The Value of a HandshakeShare
Growing up on a corn and soybean farm in Iowa, Olivia Reicks admits it was hard for her to imagine that food insecurity was a prominent problem.
“I was literally living in fields of opportunity, with corn and soybeans everywhere,” she says. “I knew our global population was growing, but it seemed like we should have a solution to hunger by now. I wanted to understand the complexity of food insecurity and all the different factors that influence it.”
It was this curiosity and desire to help make changes that inspired Reicks to pursue an internship opportunity with the Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge. Reicks participated in the program as an Emerging Leader in 2014–2015, during her sophomore year at Iowa State University.
For Reicks, the most exciting part of her experience was the time she spent in Africa. There, she learned about how the agricultural value chain works, traveling to Malawi, Zambia, South Africa and Botswana.
“In order to get beyond subsistence farming, farmers need to be able to sell the food they grow,” says Reicks. “To do that, they need a marketplace where they can connect with a buyer who will process or distribute that food.
“In the United States, we have established, efficient value chains from farm to fork,” she continues. “In Africa, they are still building these through cooperative systems. One of the sayings I heard there was, ‘We need to go from a handout, to a hand up, to a handshake.’ What that meant was realizing that these were not only farmers, but businesspeople who are looking to make a profit. To do that, they need a handshake.”
Putting learnings into practice
Since June 2017, Reicks has been a full-time employee at Land O’Lakes, working as an associate in the supply chain Talent Acceleration Program (TAP). She is currently in a two-year rotation, working in different parts of the country to observe and participate in cross-collaboration efforts.
During her manufacturing rotation, Reicks worked in Pennsylvania at a Purina feed mill. “It really gave me boots-on-the-ground experience about what it takes to produce feed, ship it out the door and make money for the company,” she says.
Next up, Reicks will work at the Land O’Lakes corporate office in IT, learning about enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and data collection that helps the company track its sustainability and profitability efforts. After this, Reicks will move to the continuous improvement team.
“The Global Food Challenge taught me that we don’t always know the answer,” she says. “The reason we’re here is to think of solutions, to think outside the box and to see if we can do things better. It really opened my eyes to how we’re all connected and how we need to think more broadly to solve problems.”