationships with people in your field and even outside of it is the most important thing you can do. The world is surprisingly a small place and you never know who your path will cross with in the future. Skill and experience might get you in the door, but how you treat the people around you will determine if you stay.
Q: What’s been your secret to success?
A: I can’t say I have found the secret yet, but something I like to always remind myself is a quote that says, “Every person you meet knows something you don’t. Learn from them.” I think it is so important to 1.) never stop learning, but almost more importantly, 2.) be teachable and have a willingness to be wrong and not have all the answers.