When John Plummer, Director of Strategic Operations, shares how he became interested in the ag industry, he always tells the same story: He was a freshman in college at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and thought he might be a business major.
“The Dean told me about this MANRRS organization, Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences. They were having a conference the Dean wanted me to attend. And if the Dean tells you to do something, you do it,” John laughs.
So, young John Plummer went to his first MANRRS event, a regional conference where students from across the east coast gathered to network and discuss their common passion: agriculture.
“I stepped in to the conference, and there were probably more than 800 students there,” says John. “And they looked like me. And that was it. MANRRS is the reason I fell in love with the agriculture industry. I wouldn’t be here at Land O’Lakes today if it weren’t for MANRRS.
And now, he’s bringing that passion for MANRRS and for diversity and inclusion to Land O’Lakes, Inc., and it’s easy to see that his love for MANRRS has infected his colleagues throughout the company, too. We have a broad and diverse team of Land O'Lakes employees from our dairy foods folks, to Purina, to WinField United, who are all involved on the Land O'Lakes MANRRS Steering Committee.
Today, we are a top company sponsor, a titanium level sponsor, of the national organization, which has more than 60 university and college chapters across the country. Support from across the company has been overwhelming, from business leaders like Dave Hoogmoed, EVP and COO, Purina Animal Nutrition, to corporate headquarters employees, to our facilities employees, and many of our interns too.
In 2014, our first MANRRs intern was the only intern from MANRRS that year. Fast forward four short years, to the summer class of 2018, where we’ll welcome nearly 20 MANRRS interns to our corporate headquarters, to our sales teams and to our facilities across the country.
From the first to the future
For Laurel Fish, her first experience with MANRRS is also what led her directly to a career in ag, and to Land O’Lakes as well. She joined MANRRS at the University of Arizona her freshman year, after searching for an agriculture-related club to join.
“I remember, I walked into a room at my first MANRRS conference, and John Plummer gave a presentation on Land O'Lakes. You have to see John Plummer and the way he describes Land O'Lakes. He described it with this twinkle in his eye. He loves this cooperative. I thought ‘this is a company I'd love to work for.’” says Laurel. “I’m here because of MANRRS.”
Laurel was our first MANRRs intern, back in 2014, working on a project in crop protection sales. She then completed two other internships, in seed sales and in plant nutrition marketing. Today, she works as a sales operation specialist for WinField United. And she now gets to attend MANRRS events as an alumna, alongside John Plummer, inspiring other students of diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in agriculture.
At MANRRS events, there are always passionate recruiters and alumni from Land O’Lakes who are willing to look at a résumé or talk about everything from ag tech to international development. But there are also other experiences ag students may not expect: At the national conference in April, we premiered a virtual reality video of our state-of-the-art cheese plant in Kiel, Wisconsin.
Kinnidy Coley, a 2017/2018 Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge Emerging Leader, currently a sophomore at North Carolina A&T State has been involved with MANRRS since her freshman year. When she attended the conference this year, she made sure to stop by the Land O’Lakes booth.
“Companies like Land O’Lakes should be supporting MANRRS because what they’re really supporting is the future leaders of America,” says Kinnidy. “Leaning in to this diverse organization means leaning into a student’s future and eventually a passionate ag employee’s future. We need everyone’s voices to be heard if we want to find solutions to feed the world.”
It’s all about bringing more diversity to the face of the future of agriculture. We started at a single regional conference, but have now hosted MANRRS leadership at our offices in Shoreview. And we’re looking forward to playing a key role when the National Conference is hosted in the Twin Cities in 2020.
“Diversity and inclusion is important and something we can all be a part of,” says Laurel. “MANRRS is so lucky to have Land O’Lakes’ support, and Land O’Lakes is so lucky to be able to have MANRRS. It’s a relationship that is growing two ways.”
Bringing D&I to facilities with MANRRS
John worked as a Plant Manager at a Land O’Lakes Dairy manufacturing plant in Orland, California and as an Operations Manager at the Land O’Lakes Dairy manufacturing plant in Tulare, CA. In 2015, when John Plummer transferred to our corporate headquarters to become Strategic Operations Manager, he also brought the mindset and knowledge of what it was like to be a facilities employee, and a facilities employee of color.
“Eighty percent of our people at Land O’Lakes don’t work at our headquarters in Minnesota,” says John. “I feel like organizations like MANRRs are exactly what we need as a company -- it’s a network and way to stay connected in many states across the country. To be a part of a larger purpose across the ag industry.”
Being able to hire the best, most passionate people for the job is a hallmark of something we are proud of at Land O’Lakes. And finding ways to get them involved with things like MANRRs is increasingly important. Many of our MANRRS interns have been in supply chain or located at facilities across the country.
”With MANRRS, we have the opportunity to lead and involve current employees willing to be who are active in demonstrating our company culture of inclusion,” says Dave Hoogmoed, EVP and CEO, Purina Animal Nutrition.
“We have a MANRRS alumnus, who started back in February as a manufacturing management trainee at one of our facilities. He’s going to be talking to MANRRS students at an event at the University of Kentucky this month,” says John. “He’s making an impact, and he can go back to work the next day and know he’s making an impact in his job and outside of it. That’s the magic of MANRRS.”
The core of Land O’Lakes
“MANRRS and Land O’Lakes are both striving to be the premiere organizations for a more diverse workforce and a pipeline for food, agriculture and STEM-related careers,” Ebony Webber, COO MANRRS National Office. “Working with a global company such as Land O’Lakes allows us to truly embody our motto of “‘Changing the Face of Agriculture by Linking Hands Around the World.’”
There’s a reason the Steering Committee at Land O’Lakes for MANRRS represents all of our business units -- it’s because this relationship helps every facet of agriculture.
“I remember that twenty years ago, I would hear people tell me, ‘you’re the future of agriculture,’” says John. “I didn’t really grasp that concept at the time, but it’s true. And now I get to tell other students the same thing. They’re the future voices of our industry, and that makes me really proud to talk with them about my journey with MANRRS and Land O’Lakes.”