Pine Island Team Profiles: Dan Land

Pine Island is now in the thick of harvest, running three teams seven days a week to bring in the crop! One of our newer team members, Dan Land, is experiencing his first cranberry harvest and is doing a fantastic job learning as he goes.

“We got a lead from Johnson’s Farm earlier this year,” explains COO Bryan vonHahmann. “They called Bill [Haines] and said they had someone who used to work for them and was really good, but they didn’t have anything for him at the moment and wondered if we might. So Mike [Haines] and I chatted with him a few times to see if it was the right fit, both for him and for us. Periodic check-ins have shown that he wants to learn everything as well as understand it. He’s a very hard worker and we think he’ll continue to grow.” Dan has also made an impression outside of Pine Island. “Dan actually ran the planting project at Red Road this past spring,” Bryan says, “and we got an email from Maryann at Integrity Propagation about how much she enjoyed working with him; none of us have ever received a review like that! It was good to hear.”

“We’re breaking him in slowly,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “He’s helped with water a little bit, but now he’s on a gathering crew and getting a better idea of what harvest is all about. He’s asking a lot of questions; he’s a really smart guy, and I think he’s got great potential. His head is always on a swivel, taking it all in. He’s doing really well for his first harvest.” Not every team will finish at the exact same time, so Dan took an opportunity when his own crew was done to go check out how the other two teams ran things. “Each crew does things a little differently,” Matt says. “On Tuesday, once Dan’s crew was done, he went over to Blondie’s crew to see what he could pick up. That was really good to see.” Dan even takes ribbing really well: “He wears a lot of Jets gear. I mean, he says that’s because he worked for them, but it seems kind of fishy to me!” (We just think it means he really is very intelligent and understands that discretion is the better part of valor.)

“We’re going to keep Dan engaged and challenged,” Bryan says. “So far, it looks like it’s working.” Welcome aboard, Dan!

Pine Island Team Profiles – Justin Ross

This week, we profile one of our newer team members, Justin Ross! Justin came to us from Nebraska last July and has quickly become an important member of our integrated crop management [ICM] program.

“It was interesting how it all came about,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “Justin and his wife were moving to Philly from Nebraska for her education. It comes down to luck and timing; we interviewed Justin and felt he would be a good fit, having a lot of farm experience and willing to do whatever needed to be done. He’s taking over managing the airstrip and most of the applications; he picked it up quickly and is doing well.”

“Running the airstrip is a huge job and it’s where Justin’s going to be spending a huge bulk of his time from now to mid-August,” says Mike Haines. “It’s a hard job, too. He has to be here at the crack of dawn. Some days we can’t fly due to weather conditions, but he still needs to be here in case the fog lifts or the rain stops or whatever else might be going on in case they can get in the air. He’s doing great so far, and the guys from Downstown really like him, too.” While running the airstrip is a big job, Justin is also learning about other other methods of application. “That’s big, because the more people we have doing that the better,” Mike says. “[Matt] Stiles has been doing a lot of it but now we have Justin and our new hire Mike taking on some of that, which is great!”

Justin is also learning topography and bog design, which includes learning about irrigation system design from Jeremy Fenstermaker. “One of his first jobs here was working with me,” Jeremy says. “He’s been learning a lot about design and layout. It’s nice working with him because he has a farming background and brings a fresh perspective. A lot of us can get set in our ways and tend to overly rely on the way that we always do things, but he has a good eye and has given us some great suggestions for improving our efficiency. A lot of stuff I have to do I couldn’t do without his help. And he does what he has to do; when you tell him to do something you never have to follow up to make sure it’s done.”

We’re glad to have another great addition to the best team in the business, and look forward to seeing more of his ideas in action as the growing season progresses.

Work Anniversary – Ernie Waszkiewicz

Last week marked Facilities/Equipment team member Ernie Waszkiewicz’s ten-year work anniversary at Pine Island!

