Blog Update
When I received an offer to intern with Land O’Lakes, Inc., I had to stop and do a double take. For a guy who has grown up in the beef world, the idea of a “dairy thing” was a little out of my comfort zone to say the least. I accepted the offer because the program sounded great, but I was unsure of what all of my beef friends would think of me when I accepted a position to intern with “the butter people.” Growing up I had become accustomed to making jokes about dairy cows compared to beef cattle, and in my part of the world the dairy people were the “weird” ones.
Blog Update
When I share with people that I interned with Land O’Lakes this summer, their first comment is always “Oh yeah, the butter company!” While we are “the butter company,” that butter company is one that is a farmer-owned cooperative, which is something I have always found unique.

Putting a Passion for Agriculture and Food Security into Action

Posted by Sierra Williamson, Sarah Vater, Fri, November 30

As participants in the Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge during the 2017–18 academic year, we learned a great deal about how business can have a positive effect on advancing agriculture, helping mitigate food insecurity and turning something that seems insignificant into something transformative. Our roles as Emerging Leaders in the program changed us forever and helped us further guide our career paths to an agricultural focus.


Our participation also inspired us to create an organization for our fellow students at the University of Minnesota (U of M) who share our passion for ag and the good work it can do in our communities and around the world.


What we learned

The Global Food Challenge brought us to farms in Malawi and South Africa, the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C., and agricultural cooperatives in the Midwest. Our days were spent observing, listening, learning, brainstorming and problem-solving. These activities taught us about the value of teamwork and helped us gain confidence to pursue our passions. It also demonstrated firsthand how ag business can be a force for good. Here are just a couple of examples.


We visited with a Malawian family that had a single dairy cow. Being able to produce more and sell products from that cow changed the trajectory of the lives for those family members: The money the parents earned helped their eight children through school and supplied a nutritious food source for their family and consumers. Being able to observe production agriculture at work in South Africa taught us how the cooperative system can provide needed support and help advance the development of its member farmers.  It was fascinating to see cooperatives in action — from those in Africa to Land O’Lakes as a cooperative itself — and witness the tremendous value they bring to farmers and to the communities where they live and work. 


The Global Food Challenge allowed us to see possibilities and switched our thinking from “Why?” to “Why not”? Agriculture has the potential to change the world, and it will take committed young people of all skills and backgrounds to help carry the torch for current and future generations and help solve ongoing challenges. These include meeting future food demands, increasing crop yields, ensuring food supplies are safe and nutritious, conserving resources, and creating a more secure environment for all.


What we did

This past fall, we founded the Ag Business Club as a way to create leadership development opportunities for students passionate about agriculture and business. The club is open to all U of M students, but most are from two colleges: College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and the Carlson School of Management.


Our goals with the Ag Business Club are to generate excitement about the ag industry; prepare students for professional careers in ag; educate them about current industry opportunities and challenges; and facilitate relationships between students, faculty and professionals. We do this through monthly forums and discussions, field trips, case study competitions, and professional development workshops.


The Global Food Challenge served as a springboard for us to establish the Ag Business Club. A growing global population makes the expansion of agricultural science, technology and agribusiness careers necessary. These challenges excite and motivate us to be part of the solution.


Our hope is that our fellow U of M students will join us in discovering how to unlock the future of sustainable food production and help people everywhere benefit from a safe, plentiful food supply.



Sierra Williamson and Sarah Vater are cofounders of the Ag Business Club at the University of Minnesota. Williamson is majoring in agriculture and food business management and minoring in international agriculture and marketing. Vater is majoring in supply chain and operations management with a minor in Spanish studies. For more information about the Ag Business Club or if you are interested in joining, contact us at or visit our info page at


© 2018 Land O’Lakes, Inc.