Land O’Lakes, Inc. Donates $500k to Planet Forward

Gift will provide operating support to School of Media and Public Affairs program.

April 20, 2016

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Frank Sesno at the 2015 Planet Forward annual summit. "The idea is to have these compelling communicators and storytellers, and you can change attitudes, move policy and really have an impact," he said of the program. (GW Today file photo)

Land O’Lakes, Inc. is making a $500,000 donation to Planet Forward, the university announced Wednesday.

The gift, which will provide general operating support for Planet Forward and its public events over the next three years, is the latest investment in a growing partnership between the nearly 95-year-old food and agricultural cooperative and the School of Media and Public Affairs program.

“Planet Forward is a powerful platform for increasing the discussion around the importance of food and agriculture,” said Chris Policinski, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, Inc. “Too much of the dialogue has taken place in silos or has focused on a particular type of agriculture. Planet Forward engages leaders from a variety of perspectives and, importantly, engages our future leaders by deepening their understanding of food and agricultural issues and engaging them in the critical dialogue. The Planet Forward program recognizes that the discussion should not be about good food or bad food; rather all forms of agriculture are necessary to address the challenge of feeding a rapidly growing global population.”

Planet Forward was launched in 2009 to promote innovative ideas to address food, water, energy and environmental challenges confronting the planet.

Land O’Lakes is a growing global company with a unique view of the food and agriculture industry with a farm-to-fork portfolio. It is owned and governed by farmers and local agricultural cooperatives and has also been involved in international development projects partnering with farmers around the globe since 1981. Land O’Lakes has donated more than $850,000 to the program since 2011 in an effort to reach and educate people about the importance of agriculture.

“There is a lot of explaining to do on this topic,” SMPA Director Frank Sesno said. “The focus here is: How can we be more compelling communicators and storytellers in the new ideas and innovations that are needed to move the planet forward?”

Feeding the world

Understanding agriculture and food are important to finding these solutions, Mr. Sesno said. Today, less than 2 percent of Americans are connected in their daily lives to agricultural production. It forms a knowledge gap.

“People don’t understand the role agriculture plays,” Mr. Sesno said. “And yet, the millennial generation is also very conscious of the kind of food they eat, where it comes from, what’s in it and how healthy it is. They also are driven by a sense of real social responsibility.”

That has helped form a multi-year collaboration between Land O’Lakes and Planet Forward. The company helped fund GW’s 2013 Feeding the Planet Summit and Mr. Policinski was a featured speaker at the 2015 summit, which discussed issues related to climate change, food and agriculture.

GW and Land O’Lakes also have worked together through the company’s Global Food Challenge, an internship program that explores ways to meet the world's need for an increase in food production.

Land O’Lakes’ decision to invest in GW is a testament to the efforts of students and faculty in fields like food security and sustainability, said Mr. Sesno.

SMPA junior Anna Sumi was part of the first cohort of students to participate in the Global Food Challenge. Ayse Muratoglu, a sophomore in the School of Business, is a member of the current group. Lisa Benton-Short, chair of the geography department, is involved with the program as a faculty member.

“Our relationship with Land O’Lakes—and Land O’Lakes’ investment in GW—is an investment in growing the Planet Forward Project and in connecting with our students and faculty,” Mr. Sesno said. “Typically, agriculture companies have made major gifts to land-grant schools involved directly in agriculture. They deliberately chose us because of their relationship with Planet Forward and because of our location in Washington and our students involved in policy and politics and science.”


Planet Forward’s 2016 annual summit will focus on sustainable cities and is scheduled for April 21 and 22. Mr. Policinski will be one of its featured speakers.

The summit will cover a lot of material related to what Mr. Sesno calls “the mega-trends” changing the planet: population growth, climate change and urbanization.

“Cities are growing,” he said. “We have increasing urbanization and increasing population against the backdrop of climate change. What is it going to take to feed the cities of the future?”

A mission of Planet Forward, he said, is to help explain these issues through media projects.

“The idea is to have these compelling communicators and storytellers and you can change attitudes, move policy, and really have an impact,” he said. “It’s not just telling stories for the sake of storytelling.”