Andrea Sensenig of Compass Farms stood up at George Washington University, prepared to talk about food waste on her farm to a group of students at the Land O’Lakes-sponsored Planet Forward salon event. She spoke about her methane digester, but she also wanted to share a farmer’s perspective on why sustainability is important.
So she talked about what it meant to see a carton of milk in a landfill as a fourth generation dairy producer.
“We put our hearts into that product, to see that in the landfill is super disheartening,” she said to the crowd in Washington D.C.
And Andrea found the audience was incredibly receptive because she presented an honest and new viewpoint on sustainability. She had a real opportunity to help demystify the conversation about agriculture with these non-ag students and show how real farmers care for their animals, land and community.
“It’s always been important for me to talk about this, that as farmers, we see food waste and take it personally,” says Andrea, looking back on the event. “It is hard for us to see a cup of milk in a landfill because we raised those cows.”
Andrea’s passion for sustainability and a need to cut costs on the farm had led to the innovative methane digester on Compass Farms — an anaerobic digester that uses waste to power their farm. The energy is powered through both animal and food waste, from local grocery stores and neighboring farms, thereby embracing the greater community for sustainability.
Feeding the future
Land O’Lakes has been a sponsor and supporter of Planet Forward for four years. Planet Forward was started in 2009 and is run out of the Center for Innovative Media at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs.
This is a partnership based in the idea of feeding the future and exposing students from George Washington University and beyond to agriculture and sustainability. Most events are livestreamed to a consortium of partner schools across the US.
“We’re partnering with a University that is also interested in feeding the world by 2050,” says Brandi DeVries, Community Relations manager. “We’re engaging young students in important conversations about agriculture.”
Planet Forward has both large-scale summit events and smaller-scale salon events. The salons are focused luncheon conversations that spark discussions about specific topics.
Andrea, a dairy producer from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, had been asked by Land O’Lakes, Inc. to come and speak about her work with sustainability and to give a true farmer perspective at the Planet Forward luncheon. The topic was food waste, and Andrea’s background was a perfect fit.
“It was easy to choose Andrea to speak at this event. She’s a great storyteller, and we wanted her to represent Land O’Lakes. She just enjoys dedicating her time to tell her story and educate people on agriculture,” says Justin Potts, developmental services advisor for Member Relations, who also attended the event.
Engaging with non-farmers
It was a primarily urban audience at the Planet Forward salon. This was new for Andrea, who is used to speaking at events about on-farm sustainability with people who have an agriculture background. But the audience at the Planet Forward salon was more than receptive to listening to Andrea speak.
“Everyone in the audience at Planet Forward was just so excited to hear a real farmer’s story because they probably never had that perspective before,” says Justin. After Andrea got up and talked for a few minutes about her farm, her methane digester and her role in sustainability, she took questions from the audience.
“Everybody at Planet Forward was so fascinated to meet a real life farmer. I wasn’t expecting that,” says Andrea. “A lot of people had questions about the methane digester on my farm—what type of food it took, how we started.”
Continuing the dialogue
Sharing an agriculture story is all about engaging in conversation – whether it’s with a neighbor or if it’s with people who have never even met a farmer before. The important thing is that we get out there, share our stories and show the real side of modern agriculture.
“I think that any time that a farmer or a dairy producer has a chance to share their story or represent the industry, that they should do it,” says Andrea. “It doesn’t matter what the event is or even if you don’t have anything in common with the people who will be there.”
All of our members have unique and important stories to tell, and sharing those stories is how we will continue to demystify agriculture to the general public while recruiting new advocates in our mission of feeding human progress.