The Women of Operating Engineers 324

Operating Engineers 324, based out of Howell, Michigan, has been serving its union members for over 100 years. They now boast 14,000 members as they help build Michigan’s future. We had a unique opportunity to meet with some of the sisterhood. Join us as we introduce you to some of OE 324’s best.

Operating Engineers / Crafted in Carhartt
Ashley English, Elizabeth Kavanagh, and Ashley Cole

“The training center is an awesome facility and the instructors are amazing. An obstacle I faced in the beginning of my apprenticeship was that I was nervous to operate equipment in front of people. I thought I was going to get made fun of or people would judge me. But I got support from all of the instructors and other apprentices. Everyone has always been very helpful and supportive.

My mom and dad are both in the trades, so it has always been a part of my life. My mom is in the UAW but she is also an operator for Ford Motor Company and my dad is a lineman in the IBEW Local 17. I went to college for a year and was not interested in going back, so I started looking into different trades.

I got into the Operating Engineers when I was 20, so this is my first career. I think the best part of my job is that I love what I do. I love meeting new people. I also enjoy being able to work outside all day.

I think any young woman that wants to get in the trades should go for it. You can always change what you do. If you think you are interested, give it a shot. You can’t tell if you like it or not if you don’t try.” -Elizabeth Kavanagh

Operating Engineers / Crafted in Carhartt
Ashley English

“I love the amazing view of the world in the mornings, the chatter between my coworkers, but above all–the FREEDOM of the culture within the field. There are no hair restrictions, not many handbooks, and we take care of each other whether we want to or not.” -La’Tasha Smith (pictured below)

Operating Engineers / Crafted in Carhartt
Ashley Cole and La’Tahsa Smith

Crane Operator Apprentice, Jessica Knight (pictured below), has been a part of Local 324 for 3 years. Before that, she served in Heavy Equipment Construction through the Army Reserves for 18 years.

“I love the fact that I walked into both the Army and the Union with an open mind and wide eyes. I feel like I have a better chance at my own personal success. Being a woman, you have to have thick skin. If you can dish it, be ready to take it. And be open minded.

I’m helping rebuild Michigan. And showing women we got what it takes. Sometimes, you get guys who think you’re a princess. They might stare if you’re curvy, and talk about you behind your back. And you know what? I’m fine with that. Keep talking, because I’m doing my job right, so that you can run your mouth.” -Jessica Knight

“I do not keep my head down. I make others know my presence at work. I befriend my coworkers of all trades. We are here for one common goal: finish the job and go home safely.” -Jessica Knight

Operating Engineers / Crafted in Carhartt
Jessica Knight, climbing to position in a crane

“I am an Oiler. I learn to maintain the crane I am assigned to. I do my best to keep the cranes clear of debris, fluids topped off, and constant overview of the crane while in operation so that the Primary Operator can do their job…

Never be afraid to look at any piece of equipment and say, ‘Yeah, I want to learn this!’ Give ‘em hell ladies!” -Jessica Knight

Operating Engineers / Crafted in CarharttChristi Smtih (pictured above) has over 21 years of experience as an Operating Engineer. She was in construction before joining the trades and wishes she had joined right after graduating from high school. Her goal is to work 35 years and retire at a young age. Before she does that, she plans on working as hard as she can, to the very last.

Christi loves her job for many reasons. But at the end of the day, she loves getting paid to play in the dirt. Even though she’s certified to operate many different pieces of equipment, like the overhead crane, she has a few favorite machines: the side boom, forklift, and skid loader. Those are the machines that are always moving.

“I’m not a one piece of equipment kind of gal. I like being more versatile. It makes you more employable.” -Christi Smith

Over the coarse of her career, she’s seen many changes. More and more women are joining the trades and more and more folks are accepting that. She notes that the worksite has become a safer place as well—putting the common good over a quick build.

Christi is certain that the best move she ever made in her life was joining OE 324. She couldn’t be more proud to be part of a union.

