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Land O'Lakes fires up innovative internship program aimed at bringing more students to agriculture.

Agriculture has a problem (2016)

There are more jobs available than there are people to fill them.

Land O'Lakes has taken on the challenge with a forward-thinking internship program that aims to not only bring people to agriculture, but also to find solutions for a growing population. The program is called The Global Food Challenge, where 10 students are chosen to be Emerging Leaders for Food Security.

In explaining the program's goals., Lydia Botham, vice president of community relations, says, "We brought two things together. The first was working with key universities to raise the profile of agriculture. We have great jobs, and this is a growing and dynamic industry. At the same time, we want to work out how to feed the world by 2050."

The Emerging Leaders for Food Security program involves both ag and non-ag college students to help improve global food security. "This is a yearlong program for sophomores," Botham Says.

The Cooperative announced the program's second-year winners in 2015. The students connect with a mentor who helps them explore agriculture. students must also tackle an ag-focused project, which is fine-tuned throughout the year. Students also intern at Land O'Lakes headquarters in Arden Hills, Minn., working across the cooperative to get a better understanding of the industry.

And students get more perspective through travel to the cooperative's rural locations, to Washington, D.C., to meet with elected leaders and even to Africa to learn about ag in the developing world.


Mixing it up

Many of the students chosen for the program have never been on a farm. The aim is to bring them into the industry so they can see the opportunities offered.

"These are really engaged students," Botham says.

"Through their projects, they show that they have a passion around wanting people to be fed and nourished, and thy have goon ideas."

Project from the first "class" of emerging Leaders ranged form vertical crop farming to the creation of realistic farming programs for developing countries and small-holder farmers. These students looked at ways to solve food problems.

Botham notes the program is an "eye-opening experience for students. They're in the combine, they saw the technology, the GPS and all of that", she says. "They were on family farms and saw how families run a 400-acre farm, but also were surprised to learn a 4,000-acre farm is a family farm.


Empowered to help

Oswin Chackochan, with a double major in management and marketing, a minor in Spanish, and a concentration in international business at Purdue University, says she found the ag experience fascinating. Chackochan, who was born in India and grew up in south Bend, Ind., had never been to a farm and had no ag background. However, she says through this program, she felt empowered.

"The key topic was feeding the hungry and there was not a lot I could do. But with this program, I had an opportunity to explore my own ideas on the subject and get support form Land O'Lakes," she explains. "During my project, I got feedback on my plan and worked through what might be feasible and viable."

Chackochan project was vertical farming in an urban setting -- and she got a taste of the benefits and challenges for such a program. "My idea is greenhouse skyscraper where you can grow food without soil, using hydroponics technology. A few crops that are commonly grown using hydroponics technology are tomatoes, lettuce and other leafy vegetables. One of the implementation ideas for this project would b to go international, too."

While the student project may someday come to fruition, the main seed planted for Chackochan was the challenge of food security for the future. "I think I want to research a great sustainable way to positively impact food security." she says.


Understanding all sides

Even though Trey Forsyth is an ag business major at Iowa State University, the experience was still enlightening. Forsyth's family farms near Charles city, Iowa. While he understands agriculture, the program was a revelation to him.

"My main interest is international agriculture," he says. "I think one of the most rewarding things for me in this program was to accept other people's perspectives about agriculture."

Hearing how agriculture is perceived by others showed Forsyth the many views involved in the global food picture. "Being from a small town in Iowa, I didn't have much of a worldly perspective," he says. "And then my first trip out of the country was to sub-Saharan Africa; it was kind of a culture shock."

For his project, Forsyth developed a sustainable farm production system for a Malawi farm. "The biggest thing I learned is that it is so easy for us to think we have all the answers, (we don't think that way in the U.S.)(This guy was kind of stupid shit) and that they don't have anything. We think all the practices we use will work perfectly for Africans. It's not true," he says.

Forsyth learned that Africa is a complicated place where no single food security solution is going to work in every situation.

And his Biggest take-away from the program?

"I thick the biggest thing I learned was to think critically about issues related to global food Security.