“Ernie does a lot of field work, a lot of fabricating, a lot with the irrigation systems,” says his manager, Louis Cantafio. “He’s always busy; we need more like him. He has a lot of interesting experience under his belt, and spends time working with the other guys, helping them with stuff when needed. He’s great with getting things going right away; a lot of times when something breaks, it’s something we need right now and getting it into the shop for a lengthy repair just won’t be feasible. So he’s really good at making stuff go now that has to go now, which is great for everyone. He’s also been doing the installs for our ongoing automation project; that’s been three years now. It’s an incredible amount of work: a lot of wiring and a lot of modifying the system to make it all go together. I have nothing but nice things to say; I’m glad when he’s here, and a little nervous when he’s not.” Louis also notes one of his own top priorities: “And I can’t forget: he makes a nice pot of coffee!”

Fellow team members have high praise for Ernie as well: his other shop team members mention his being a great worker as well as a great teammate. “He always bails everyone out when they need to be bailed out,” Coco Mercado says. “If you need help, he’s right there pitching in.” Jeremy Fenstermaker agrees: “Ernie is a great guy to work with, and a great guy to hang out with; He’s always there for you. No matter the situation, he gives his all. He’d give you the sleeveless shirt off of his back. I’m glad to know him as a colleague and a friend!”

“Ernie: the man in black!” says CEO Bill Haines. “Ernie’s a great member of the team. His versatility makes him highly valuable; he’s a mechanic, he’s a welder, he’s a troubleshooter, he does whatever it takes. On frost night, if you need him, he’s there getting stuff going. He’s part of the team that has actually reduced the amount of call-outs we have every night. People don’t have to get out on a frost night because of stuff that’s ready to go, and that’s the way it should be. He’s a big part of that. He shows up every day, and I never have to worry about it. And he gets along with people; I enjoy having him on the team.”

Thanks for everything you do, Ernie!

Work anniversary – Jeremy Fenstermaker

Last month another one of our valued team members celebrated a work anniversary: Jeremy Fenstermaker has been here at Pine Island for fifteen years! Jeremy is both versatile and affable, which makes him a valuable resource for everyone at Pine Island from CEO Bill Haines all the way down to your humble blogger.

ICM manager Mike Haines has worked closely with Jeremy since coming on board full time. “I mainly work with Jeremy on growing decisions. The great thing about Jeremy really is his versatility; he’s so knowledgeable about just so many different aspects of the farm, and he’s taught me a lot about growing decisions over the past couple years. He’s got so much experience with building bogs, renovation, water management, harvest . . . he knows a lot. And the great thing is, he has no problem with sharing that knowledge; he genuinely wants to help you learn, and is very willing to work together to teach new guys. When I first started, it was all pretty new to me. I’d worked with cranberries some, but making decisions about fertilizer, for example, was tough at first. A lot of the things we need to look for with plant nutrition are very subtle, so having Jeremy explain using knowledge gained from his own past experience has been hugely informative. He knows exactly what decisions he’s made in the past and the effect those decisions have had: he’s dealt with it, paid attention, learned it really well, and it’s just a big confidence booster to have him says ‘yeah, that sounds about right’ or ‘based on my experience this is what I would do.’ He’s easy to work with, and he’s also just fun, which is great when you’re working long days or in bad weather. It makes days go by quickly and pleasantly.”

While COO Bryan vonHahmann has only been here for four years, he’s impressed with Jeremy’s work. “I think he’s grown with Pine Island both personally and professionally over the time I’ve worked with him,” Bryan says. “He’s a bright guy, very intelligent, and finding the perfect position for his skills and abilities has been good for both Pine Island and him.” There are drawbacks for this, of course: “He’s often wanted for consulting on various things regarding growth and irrigation, among other things, but he already has a lot to do,” Bryan says. “So what we need to do is build that support for him by training other people and let him focus on certain areas. He’s got a tremendous skill set: harvest, designing bogs and irrigation systems, just growing the crop. His main focus now is bog design and irrigation consulting, and it’s been a win-win for both him and for the company.”