“You work with a lot of great people on great jobs. And you always have a support system. The union takes care of you, keeping up to date with technology and providing a place where you can improve your skills. You’re a part of a group of people who are proud of their work and what they do.” -Christi Smith

Operating Engineers / Crafted in Carhartt

After graduating from her apprenticeship, La’Tasha Smith (pictured above) will be a Journeyman Civil Engineer. She is currently a second year apprentice with no previous experience in the field.

“Honesty, I never had any interest in the trades. I went to a career fair and one of the female coordinators approached me and was able to convince me to give it a shot.

I was 28 and broken—lost, homeless, and defeated!! Life had run me over with a truck and backed up to finish the job!! I felt hopeless. So I told her that there was no way I’d ever make it into that career, especially with no experience!! But she was convinced I could, and I actually did!

The training is very intimidating and fast paced. The obstacles I faced were being able to quickly adapt to the new career culture which is made up of predominantly males, learning new machines quickly and safely, remembering all the rules and regulations, schedule changes, and weather conditions affecting work.

I stayed connected to other women in the trade at my company. I asked as many questions as I needed to…

Do the legwork. Educate yourself as much as possible and stay teachable.” -La’Tasha Smith

Operating Engineers / Crafted in CarharttAshley O’Grady (pictured below) works under the Road Builders Contract, which covers heavy highways, bridges, and airport work. Currently, she’s on a concrete paving crew. She has 4 years of experience.

“I went through the operators apprenticeship program. The training from that gave me the confidence and skills I needed to be successful in the field. I have found support in all my brothers and sisters I’ve met through my union… I feel a great sense of pride when I get to see the finished product, knowing I played a big role helping build it.” -Ashley O’Grady

Operating Engineers / Crafted in CarharttAshley was interested in the trades because she knew she could be successful and make good wages without going to college. If she had known how much she’d love the work, she would have joined even sooner. The long hours have been the most trying part of the job, but the sense of brother/sisterhood, along with great health care, benefits, and a pension make it all worth it.

“I feel like construction workers have a bad stigma sometimes. I wish people actually knew how serious skilled trades are and how successful you can be.” 
-Ashley O’Grady

Ashley hopes to expand her skill set, continuing to learn different equipment. There are endless opportunities and paths you can take as an operator. She wants to be as versatile and experienced as she possibly can.

Operating Engineers / Crafted in Carhartt
Danielle Athey

Danielle Athey’s interest in the trades soared when she discovered she could travel through work and start her career while training, all without taking out loans for school. She currently works on the pipeline and has one more year left of her apprenticeship. Danielle’s been busy, particularly this past winter, taking class after class, making sure she is as educated as she can be.

“In one year, I see myself getting close to graduating the apprenticeship and eventually becoming a journeyman. In five years, I see myself traveling the country with my work. In ten years, I hope by then I have my own house and property…

My advice is don’t be afraid of anything. Have confidence and don’t ever think you can’t ask for help. The support from my coworkers helped me more than anything.” -Danielle Athey

Operating Engineers / Crafted in Carhartt
Elizabeth Kavanagh

“Being in a union is a good thing. They will have your back. Also, I joined when I was 20, so I started getting benefits and started my pension before most people my age. Sometimes it is hard work, but it can be very rewarding in the future.” -Elizabeth Kavanagh

Operating Engineers / Crafted in CarharttOperating Engineers / Crafted in CarharttTo find out more about joining Operating Engineers 324, click here.
To shop  favorite Carhartt gear, now available in hardworking new sizes from XS to 3X, click here.

The Women of Keep Growing Detroit

In the middle of downtown Detroit, just a a few blocks from the city’s lively Eastern Market, sits The Keep Growing Detroit Farm. It’s a hotspot of workshops for growers of all ages and the birthplace of the popular Motown Music garlic seed.

Keep Growing Detroit is a nonprofit devoted to the city’s food sovereignty, helping the community cultivate their own healthy produce in a sustainable way. Their Garden Resource Program, now over 15 years old, has woven a connection across thousands of local gardens, providing resources and tools to the area.

