Hatching a Future
For Ebony Harris, North Carolina State University was the only college she wanted to attend after graduating high school. Being the oldest of 13 children, Harris was a first-generation college student and was in the poultry science program from 2006 to 2010. Harris is now an assistant manager at Perdue Farms Hatchery in Kenly, North Carolina.
Harris’ love of animals started when she was a young child growing up on her family’s farm in Conway, North Carolina.
“My dad started out with two poultry houses and that’s how I got into chickens,” Harris says. “I always had a desire to work with animals.”
Although most of her family members still live nearby and help manage the family farm, Harris thinks she might like to expand on what her father built.
“There are a lot of family members that can take over the farm but, personally, I would enjoy incorporating my own thing, whether it be a small organic pasture for livestock or something of that nature,” she shares.
Due to her passion for working with animals, Harris originally had hopes of going to vet school, but once she got to college, she realized that wasn’t the direction she was going to take.
“I chose the poultry science program because growing up, I was in 4-H and I showed every animal there was. I showed pigs, cows and lambs. I had a livestock background and poultry science seemed like a natural fit,” says Harris.
When she first arrived at NC State, Harris realized she was one of the only Black students in the program at the time.
“I wouldn’t say it was uncomfortable, but it was different and relatable at the same time. A lot of students came from a very similar background as me — from poultry farms. That really helped us relate to each other even though I was the only Black female,” says Harris.
Although she never attended vet school, she found a different path there. She worked as an animal technician for three years before becoming an animal attendant supervisor. Her next stop was at Perdue as a flock advisor in Dillion, South Carolina.
“Essentially you’re the liaison for the company, making sure we are in compliance with USDA regulations and our growers are producing a healthy, happy, humanely raised bird,” Harris says. She adds that their growers are contract growers, so there’s competition among growers to uphold the company values to grow the best quality bird possible.
Harris just recently moved back to North Carolina for her current role with Perdue, which she thoroughly enjoys.
“The part that I enjoy most is the constant change of the industry and the environment. There’s always something to learn in my role and that’s what keeps me going,” Harris explains.
Harris says it’s also about letting people know that there are different jobs and opportunities for folks in agriculture besides working on a farm. “I’m really blessed that I’m in this position because it lets other women know you can be in management in a large company.”
She’s also appreciative of her time at NC State and the scholarships that helped carry some of the financial burden for her and her family.
“NC State was the only school I applied to. I did not have a plan B,” she says. “I really don’t know what my life would look like without the financial support I received.”