“Jeremy’s valuable in a lot of ways,” says Bill Haines. “His knowledge of growing cranberries has been a huge asset to Mike, and particularly valuable, as far as I’m concerned, in his contribution to the growth program. He’s been very creative about redesigning the bogs to make them more efficient for harvest, for use of water, and in general. And his redesign of a lot of our old irrigation systems is making us much more efficient, because we’re using less water but we’re getting better coverage and as a result, better crops. He’s thoughtful, he’s analytical, he’s patient, and an extremely valuable member of the team. And he’s a pretty funny guy, too!”

His main drawback appears to be that he’s a Steelers fan, but nobody’s perfect. Thanks for all of your hard work over the past fifteen years, Jeremy; we appreciate you more than you know!

Pine Island Team Profiles – Michael Vitale

This past October, Pine Island welcomed new Accounting Manager Mike Vitale to our team!

Mike has been here for three months now and seems to have settled in well. A lifelong resident of Manahawkin, Mike graduated from Stockton University, obtaining his accounting degree in 2013 and following that with a finance degree in 2017. “I first heard about the job via a recruiting firm,” he says. “I had family in Warren Grove who were cranberry growers a long time ago; working in the field piqued my interest and the position seemed to fit where I was at my professional career.”

He’s been greatly enjoying the position so far. “it’s a good environment here,” he says. “I never feel stressed out. The people here are great, and there’s never a problem asking questions. It’s been a good place to learn, especially for my first real job out of college. I can ask anyone here anything and it all feels pretty open.” Starting a new job in this industry in the middle of harvest can be tough, but Mike only noticed that in retrospect. “I didn’t realize how hectic things were until they quieted down!” he says. “But that’s good; it kept me busy, and it was interesting to learn about the process and see what goes into it.”

“Every week we work on something new,” says CFO Joann Martin, Mike’s immediate supervisor. “Because it’s yearend time we’re doing lots of different things besides our normal everyday tasks. Hopefully I’m being a good teacher!” She says Mike did very well getting thrown into the deep end at harvest time. “It always takes a little time to get all the people right, working out travel and vacation times and stuff like that. But Mike did fine, and he’s understanding the system well. He went through a little bit of QuickBooks training too, which shows his willingness to learn. Right now it’s all about learning the activities that we do at different times of year, and he’s actually done a lot to help us streamline some of our processes. He’s doing well for his first job out of college.”

We’re sure Mike will continue to be a great fit with our Pine Island team!

Pine Island Team Profiles: Larry Wedemeyer

Well-maintained, consistently available equipment and facilities that are fully operational are instrumental to Pine Island’s daily efficiency and the success of our operation, and our Facilities and Equipment team is one of the best around! This week, we welcomed a new member of our Equipment team: Larry Wedemeyer stepped up to fill the welder position.

Larry hasn’t worked in agriculture before, but is looking forward to the challenge. “I’m a fabricator by trade; I like to build things with my hands,” he says. “I like being able to make something out of nothing.” He went to school through the military in Aberdeen, Maryland, and got certified two years ago. Originally from Freehold and now a resident of Browns Mills, moving to the area has been a bit of a culture shock! (Though we probably can’t sway him to root for the Phillies or the Eagles, we will eventually manage to get him to say “pork roll” instead of “Taylor ham”, and are feeling fairly confident that he too will eventually be ordering “wooder ice”, just like the rest of us.) There’s a lot of work to catch up with, but Larry is ready: “They’re going to have me on anything and everything; whatever they throw at me, I’ll fix.”

Manager Louis Cantafio was impressed with Larry’s commitment to the community as a member of his local fire department. “Any position here is a tough position to have open, and this one’s been open for a while. What I liked about Larry was that even though he was between jobs, he was still volunteering in his community. I know that volunteer departments require a lot of training and a lot of time giving back, and that spoke to his character. And his chief gave him a great recommendation.”