Nikolette Barnes (pictured above), a Detroit native, has been growing food since 2008. For many years, she worked alongside her dad, the farm manager of D-Town Farm. Using the skills her father taught her, she took a summer job supervising kids who were learning how to grow their own food. Nikolette bonded with them deeply and discovered her passion to teach young people about food sovereignty. Her mission is to expose her hometown to the Food Justice Movement. Through that, she hopes to see a shift in how consumers utilize their spending power, making better food choices overall.

“My title is Early Childhood Garden Development and Family Engagement Specialist. I am responsible for all facets–garden and farm to table education–in the early childhood centers. I do everything from training teachers and parents on basic gardening skills to installing garden beds at schools…Our programs provide gardeners with seeds, plants, education, and technical resources to grow and sell sustainable produce in the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park.

Urban Agriculture institutions like Keep Growing Detroit are vital for communities because of the need for access to tangible resources for growing food. It’s also important that Detroiters living in low-income communities are provided with accessible and affordable options for healthy food. KGD helps to foster an environment for thousands of growers to help fill that need.

The best part of my work is being surrounded by the next generation of food revolutionaries! I absolutely am blessed to be able to teach the babies how to grow, cook, and love the food that they grew for themselves. I also love completely transforming the mindset of someone who didn’t think they could grow food or enjoy fresh vegetables. It’s pretty rewarding.

The most challenging part of my work is dispelling the myths and breaking down the walls that result from misinformation about healthy eating and agriculture. It’s also very difficult to do this work while actively fighting against the system of oppression that creates tangible barriers to families having access to fresh locally grown food.” -Nikolette Barnes of Keep Growing Detroit Keep Growing Detroit / Crafted in CarharttKeep Growing Detroit / Crafted in CarharttMolly Hubbell (pictured below) is the Farm Operations Coordinator for Keep Growing Detroit. Her background is in plant and soil science. She’s spent many years farming, working in different positions and various situations. When she’s not at work, she’s on her own farm, in north Detroit.

“I started working in nurseries 16 years ago, and have been a gardener/farmer my whole life. My mom is an avid gardener (Master Gardener), and my father passed on his appreciation for the natural world…Farmers don’t have superpowers, we rely on intuition. That intuition comes with time and patience, and can be learned by anyone willing to put the time in.” -Molly Hubbell of Keep Growing Detroit

“My back has been sore for 16 years. Totally worth it.” -Molly Hubbell of Keep Growing Detroit

Keep Growing Detroit / Crafted in CarharttKeep Growing Detroit / Crafted in Carhartt

Keep Growing Detroit / Crafted in Carhartt
Lindsay Pielack

Lindsay Pielack is a Co-Director of Keep Growing Detroit. Her background is in Resource Ecology and Management, with a B.S. from University of Michigan. She played an influential role in the Garden Resource Program, helping it grow from 70 gardens to almost 1,500 gardens in just 8 years. Lindsay has lived in Detroit her entire life, and works hard to keep the community links strong.

“On a regular basis, I am supporting residents to start gardens and for those without a green thumb, I always encourage them to start by putting their hands into the soil and grow something! Once they do, the fire will be lit with the excitement of growing their own food and from there, I would say that every year is an opportunity to get better at it! One season at a time!

I would recommend that everyone, young or old, try their hand at growing something. You don’t have to commit to growing all your own food, just get connected to where your food comes from. There are lots of ways to do this, as simply as starting a container of herbs in your window or volunteering at a garden or farm near you.” -Lindsay Pielack of Keep Growing Detroit

Anita Singh (pictured above) is the Youth Programs Coordinator at Keep Growing Detroit.
Drawing from her background as a high school science teacher, she runs the farm education program. Anita has developed youth programs in many different cities, including Cartegena, Columbia.

Keep Growing Detroit / Crafted in Carhartt

Imani S. Foster (pictured above) is the Farmers’ Market Coordinator at Keep Growing Detroit. She is a native Detroiter who found her way into farming unexpectedly as a Crew Leader with the Student Conservation Association. Her role has expanded from vacant lot reclamation to Farmers’ Market Coordinator.

