Agronomy and plant geneticists from the Monsanto and Pioneer research stations in the Arlington area have gotten together for the second year and collected food for two local food pantries that help local folks who need a hand with food.
Sarah Dahl, a corn research assistant with the Monsanto station, said all the people who work with her are local and feel a pull to help their local friends and neighbors.
"Because we’re in agriculture we wanted to do outreach through feeding those who need some extra help," she told Wisconsin State Farmer.
Both the Monsanto corn research station and the Pioneer alfalfa research station are in the heart of farming country, with their plots on the rich Arlington prairie soils, and those who work there also live in the surrounding communities.
"We realized that there was a need in our community for some extra help. Even in rural areas hunger is a problem. Food pantries are readily available in urban areas and in some of those places people can even get a hot meal, but in rural areas those things aren’t available."
Dahl said that both the Monsanto and Pioneer station workers felt a pull to help. "Being in agriculture your job every day is to feed America, but some of our neighbors are hungry. Unfortunately, more and more families are relying on their local food pantries to put food on the table, so we thought this food drive was a perfect way to get to the heart of what really matters."
For the second year, the food drive has benefited Poynette and Arlington Food Pantries, which both got an influx of non-perishable food items this week.
To involve the community in the project, the two company groups went to the local elementary school and talked to first through fifth graders. They present all the kids with information about food safety — so they will understand what kinds of food are good to donate — and then sponsor a contest among the classes.
The school principal suggested they target this age group and it ends up being 20 classrooms.
Then they give them a bin to fill with food items and personal hygiene supplies. The class that brings in the most donations wins an ice cream party.
Last year the kids donated over 2,000 non-perishable food items and the two companies donated money for milk and meat to be purchased from the local grocery store, as one more way to support the local community, Dahl said.
The project began last year when the Monsanto station was in contact with local food pantries to donate sweet corn fresh from their fields. "We then knew about the need."
When the Monsanto workers went to their cohorts at Pioneer last year, they enthusiastically joined in the project.
"I think one of the important things is that this helps instill a sense of giving at an early age that hopefully they will continue as they grow older," said Pioneer’s David Mickelson. "The kids don’t care if we’re from different companies, they just love bringing in things and seeing which class and grade can bring in the most."
He said it’s a lot of fun talking to the kids and encouraging them and it’s neat when some of the kids recognize them from 4-H, or church, or sports teams.
"People want to be generous and know that they are helping others, so if we can help facilitate that by working together, then we should. A lot of people are willing to help, but don’t feel they can organize drives on their own. That’s where various community organizations step in, and we felt we could be one of those," he added.
"The kids and their families are really the ones making this work."
Mickelson said that even though Monsanto and Pioneer are competitors, it’s great that they can cooperate on projects like this. "It is also a great opportunity to get to know people in the community that volunteer at the food pantries.
"We’re plant breeders and agronomists, not politicians. For me personally it has been a great opportunity to reconnect with some of the Monsanto employees that I knew, and meet new ones."
At the community level Mickelson says, all of them really share a lot of the same goals. "Pioneer and Monsanto both want to promote the same values of an agricultural community. We are both trying to help feed the world, and this is the part that starts in our own hometowns."
Pioneer’s Jennifer Peterson agrees. "It’s great that these international companies can work together to be concerned about the welfare of our local communities and to get local people involved with providing food for those who may not have enough," she said.
Ted Koch of Monsanto’s team said it was again gratifying for the two companies to facilitate a project where the first through fifth graders and their families are able to help out local families who are in need of food.
"It was awesome working with Pioneer," Koch added.