Sharman Hickman got her first job at age 4, gathering eggs on the family farm. Forty-six years later, she’s still there. Though she no longer trots out to the hen house with her mother to collect eggs – they use conveyor belts for that now – her job today as a co-owner of Hickman’s Family Farms with three of her four brothers is consumer advocacy. The Arizona State University graduate of marketing is in charge of community outreach. She provides farm-to-table education at schools and special events, sits on community boards and seeks charities Hickman’s can help feed. She took a break to talk to PHOENIX about her work.
Let’s talk about your new “Huevolution” ad campaign. What is it about?
[At Hickman’s], we understand the need to grow with the community. We have a lot of people to feed, and we need to be responsible about it. Our move, starting in 2014, to [go cage-free] was based on being responsive to consumer demand. Consumers told us they wanted cage-free eggs… we realized we need to educate them about what cage-free means. They think it’s an old-fashioned system of farming with the red barn in a bucolic setting. But we have to make sure the conditions are safe, efficient and affordable, plus include the bucolic setting. The “Huevolution” is about building a bridge to fill in the missing information gap. We decided to have fun with it, using slogans like “To get any fresher, we’d have to give you the bird.”
It’s a little risqué.
Yes, because we want customers to engage with us.
As part of your job, you often dress up as a chicken. Tell us what that’s like. Does the mascot have a name?
His name is Funky. It’s hilarious to dress up as a chicken. We get requests for him. He really appeals to children. When we drop off donations at [food kitchens], Funky helps unload the eggs… We gave him a new look this year. We pay student athletes to wear the costume sometimes, and the new costume means Funky can do flips without his head falling off.
Hickman’s is heavily involved in the community, thanks to your outreach. Why is that important?
One out of every four households in Arizona is classified as “food-insecure.” So we make a big deal out of making donations a pleasant experience. We use the prettiest painted and wrapped trailers in the fleet, and when they roll in with their cartons of eggs, and [we] see the faces on the kids and the people who are going to benefit from this protein, it makes me tear up a bit.
Your favorite way to eat eggs?
I’m notorious for hollandaise sauce. It can go on anything!
What’s something people wouldn’t know about Hickman’s?
We hire incarcerated men and women. We think of it as using time wisely. We train them to do just about every job except management. They run the pallet loader, operate water trucks, all areas of active farming. There’s a labor shortage… if not an inmate, a robot would be doing the heavy lifting.
What do you remember about your first job on the farm?
I was too little to reach the top [of the hen house]. So sometimes my mother would be cranky with me because I wasn’t picking up my fair share. There was a cat that would follow behind us. And I remember one time she got upset with me and yelled a little too loud. That cat came scrambling up from behind and scratched her for it.
Hickman’s will celebrate 74 years in business this year. To what do you attribute your longevity?
That everybody on board has the same vision. If you’re working at Hickman’s, you believe that we’re supplying fresh and local eggs at a very affordable price. And we give back. We’ve done that since my grandmother started the farm back in 1944.