“The food a person sustainably grows is so much better than what’s bought in the supermarkets. Placing your hands in the soil is healing. A person can reestablish relations with family and friends by working together…

One of the best parts of my work is helping the small gardener earn capital. Of course, I love that our customer base continues to grow. There is something so exciting about folks coming to the table and sharing how glad they are that we are back for the season. I know that the work I’m doing as the Grown in Detroit Market coordinator is retooling the culture that this is their (the gardeners’) business to grow.” -Imani Foster of Keep Growing Detroit

Keep Growing Detroit / Crafted in Carhartt
Lola Kristi Gibson-Berg, Molly Hubbell, Imani Foster, and Anita Singh

Lola Kristi Gibson-Berg (pictured below) is the Community Education Coordinator at Keep Growing Detroit. She’s a Detroit native and a proud graduate of The Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. It was during her senior year at Kalamazoo College she realized her passion for growing food. She graduated from Kalamazoo with a BA in Human Development and Social Relations and then returned to Detroit.

“Farming makes me feel hopeful. It’s a privilege to be connected to a community of people in the city who know how to grow food, enjoy doing so, and are cultivating and growing their communities.” -Lola Kristi Gibson-Berg of Keep Growing Detroit

Keep Growing Detroit / Crafted in CarharttKeep Growing Detroit / Crafted in Carhartt“As a single mother and female farmer, I struggle with having enough time to spend with my son while also being very active in the urban agriculture community. I hope to pass on the tangible knowledge of how to grow his own food on a small or large scale. Currently he is enrolled in a program called Food Warriors (housed by Detroit Black Community Food Security Network) where he is growing food as well as exploring food justice on a local and global level. We garden at my home and two community gardens. He is in charge of watering the plants at home! I also hope to pass on the importance of being an active and contributing member of the community that you live in. ” -Nikolette Barnes of Keep Growing Detroit

Keep Growing Detroit / Crafted in Carhartt
Nikolette Barnes

“I wish people knew how therapeutic farming can be. There is so much healing when you put your hands in the soil and grow something that will nourish your body. I also wish people knew how easy it is grow food at your home. People often feel like growing food is something only those with a green thumb can achieve. That is a huge myth, especially as it relates to growing on a small scale. There are so many resources for new gardeners to learn basic gardening skills..

I definitely do not have superpowers when it comes to growing food. I am still learning so much about how to problem solve as it’s related to my crops or soil quality. Farming makes me feel powerful…It’s not a walk in the park or romantic. Sometimes you will experience seasons where nothing grows abundantly or someone steals all of your melons. Stay the course.” -Nikolette Barnes of Keep Growing Detroit

If you’d like to find out more about the work these outstanding women are doing in Detroit, click here.

Jenny from Live Edge Detroit

Before joining her family in the wood business, Jenny Barger was in Marketing and Advertising. It turned out to be the perfect background as she now runs the Sales and Marketing for Live Edge Detroit.

Back in 1984, Jenny’s dad started a tree care and removal business. His heart has always been set on sustainability and conservation, and it often pained him to merely chop unwanted trees into firewood.

So in 2016, Jenny, her brother Joe, and her dad Mike founded Live Edge. They now salvage the trees that Mike’s company removes. Once the wood has been cut and taken back to their warehouse, the crew mills them into new usable material.

Slabs of gorgeous dry wood fill the space. Customers are welcome to wander around and search for the perfect materials for their next project or peruse the finished pieces they have to offer.

