During my trip to Arkansas last month, I received a full tour of the Tyson Foods facilities in Springdale and surrounding areas. As I mentioned yesterday, the company started in this city during the Great Depression and has kept the majority of its administration in the local area ever since. Tyson is a big part of Springdale, and during our tour, we saw how local residents are involved with the process of creating these products at each step – from the farm all the way to the plate.
One of our first stops was visiting Amariah Farms, a chicken farm owned by the Fancher family. The buildings you see above are among 10 chicken houses on the property which are home to 300,000 chickens. Incredibly, the lion’s share of the work on Amariah Farms is done by just two people. By using automated technology – including iPad apps! – to manage much of the farm’s operation helps them to work on this scale. The Fanchers are contracted by Tyson to care for and raise the chickens, which are kept without cages in these long buildings in order to control the climate and keep out predators.
The Fanchers gave us a tour of the farm and explained their methods and machinery to us. We had a nice long conversation where they talked about everything from how they got started farming to their position on antibiotic use. It was a pleasure getting to know them!
After the farm, the next stop on our journey is the processing plant. We paid a visit to the Randall Road Cornish Plant, which is the sole factory where all of the Tyson Cornish Hens in the world are packaged and distributed. I donned a smock, goggles, earplugs, and a hairnet, stepping through a sanitary wash and getting a guided tour of the plant. I watched conveyor belts take the hens through cleaning, processing, and packaging before getting boxed up to ship out. I’m fascinated by shows like How It’s Made, so I found the tour to be really interesting and a one-of-a-kind experience! I also enjoyed getting to stand inside the freezer area for a minute since it was a hot Arkansas day.
In order to ensure quality and safety, all of these Tyson processing plants are monitored and tested by their Food Safety & Laboratory Services Network. We toured the WBA Analytical Laboratories Headquarters in Springdale and got to observe their methods in person. Tyson meticulously analyzes its products for quality in this building – where else could you see a man in a lab coat testing tortillas?
The machinery used in the testing facility is state-of-the-art. What you see pictured above is worth one million dollars, and this is just one small area of the lab!
In addition to testing food samples for safety, they also analyze nutritional content here. What you see above is the Soxtherm extraction process, which they are using to determine fat content in meat and feed for their nutritional panels.
Now that the chicken has been raised, processed, packaged, and tested for safety, it’s time for the final stop on our journey: The Tyson Discovery Center. This is Tyson’s Research and Development hub, a 100,000 square foot building where 173 employees brainstorm new and better products. From the chefs that come up with tasty new product ideas in the 16 research kitchens, to the focus group area where consumers do taste tests, the Discovery Center is where Tyson’s new products are innovated and refined. The Discovery Center even has its own mini processing plant on site, where sample runs of new items can be produced without slowing down or interfering with existing productions; this building is also where product packaging is designed and refined.
From the farm to your plate, the process that goes into making food is extensive. I truly enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes peek into Tyson’s process and meeting the people involved – although Tyson is one of the largest corporations in the world, an enormous amount of what they do comes out of this small corner of Arkansas. It’s pretty mind-boggling when you think back to the fact that John Tyson started his business with a nickel!
What part of this process interested you the most? Did anything surprise you?