Time to meet in the middle

Last week, I enjoyed yet another amazing youth leadership development opportunity in Greenfield, Indiana, with the Team Purebred Junior board of directors.

Ten young adults, representing nearly 4,500 junior swine enthusiasts from 33 states, took part in the training. As we kicked off a tremendous session, I asked them, “How many of you think there are too many politics associated with showing pigs?” Every single one of them raised his or her hand and then I shared with them that sadly politics exist in every endeavor in life. Little did I know that we would get to see that firsthand during our activities planned for the weekend.

I don’t even like to share the numbers reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture related to food insecurity and hunger in the United States, the land of plenty. Many reports are that 1 in 8 Americans with as many as 1 in 5 kids are food insecure. I don’t honestly know what the real statistics are because I don’t know how many people just work the system to get free food or how many hungry are unreported. I do know there are people and kids who are struggling to find enough food.

I thought it would a great idea to get away from the normal “career development” leadership training and take our juniors on an “urban plunge” into inner city Indianapolis. Greenfield is just down the road from Indianapolis and I knew it would be easy to find both folks who need help with hunger and organizations working to provide relief. What I found though was very frustrating and inspired a passion for action.

I contacted a friend from the area and asked him who the primary food bank was. Without question he told me Gleaners and said they were noted as “the best.” About 30 days prior to our event I went on the website and identified three people that I thought could assist us in getting our junior board some experience distributing food to hungry people. I received only the standard email response about going to their website to sign up for available time slots but never did get a phone call from media or volunteer coordinators. In a nutshell, the response seemed to suggest that our assistance was not really of much value to them.

With seven days left until our event, I called fellow Team Purebred advisory board member Matt Ritter who works for Elanco. Matt was organizing the career development portion of our board retreat. He told me that Elanco was a corporate sponsor and then he reached out to Gleaners. Boom! That was all it took. Show me a corporation who can and does write a big check and Gleaners will give you their undivided attention. I totally understand money is essential but this was just ridiculous. It was all about the money.

Matt also found a great alternative in the smaller community of Fortville that fit our time frame for three hours of community service on a Saturday morning. Without question the image that these kids took home was that of pulling into the parking lot at 8:45 a.m., nearly an hour before the food distribution actually opened, and seeing a line of 75 people waiting with bags and wagons ready to take food home.

At end of the day we found local folks dedicating a ton of time and compassion to helping folks who need it. When Tom Ferguson, president of the Hancock County Food Pantry, shared that he does this once every month because folks can’t afford to come to his pantry 15 miles away, it really resonated with these show enthusiasts who might travel thousands of miles just to show a pig.

Today, as the economy continues to improve daily, we still have plenty of folks struggling to feed their families. We now we have big corporations who want to talk about community involvement by donating food to the needy but the real need often takes a back seat to the fundraising efforts.

I also learned that if you live in an area of this city that is known by its zip code, it is not a good thing. If you search zip code 46218, you will learn that 40 percent of the residents live in poverty. There you will also find a warrior fighting for human beings named Pastor Darrell Webster. His church distributes food every week. He believes that he and his team can turn this around one person at a time. He believes that men must step up and be real men again. While he does facilitate giving people what they need for the short term, he makes it very clear that they must step up and learn how improve their own lives.

It was truly a weekend of meeting a tremendous set of people from an entirely different walk of life. I met a set of people who need the very thing that we passionately produce—food—yet they struggle to access it. While we struggle to produce that food profitably, somewhere in the middle is where we need to meet for the benefit of all.

Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.LoosTales.com, or email Trent at [email protected].