COO Bryan vonHahmann is also pleased to see Larry having a good start. “We clearly saw that he had the talent for welding and he had a lot of enthusiam, so that was all good. When he toured the shop, he looked at the welding area and asked if we minded if he changed some things around for better organization. That was encouraging, because it meant he’s someone who takes pride in what they do and ownership of his work area.” Bryan’s also seen some of his work and says it looks fantastic. “He’s starting with some of the irrigation work, and then we’re going to pick up with some of the harvest equipment. We’re building two new blower tractors, which will require some new design work because they’re a different model.”

We’re looking forward to see what Larry does with them, and will be sure to keep you posted!

Pine Island Team Profiles: Matt Stiles

This week, we chat with New Production supervisor Matt Stiles! We talked about Matt a bit when we covered the inaugural lunctime learning meeting, but he’s been keeping very busy! A former vineyard supervisor at a local winery, Matt came to us in October (“a challenging time to start at a cranberry farm,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann) and has been doing a little bit of everything ever since. But one of the places he’s been the busiest has been with new production.

“I’ve been doing a bit of everything since I started,” Matt says. “I filled several roles during the harvest, I’ve been running equipment, I’ve been doing some stuff in the office. But my main focus right now is the new plantings.”

He’s been having a good time, as well. “Everyone’s been nice and helpful,” he says. “I like being out doing what I do; it’s a lot of fun. It’s especially cool watching everything coming out of dormancy. You get to see all the changes occurring, how the different varieties are reacting in different areas on the property. And starting at harvest time means I get to see the entire cycle from start to finish.” While there are quite a few differences between growing cranberries and working in a vineyard, he says much of it is familiar, particularly how both operations manage their ICM programs.

Fellow team members are glad to have him on board. “He’s smart and inquisitive and an all-around good guy,” says Mike Haines. Everyone has had high praise for Matt’s idea of instituting a lunchtime brainstorming meeting, as well. “The first one [on weeds and erosion] was pretty well-received,” Matt says. “The second one was really good, too; everyone had a lot of ideas for how to streamline harvest to make it more smooth and efficient, with a lot of focus on the bogside cleaner.” Within the next week or so, the team will be meeting again to discuss irrigation.

“Matt’s got great experience and capability,” Bryan says. “We’re glad to have him on board.”

Pine Island Team Profiles: Tim Bourgeois

In the middle of retirements, sanding, and the winter flood, our team is also working on training. Supervisor Tim Bourgeois started with us at the beginning of September, and is taking on increasing responsibility as the year goes on!

Tim, who comes to us with twelve years of agriculture experience, has been doing a variety of tasks since his start date three months ago. “I primarily started out helping Mike [Haines] and Jeremy [Fenstermaker] with the fertilizer applications. I also got to work a bit with the irrigation system, along with occasionally driving a truck or a Hydrema.” Not long after that, harvest started, and Tim jumped right in! “I was on Matt’s crew, mostly driving while hauling berries, but I did every task on that crew at least once. It was interesting to be among the first to learn about the bogside cleaner, too…working through all the bugs, all the trial and error involved.”

More recently, Tim has been on Matt’s sanding crew, and this week, he started learning the most crucial job in cranberry farming. “I started learning the water with Bill on Monday,” he says. “Learning where it’s coming from, where it has to go, and all of the things to go along with that.”

His interest and enthusiasm has not gone unnoticed. “Tim joined the team at one of our busiest times, harvest, and energetically jumped in to help,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “Since he was working on getting his CDL, he started off on our harvest team that used the new bog side cleaner driving a semi to the cleaning station. He kept his cool driving an 18 wheeler on dams that were not much wider than the truck. This trend of jumping in and helping out wherever help is needed continues. He’s done a variety of work, including learning how to manage the water, and will soon start training as the lead in all that is related to our fertilizer applications, managing the airstrip as well as all ground applications. He’s has been a great addition to our team, and we’re looking forward to working with him for a long time.”

