People of Poultry: Karen Summerfield: Research and Knowledge Mobilization Officer for the Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC)

With a background in facilitation and conflict training, a curious mind, and a desire to make connections at all levels of the poultry industry, Karen Summerfield has found a perfect fit in her role as Research and Knowledge Mobilization Officer for the Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC). Her job includes managing the EFC Research Chairs Program and coordinating the mobilization of research results directly to farmers on the ground. “I have found that my training in facilitation and conflict resolution has been a really strong asset, particularly in terms of connecting people together and creating spaces for them to engage and share knowledge,” said Summerfield. “The egg industry is such a great place to work in as well. There is always something interesting going on, both in terms of research and on the farm.” Through EFC, Summerfield is directly involved in initiatives that are having a very tangible, measurable, and long-term impact in the egg industry and beyond. Read on to learn more about current research, the National Environmental Sustainability Tool, and a program created specifically to support women in the egg industry.

EFC, representing more than 1200 egg farmers across the country, invests in research and innovation through two main programs. The Research Grant Program holds annual calls for research proposals which are then peer reviewed and subsequently selected for funding by the EFC Research Committee; and the Research Chairs Program, which hosts chairs in Economics (Maurice Doyon at Laval University), Poultry Welfare (Tina Widowski at Guelph), Public Policy (Bruce Muirhead at Waterloo) and Sustainability (Nathan Pelletier at UBC).

Summerfield manages the Research Chairs Program which includes everything from contracts to facilitating knowledge sharing between the four disciplines.

“Even though they are all in very different disciplines, it has been really great to see how they have found ways to collaborate and create new and innovative research projects,” she said.  

Funding from the chair position allows the chairs to focus their endeavours on specific projects relating to the egg industry. Unlike the research grants, which are one-time projects, the four chairs typically have a five to seven-year term. This allows them to think ahead and ask questions about what research might be important five years down the road, which is key to building sustainability. 

“They get several years to really get into their projects and create a solid base of research.”

Summerfield’s mobilization position is all about connecting research results from these two programs with farmers through research summaries or videos to capture the latest research results, and programs such as the National Environmental Sustainability Tool, a knowledge mobilization tool where the research is put into action on the ground. 

“It’s about getting the research into the hands of the people who can use it and making that connection, so the research results are not lost and have some good applications,” explained Summerfield.  


As part of Summerfield’s work, she has been involved with EFC’s sustainability initiatives. EFC’s board of directors began looking at sustainability about a decade ago and commissioned a lifecycle analysis study with Nathan Pelletier, currently EFC Sustainability Chair at UBC. Talks began with Nathan to create a tool that would allow farmers a direct opportunity to use his work. The National Environmental Sustainability Tool (NEST) was born and the first version launched earlier this year. 

How does it work? 

Farmers can go to the sustainability link at, enter their individual farm registration ID and create a profile. From there they can do a sustainability assessment based on seven different categories ranging from water and energy use to productivity. Data is entered and a scorecard is created that shows where they rank in terms of sustainability compared with other farms in their region and across Canada. They can also create an Action Plan where they can find recommended goals to track progress in making their farm more sustainable and applicable resources to help them get there.  

The full version of NEST, which is still in development, will go even further.

“It will actually allow farmers to calculate, for example, their carbon footprint and things like land use or water footprint,” said Summerfield. “Once they’ve inputted all of their data, they can say, maybe I want to try using solar energy on my farm. How would that reduce my footprint?”

Farmers will be able to explore economic and other impacts of installing green technologies and innovations on their farm. NEST is a decision support tool at its core. Farmers can take ownership of sustainability and find resources to make decisions around improving sustainability in their day-to-day life on the farm.

“There are a lot of capabilities we can add to it, and we are excited about that,” said Summerfield. “It really comes down to connecting the research results that Nathan and his team have developed with the farmers themselves, through a really interactive and supportive tool.” 

Interest and engagement in NEST from producers and farmers has been high, as well as non-agricultural entities and organizations as far away as Germany and Australia. It is a tool that can be translatable for other poultry boards as well, and Summerfield would love to see others adapt the tool for their own sustainability goals. 

 “It has evolved in a really great way and there is a kind of sustained excitement throughout. Our chairs are very good at identifying areas of collaboration, and then following through. They are really keen to create innovative research projects that can support the industry in new ways.”

NEST fits into EFC’s broader vision of sustainability. “The EFC board have become really good champions of sustainability,” she continued. “EFC released its first sustainability report back in 2020, based on 2019 data. There are five pillars of sustainability that really showcase a holistic approach to sustainability, not just environmental sustainability on farm, but also animal welfare and the health and safety of the workers.” 

Women in the Egg Industry Program

Another need was recently recognized in the egg industry and a program created that has made a real difference in the lives of female egg farmers. In 2016 EFC commissioned Dr. Jodey Nurse to do a study on the history and the current role of women in the industry. Nurse worked with Bruce Muirhead, EFC Chair in Public Policy, and with Summerfield to develop a summary of her work

“Jodey’s work was incredibly insightful, and from all of the interviews that she was able to do, the one thing that EFC really heard was that there was an interest in creating a network or some sort of support program specifically for women in the industry,” said Summerfield.

In 2019, EFC launched the Women in the Egg Industry Program, with Summerfield involved in the day-to-day management of the program. The program brings together women from across the country, with a new cohort every year. The aim of the program is to create connections, build confidence, and share knowledge.

The program is made up of three components. There are in-person gatherings, which were put on-hold for the pandemic, but have started up again this year. There are also webinars with topics driven by the women themselves. The third component is a mutual mentorship program, where women are paired up to connect once a month.

 “It’s really about creating space for them to support each other, to ask questions, and to share knowledge,” explained Summerfield.  

“Again, it’s the knowledge mobilization piece,” she continued. “It’s really about creating a way to come together and create connections that they otherwise might not have had.”

A strong alumni group has evolved from the program, with the ability to mentor and continue connecting with each other as well as newer members.

“We are hoping to bring them all together in a summit, sometime this year,” said Summerfield. “We want to continue to build those connections, especially for those who couldn’t meet in-person during Covid-19.”

Final Thoughts

“One of the great things that I find in working in the egg industry and the culture of researchers is that there’s always new ideas. There’s always valuable research, and there’s always something interesting to learn about and talk about.”

“There are a lot of constructive conversations that happen when researchers and farmers get together. It’s been really great to be able to be part of that, and just to see how the industry has grown as a result of those connections.”

When it comes to her daily work, building knowledge mobilization and connections has played a strong central role. “I’ve seen so much creativity and innovation come out of those moments, it’s really rewarding, and I see it underpinning every aspect of the work that I do,” said Summerfield.

“Every day is interesting. There’s always a new conversation to start, or a new connection to be made.”

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