Microbiology Graduate Finds Successful Career in Produce

Feb. 25, 2020

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Jeremy Vanderzyl
Jeremy Vanderzyl, BS Microbiology ‘06

Jeremy Vanderzyl graduated from the University of Arizona in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology. He currently works for Duncan Family Farms, which is a 100% certified Organic fresh vegetable farming operation, owned by Arnott and Kathleen Duncan. The farm has growing operations in Arizona, California, Oregon and New York.  Duncan Family Farms is a solutions driven company that promotes research to drive the highest standards of quality and safety in everything they do. In his position as the Director of Technical Services, Jeremy, oversees the food safety program, compost production, organic integrity, agronomy, and integrated pest management (IPM) programs.  He is quick to recognize that he has amazing members on his team that make each of the programs he oversees possible.

Working for Duncan Family Farms is a perfect fit for Jeremy, who grew up fascinated by science. This attraction began with his parents, especially his father, emphasizing the sciences whenever possible. Whether it was taking him to the Copper Queen in Bisbee or to a mammoth excavation off the mesa in Somerton, AZ, it was always exciting and fun. He specifically became interested in microbiology after working on a fifth grade science project that involved growing bacteria in chicken broth, he says “From then I always found microorganisms impressive, everything from their pathogenesis to industrial capabilities.”

After graduating from the UArizona, Jeremy went to work for the Arizona Department of Health Services as a Public Health Scientist. He did bench top science performing a variety of PCR assays ranging from patient STD specimens, fluorescent microscopy of animal brain matter for rabies testing, to simple water analysis of rural potable water systems.  In the lab, he was able to work with a great team and learn a variety of microbiology techniques before the state was forced to shut down the lab due to the economic downturn of 2008.  Next, he worked a brief job at Gowan Milling working in their quality control lab gaining experience in physical and analytical chemistry. After that, things seemed bleak at the time as to what his career would hold, but his sister suggested he look to a new emerging field of farm food safety. She had just undertaken a food safety role with the grower she worked for and thought Jeremy’s background would be an ideal fit. With that in mind, he sent his resume to every company he came across, and in December of 2010 was invited to interview with Duncan Family Farms.

One of the biggest benefits to Jeremy, of attending the UArizona, has been the connections he made and continues to make.  With his career in produce, he collaborates heavily with the UArizona including with some of the instructors that taught his upper division environmental microbiology courses. If there are questions he doesn’t have the answers to, he knows which Arizona researchers to call.  These special project collaborations have benefited Duncan Family Farms and that network of expertise has been a major asset in Jeremy’s career. “School and career have come full circle and it’s been an exciting time,” states Jeremy.

When asked what he would have liked to have known in college that he knows now Jeremy says, “The opportunities in agriculture for graduates with a microbiology degree.” He goes on to explain that many of his peers in his undergraduate program went to medical or pharmacy school, or went on to grad school and continued in the lab setting at the UArizona. He assumed those were the only avenues and the farm was the last place to look. About the possibilities, Jeremy says, “My impression of ag was that it was a family business, but once I started at Duncan I soon realized produce is a sophisticated and fast-paced business, it’s a business that has many talented people of all walks!”

Looking over his career and where he is now Jeremy shares, “Family is most important to me, I hope to be an influence on my daughters’ lives as my father was with me. My wife has been an amazing supporter of my career. My siblings all graduated from the UArizona and work in ag so we’ve been able to share thoughts with one another. Work and life are interwoven for me and it’s been a fulfilling experience.”