It’s Sunday night, a lovely May evening in Minnesota. My kids are finally in bed. After holding out for the last rays of sunlight to disappear, their little bodies are tucked into the smooth sheets. It’s the eve of something, and they don’t even know it.
I’m excited for Monday to roll around, because I’ve been involved in a project that officially launches at Land O’Lakes, Inc. It’s one that’s important for the future. We’re pulling together the things we’re doing—both large and small—to help bees, butterflies and other native pollinator populations by increasing their food and available habitat. Tomorrow, our team will put a (garden) stake in the ground for the PolliNationTM project.
It sounds a little dramatic for what is, quite literally, an effort to plant pollinator-friendly gardens. And maybe it is, but sometimes our individual moments of declaration and drama can add up to something bigger than ourselves.
That’s really one of the founding ideas of the company I work for.
There is a spirit here that I’ve come to admire in my 18 months at Land O’Lakes. Like a lot of talent coming into the agriculture and food industry, I didn’t grow up on a farm. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, farm and ranch families comprise just 2 percent of the U.S. population.
Since I started, thanks to many patient people, I’ve learned a lot about where my food comes from. And, I’ve learned a lot about the people who grow it and everything they have to diligently manage to produce safe, affordable and nutritious food. It can be easy to think of companies like ours as big food or big ag. The perception is that “big is bad.” I get it. Not very long ago, I thought that, too. But before big anything, this company was—and still is—farmers.
What I’ve come to realize is that Land O’Lakes is actually a lot like your common honey bee—hardworking, full of industrious and even entrepreneurial spirit, not highly visible (we’re just not like that) or even well understood. But out there every day, doing quiet and important work feeding crops, animals and people. If a company could have a spirit animal, Land O’Lakes’ might just be the bee.
And that’s why some ideas just make sense. Like the idea of feeding the bees and butterflies.
I work in communications. My job gives me a unique view. I’ve had the chance to learn about the people—individuals and teams—quietly taking care of the bees and butterflies who, according to the Honey Bee Health Coalition, make nearly 1 out of every 3 bites of food we eat possible.
I’ve spent time with Todd Peterson, stewardship lead within our WinField portfolio. Todd and his colleagues represent the company in a variety of agricultural science, sustainability and pollinator-focused initiatives. Land O’Lakes was a founding member of the Honey Bee Health Coalition, a group of companies, beekeepers, conservation groups and other stakeholders who aim to improve honey bee health at the intersection of beekeeping and agriculture. We’re also now engaged in a similar group called the Monarch Collaborative that focuses on restoring habitat for the monarch butterfly. And, with the National Wildlife Federation we’re working to see how else we might partner on pollinators, as well as water quality issues.
Bees are in trouble. So are butterflies. There are complex causes—everything from parasites and diseases to poor nutrition, climate change and lack of habitat. In fact, restoring habitat is key to helping these small-but-mighty creatures and is a cornerstone of a national strategy to improve pollinator health.
Land O'Lakes is in a position to help. The company was founded on the idea that things can be done cooperatively. And, that there’s a different way of doing business. It’s a long view. Our member-owners approach their businesses and livelihoods with thoughts of passing things on to the next generation.
It only makes sense for a food and ag company with an end-to-end view and expertise, a broad geographic reach and a purpose in feeding the hungry to feed the first links in our food chain.
Coast to coast
Enter the PolliNationTM project. A team of people behind the scenes have been working to bring it to life. From our official Land O’Lakes locations to the homes and farms of our 10,000 employees and 4,331 members, we’re aiming to come together—across businesses and state lines—in common purpose.
We’re planting pollinator-friendly gardens. We’re hoping to do what we can to make a dent in the national goal to increase pollinator habitat in this country by 7 million acres.
Over the coming days, we’ll reach all employees across the country. We’re giving everyone two wildflower seed packets—one to keep and one to share—because that’s how we work here. Cooperatively.
Our manufacturing and distribution locations across the country are already in the process of planting. In fact just north of Paris, Missouri, on Hwy 24, one of our employees has offered up 5 acres of land near our WinField Agronomy Service Center. The team there will be donating time and labor to help convert the existing meadow into wildflowers.
Tuesday, the Bee Squad from the University of Minnesota will return to our campus and the hive they keep here. They’ll be showing employees how to plant a pollinator-friendly garden here at our headquarters so we know what to do in our own yards. And as our gardens grow, we’re going to share some of our stories here—and invite those passionate for pollinators and social media to do the same using #PolliNation.
But for right now, I’m at home, looking forward to the morning. I’ve felt like this on more than one Sunday night since joining Land O’Lakes, which makes me feel lucky.
I know many co-workers will be excited, too, not by some corporate goal or reporting requirement but because doing things like feeding the pollinators is part of the fabric of Land O’Lakes. It feels a little like I imagine our farmers feel when they get up in the morning to milk the cows, feed the pigs or plant the crop—all the things they do to produce our food. It’s about doing something today . . . for tomorrow.
I’m bringing some seeds home to my little patch of ground in St. Paul and maybe my kids’ school. We’re going to plant a garden together and do a little good. Not a bad thing to pass on. Will you join me?