“Our vision for Live Edge Detroit was to develop a branch of Mike’s Tree Surgeons, Inc. that focused on salvaging our local resources and making them available for the community to enjoy for many more years to come. Our long term goals are to uphold that initial vision and to see it bloom into a more sustainable and profitable branch of the family business. We aren’t planning to take over the world, but we want to make a difference within the community, and we feel that starts right here in our own backyard.” -Jenny Barger from @liveedgedetroit

Jenny from Live Edge / Crafted in Carhartt

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help! I’ve been so fortunate to have friends and past colleagues that have pitched in to help me here and there where I may not have expertise. Let people help you, and if you love what you do, and you’re honest and hardworking, I believe success will find you.” -Jenny Barger from @liveedgedetroit

Jenny from Live Edge / Crafted in CarharttJenny from Live Edge / Crafted in Carhartt

“Everything I know about wood and trees I learned from my dad! He studied Forestry at Michigan Tech University and has been a longtime Certified Arborist and Urban Forester. He is the go-to for anyone in the Metro-Detroit area that needs arboriculture consultation. Not only is he a vast wealth of knowledge, he has been incredibly patient in teaching his corporate-minded daughter how to identify wood species by grain and bark, and understand what species are good for what types of projects, etc. I am not an expert yet – but I have great resources to fall back on when questions arise!” -Jenny Barger from @liveedgedetroit

“My previous jobs were very instrumental to my professional development, but they were not personally fulfilling in the way that working for the family business has been. Not only has it opened up my eyes to how much the community values and respects my dad and his business, but I also have the opportunity to learn from him every day, and to carry out his dream of full cycle sustainability. It has been the biggest blessing! My advice for anyone in a family business is something that I’ve recently had to realize firsthand, and that is to draw a few boundaries between business time and family time. It can be tough to ‘turn off’ when all of the family members are so passionate about what they do, but sometimes you just have to decompress and be a family. As much as we spend time together talking business, sometimes you just need your dad to be your dad to be your dad!” -Jenny Barger from @liveedgedetroit

Jenny from Live Edge / Crafted in Carhartt
Jenny’s dogs, Daisy Duke and Bo Duke

Jenny from Live Edge / Crafted in Carhartt

The Spirit of Detroit

A tiny downtown loft in Detroit was the birthplace of Carhartt. The year was 1889. With just two sewing machines, Hamilton Carhartt & Company began producing the historic work wear we all know and love today.

Exploring Detroit / Crafted in Carhartt
Detroit remains at the heart of the company.
Exploring Detroit / Crafted in Carhartt
Michigan Central Station

Exploring Detroit / Crafted in Carhartt

Exploring Detroit / Crafted in Carhartt
buildings along historic Michigan Avenue

“I believe that when a man wears an article that I manufacture, his self-respect is increased because he knows that it is made by an honest manufacturer, who is honest with his employees.” -Hamilton Carhartt

Next week, Crafted in Carhartt is featuring another Detroit-based family owned and operated business. Until then, check out some of our favorite Detroit makers and the beautiful city we call home.

Bo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks

“I’ve been officially working with wood since 2013 when my partner, Kyle, and I launched our company Woodward Throwbacks.

My dad is a general contractor back in New York and when I was younger I used to go on some of the sites with him. I believe that is when I truly became fascinated with the idea of being able to design and build.

I started re-purposing found wood back in college but it became a serious hobby once I met Kyle. We used to bike around the city exploring different neighborhoods and during our excursions we noticed an abundance of wood from illegal dumping sites. We combined our love for the city and the idea that taking materials found in the street would also help clean our neighborhoods.

We are inspired by memes and daily life. When it comes to brain storming, it usually involves a few beers and tons of laughter. Coming up with new designs is our way of team building. We don’t take our design process too seriously and I think that is what makes our product so memorable and relatable.

My favorite product is our bottle openers, because it was our very first product. Now we are expanding and have the capabilities to customize branding designs for our retailers and corporate clients.”

-Woodworker Bo Shepherd of @woodwardthrowbacks

Bo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in CarharttBo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in CarharttBo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in CarharttBo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in CarharttBo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in CarharttBo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in CarharttBo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in CarharttBo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in CarharttBo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in CarharttBo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in CarharttBo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in CarharttBo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in CarharttBo Shepherd of Woodward Throwbacks / Crafted in Carhartt

Inspiration Into Art

Ceramic Artist, Monica Wilson, employs a technique I’ve never seen before called piercing. It’s beautiful and organic. Before mixing the clay, Monica adds in fibers to strengthen the material. She then rolls out very thin sheets, sets them atop a piece of foam, and pierces through to the clay. This creates an airiness to each fired piece. Monica was inspired by Moroccan pierced-tin lanterns during her travels in the area to study art and culture through pottery.

Monica Wilson / Crafted in Carhartt

Monica Wilson / Crafted in Carhartt

Monica Wilson / Crafted in Carhartt

Monica Wilson / Crafted in Carhartt

Monica Wilson / Crafted in Carhartt

Monica Wilson / Crafted in Carhartt

Monica Wilson / Crafted in Carhartt

See more of Monica’s work here.





Inside Artist Michelle Tanguay’s Studio

Remember Artist Michelle Tanguay from last post? Like I mentioned before, she’s made a cozy home for herself in Detroit and established herself as painter. Take a look around the rest of her gorgeous studio space. Note all of the tremendous pieces she has hanging about. Don’t you love the way Michelle sees the world through a technicolor lens?

Artist Michelle Tanguay / Crafted in Carhartt

Artist Michelle Tanguay / Crafted in Carhartt

Artist Michelle Tanguay / Crafted in Carhartt

Artist Michelle Tanguay / Crafted in Carhartt

Michelle is wearing: Clarksburg Sweatshirt & 1889 Double Front Dungaree.

Artist Michelle Tanguay

Detroit Artist, Michelle Tanguay / Crafted in Carhartt

Detroit Artist, Michelle Tanguay / Crafted in Carhartt

Detroit Artist, Michelle Tanguay / Crafted in Carhartt

Detroit Artist, Michelle Tanguay / Crafted in Carhartt

Detroit Artist, Michelle Tanguay / Crafted in Carhartt

Detroit Artist, Michelle Tanguay / Crafted in Carhartt

Artist Michelle Tanguay is crazy talented. She’s been in the art world since age 17, when she moved to Detroit on her own to pursue her talents. Day in and day out, she made art. As she painted, opportunities began to flow in. Now she is an established artist with an undeniable gift.

Take a closer look at the series of faces above. Each one is a Detroit native who wandered into her studio. They are all painted on up-cycled banners from the city’s Jazz Festival. Michelle composed over 40 portraits as an homage to the great community she’s grown to love.

“People inspire me, Detroit inspires me. People from Detroit inspire me, they have a fight in them like no one else does.” —Michelle Tanguay

Michelle is wearing: Clarksburg Sweatshirt & 1889 Double Front Dungaree.

The Brewster Denim Jacket

The Brewster / Crafted in Carhartt

The Brewster / Crafted in CarharttThe Brewster / Crafted in CarharttThe Brewster Denim Jacket:

  • Button front
  • Adjustable cuffs
  • Triple-stitched main seams
  • Drop-tail hem adds coverage
  • 9-ounce, 99% cotton/1% spandex denim
  • Two chest pockets and two zipper-secured lower-front pockets

Detroit artist Kate Silvio pictured above. Read more about her and her remarkable metalwork here.

Studio Assistant Emilee Austin


Studio Assistant, Emilee Austin / Crafted in Carhartt

Studio Assistant, Emilee Austin / Crafted in Carhartt

Studio Assistant, Emilee Austin / Crafted in Carhartt

Meet studio assistant, Emilee Austin. It can be a tough gig, but an inspiring one. Every work day is filled with learning something new and collaborating with the rest of the crew. It’s a messy job too, all the better to put your trust in a great set of coveralls.

The Zeeland Bib has a lot to offer: ankle-to-hip leg openings with a storm flap, adjustable front-elastic suspenders, covered elastic waistband in back, reinforced double knees with cleanout bottoms to accommodate knee pads, multiple utility pockets, and two lower-front pockets.

Emilee is wearing: Zeeland Sandstone Bib, Force Performance Quarter Zip, & Watch Hat.