“I don’t have a favorite job yet,” Tim says. “It’s all been interesting. Working with the water is especially challenging; the whole farm is a chessboard, where you have to get water from one side to the other and keep moving pieces around. It’s a fascinating process!” He’s particularly looking forward to being here throughout the entire growing season. “I can’t wait to see it from the beginning.” He’s also pleased about meeting more people within the industry: “It’s going to be great meeting all the Rutgers researchers, and the folks from Ocean Spray too, so I can learn more about how everything’s tied in. I’ve always enjoyed going to different grower meetings, learning what’s new and what’s coming up…just exchanging ideas with people doing the research.”

Pine Island Team Profiles: Steve Manning

Pine Island said farewell to Bog Reno manager extraordinaire Joe Colon back in December, and in February, Steve Manning came on board! Steve comes to us from over twenty years in the construction business, and has stepped right up to the challenge of renovating dozens of acres for 2015 and beginning the process for our 2016 phase.

“It’s been a busy season,” Steve says. “We’re just about finished at Turf and we’re in the process of installing the suction lines at Black Rock. We’re installing some additional drainage so we can widen the dams for tractor trailers, and large portions have already been land levelled. I’m expecting to flood Black Rock so we can settle everything and assist dirt compaction, and we’ll be land levelling at Warehouse next week.” He expects to be planting in about five to six weeks so we can have it all finished before harvest.

“I’m enjoying it a lot,” he says. “My previous job was construction, and I did a lot of what I’m actually doing here: clearing land, putting in roads, installing water mains. The difference is that now I’m always at the same job site, which makes things a little easier. I like working outside, and I have a good team.” He also sometimes forgets to eat lunch, which he says means he’s really liking the work. “I’m glad I made a move.”

GM Fred Torres is pleased with Steve’s work. “Steve works hard, and he plans ahead,” Fred says. “He plans for equipment, he plans for labor, all of it. He’s all about improvement, and is always looking for ways to make things better.” He’s also proven to be flexible when necessary. “It’s a big farm, and a lot goes on. Sometimes we need to change direction pretty quickly. If I have to move guys to another job temporarily, Stev will make do with who he’s got and change direction if he has to. He’s a team player all the way through.”

Look for more from Steve as our renovation progresses!

Pine Island Team Profiles: Caesar Colon

Long time team member Caesar Colon has been with us for over thirty years, has done just about everything there is to do, and has done it well!

Caesar is hearing impaired and can read lips in both in English and Spanish. Not too many people here have enough knowledge to speak with him in ASL, but he is always willing to meet people more than halfway when communicating. “He’ll write everything down if people can’t understand,” says GM Fred Torres. “He’ll draw diagrams, whatever he needs to do. He’s a really, really smart guy; way back when he asked me for a map with the names of all the bogs. I wrote them all down, he memorized the map, and now he knows his way around the place better than just about anybody.” This, plus his extensive knowledge of the equipment, makes Caesar one of our best truck drivers.

“Back when he first started, we were both working on the gathering crew during harvest,” Fred says. “We had to figure out a way to signal to him when to move the truck while it was being loaded, because the usual signals we use are calling to the driver or thumping the roof. What he did instead was watch the mirror, and when I was ready to move, I told him to watch my shovel. When I would put it in front of the mirror, Caesar’d pull forward. When I lifted it back up, that meant the truck had to stop.” He laughs. “None of the guys could figure out how we were doing it! But that’s Caesar. You work it out with him and he’ll get it done, whatever it takes.”

Caesar is a natural leader and is now the picking crew leader on the Orange harvest team under the supervision of his brother-in-law Gerardo Ortiz. “He’s a hard worker,” Gerardo says. “And I’m not just saying that because he’s family. He can work any job you tell him to and whatever it is, he gets it right away. Tractor, truck, machine…he’s flexible and really, really smart.”

“He’s a good operator and a good guy,” says Fred. “It’s always fun to work with Caesar.”