A Thanksgiving meal, right out of the field

We are so excited to welcome Jennifer MacMillan back to the blog today. Earlier in 2015, Jennifer told us about her time spent on exchange in New Zealand. Now she is back, and this time tells us a rather appropriately-timed story about enjoying a Thanksgiving meal, right from the field. Happy Thanksgiving to Jennifer, and all of our American readers/posters! We are so thankful for all of you. For more about Jennifer, see the end of this post. 

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday. Everything about it is awesome: the food, the family, the fun times. But the main reason I love this day is because I get to celebrate it twice a year.

I have dual Canadian and United States citizenship. Along with other perks, this means I have the pleasure of over-eating on the second Monday in October and the fourth Thursday in November every year.

Since graduating from a Canadian university, I have been working in the States. I am currently in Alaska working for the Division of Agriculture as a Field Technician at the Plant Materials Center (PMC). The main focus of the PMC is the production of native plants and traditional crops. I spend my days on a 400 acre farm where I maintain greenhouses and fields while assisting with the Horticulture Program’s Observation Variety Trials. We evaluate cauliflower, broccoli, apples, asparagus, and potatoes to see how well they hold up in the Alaskan climate.

Our Potato Greenhouse getting started.

Our Potato Greenhouse getting started.

 A bucket of Romanesco that was measured for Broccoli Trials.

A bucket of Romanesco that was measured for Broccoli Trials.

Conveniently, harvest came just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving. Lucky for me, I helped plant pretty much every side dish you can imagine and was definitely excited to collect my reward. Also, the PMC has a staff full of avid hunters so between moose, caribou, and sandhill cranes, there were more than enough meat options on the table. I even helped add fish to the menu!

Small Halibut are called “Chickens”, a perfect substitute for turkey.

Small Halibut are called “Chickens”, a perfect substitute for turkey.

Regardless of where I am for the holidays, I am lucky that I always have a diverse group of interesting and entertaining people around to break bread with on Thanksgiving. No matter which month we celebrate.

Small Halibut are called “Chickens”, a perfect substitute for turkey.

Jennifer is currently working  for the Division of Agriculture as a Field Technician at the Plant Materials Center in Alaska. Jennifer completed her BScH at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON, Canada, studying masting in sugar maple trees. She is an avid cyclist and nature-lover.

What’s for lunch? #fieldeats

During our recent outreach events with the Kingston Field Naturalists and the Kingston Frontenac Public Library, we noticed that people were really interested in our eating habits. The what’s, where’s, and how’s of eating during fieldwork were questions that kept coming up. If your fieldwork entails living in isolation from the public for many weeks, how do you get the food there and store it properly? If you have no access to refrigeration, what do you eat? These are all valid questions for such a necessity in life that you don’t really take into consideration until you are removed from the luxury of everyday life. I’m sure anyone who has been camping is nodding in agreement.

Jeff's massive bag overflowing with equipment.

Normally, since field biologists are already carrying a lot of equipment, food in the field tends to be pretty basic. However, believe it or not, food can change your mood. What you eat that day could determine how that whole day turns out. In the past two guest posts, Jeff Havig told us about the exciting daily meals that he shared with his #teamfire and #teamice. Meals included burritos, sausages, and even chicken alfredo (cue drool). The ingredients for these meals had to fit in the packs that they carried with them (among other items that you can read about here).


Camp at Reef Island

Luxury 5 star accommodation on Reef Island

Sarah, one of our resident bloggers, and her field team had to carry a month’s worth of food in large plastic totes across slippery rocks and  over fallen logs to make it to the “camp” – consisting of a large tarp over a picnic table. Despite the rugged conditions of the “camp” it was equipped with an oven where she was able to bake a cake!



Instead of limiting the answers to just our experiences in the field, we also opened up the question to our followers and fellow field biologists on twitter with the hashtags #fieldeats and #fieldworklunch:

Some field biologists like to stay healthy:


Or keep it simple (as long as you beat the wildlife to it!):


A popular choice of lunch for field work seems to be including one magic ingredient:



(Which we have heard was as a result of miscommunication with her field assistant to get “bread”)

Or mixing it up a bit:


(I don’t know if I have the guts to try this!)

When you think about it, Peanut Butter Jelly time does make sense in the field: