Growing up to appreciate quality food
Editor’s note: This is the latest post in our “You Grow, Girl!” series highlighting female farmers – from the northern reaches of Canada to the heartland of the U.S. From the western coast of Africa to the rolling hills of France and beyond. The series amplifies the voices of female farmers, who play vital roles in agriculture worldwide. Here, they share their unique perspectives on food, family and farming. This post is from Alexs Hermans, an account executive on the Convenience Store team at General Mills.
In the fall of 2011, I was entering my senior year of college. Like many of my peers, I was on the hunt for my dream job. The process was stressful and far more difficult than I could have imagined. My GPA was above average, and I’d worked hard to build my resume. But the job I thought I wanted fell through and then I was back to square one.
Before college, I’d spent my childhood working on my family’s farm in the small town of Midland, Michigan. We started raising livestock in the late 1990s. At that point, my family did not even own a pitchfork but my parents were dedicated to giving my sisters and I the opportunities that a farm life offers.
I joined 4-H when I was eight years old and it didn’t take long for me to become hooked. My first project was a sheep – a wether I fondly named Gunther Lee.
I raised him for the summer and took him to my county fair where he weighed in at 138 pounds. I earned a third place ribbon from the judge but took away so much more from the experience – life lessons like responsibility, time management, showmanship and work ethic.
Over the years, my involvement and love for 4-H grew, and our farm grew as well. The animals we had not only increased in quantity but they also diversified – we had our own flock of sheep, a herd of registered beef cattle, a few pigs, a flock of chickens, a goat and at least half a dozen quality pitchforks.
The life lessons continued. Showing livestock challenged me to raise animals that were both happy and healthy.
Our farm worked with a nutritionist who helped us develop a custom feed blend to best fit our animals’ needs and all of our hay was sourced locally, from fellow farmers we developed relationships with.
This extra effort paid off for the consumer of our market animals and the overall success of our 4-H projects. It didn’t take long for us to also start our own breeding program. When this happened, our farm changed from being a hobby to being a business.
By my teen years I was helping to select sires for our cows, delivering lambs (in negative 10-degree weather) at one in the morning and marketing the offspring to fellow “4-Hers.” From the genetics we developed, to the diet our animals consumed, and the love they received, we ensured the quality of the food they produced.
In addition to my livestock projects, I became an active volunteer within my community, saying ‘Yes’ to nearly any opportunity I was presented with and learning the importance of giving back.
My leadership experiences also grew. I was an ambassador to the National 4-H Congress where I was given the privilege of carrying the Michigan flag, spent several summers as a camp counselor, taught workshops and classes all over the state of Michigan and organized my own community service projects for organizations like the National Guard.
All of these experiences played an important part in my decision to go to college and to pursue a degree in Communications.
My time at Michigan State University was similar to my childhood in 4-H. I was still seeking out community service projects and leadership experiences. By the time I was entering my senior year, I had a robust resume, filled with student organization memberships, multiple internships and even a national award for a sales competition.
But I was still struggling to find a company to start my career with and as graduation approached, I was running out of time.
General Mills was a company that was never on my radar during my job hunt but it was my advisor who encouraged me to pursue them. After a phone interview, I was invited to go to company headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for an interview.
The day started out just like many of the other final round interviews I’d already done with a number of companies. However, it was during one interview session that I suddenly felt the certainty for my future that’d been seeking during my job hunt.
Ron, a member of the Convenience Stores & Foodservice leadership team, asked me the standard human resources questions and then, while reviewing my resume, noticed my 4-H experience. His response was, ‘You grew up on a farm? That must mean you have an appreciation for quality food.’
Ron’s comment changed my life. It was the first time during my job hunt that someone drew a connection between the most important part of my childhood and my future career. I knew in that moment, that if I was given a chance to work for General Mills, I would.
I’ve now been employed by General Mills for the past six-and a-half years. In my current role, I am an account executive on our Convenience Stores team which means I work with distributors and retailers who sell products like Chex Mix, Bugles and Nature Valley at your local gas station.
My job is a combination of customer service, sales, marketing and logistics. Prior to this position, I’ve lived in three other states – Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Tennessee – and have sold for General Mills in more than 18 different states.
The challenges, experiences and obstacles I’ve faced during my adult career have continued to shape me into the person I am today.
Every single day, I rely on the skills I developed during my time as a farm kid to do my job – from managing my territory that covers three states, to delivering a sales presentation in front of a room of customers, or networking with key stakeholders at my largest accounts.
I’m still looking for ways to stay involved in 4-H and give back to the program that gave so much to me during my youth. Just last month I was able to judge 4-H State Awards, a competition that I participated in for multiple years.
Sitting on the other side of the table, it was impossible to not be amazed by the passion these young adults had for the program and for the bright futures each of them have before them.
Please read our other You Grow, Girl! blog posts. And learn more about General Mills and our commitment to sustainable sourcing and supporting smallholder farmers in our 2018 Global Responsibility Report.
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