Creating a Community that Cares with Zach Evans, Mountaire Farms

LISTEN TO Zach'S EPISODE HERE OR FIND US ON YOUR FAVORITE PODCAST LISTENING APP!

 

Show Notes

farm credit agvocates podcast interviews Zach Evans community relations manager at Mountaire FarmsOn this episode of the Farm Credit AgVocates Podcast, we interview Zach Evans, Community Relations Manager for Mountaire Farms and former Farm Credit Loan Officer about Mountaire's approach to creating a culture that supports the community, even the ones that aren't right up the road.

In this episode you'll learn about how Zach created his name in agriculture on the Eastern Shore and used his networks to bring back the Wicomico County Fair. Now, Zach helps create a community recognized brand through service to others by finding new ways to support Mountaire's employees and even our neighbors in Louisiana that were affected greatly by Hurricane Laura. 

Links:

Mountaire Farms

Wicomico County Fair

Operation Barbecue Relief

Thanksgiving for Thousands

Mountaire Cares

LEAD Maryland

LEAD Delaware

MAFC Cluck Dynasty Trailer

Transcript

Meaghan Malinowski:

Welcome back to the Farm Credit AgVocates podcast. I'm your host, Meaghan Malinowski, Content and Digital Marketing Strategist at MidAtlantic Farm Credit. Today's guest is a long-time friend of Farm Credit as he started as an intern in the marketing department in 2009, and eventually became a loan officer where he served his customers for over nine years. Earlier this year, Zach Evans transitioned to a community relations role with local chicken company, Mountaire. If you don't recognize him from his name in the community, his voice from the countless TV spots promoting the local fair, you've probably seen him around town in some form of costume for literally any reason. No holiday or contest required.

In fact, now that I think about it, chicken has always been kind of a sticking point for Zach. He's been Colonel Sanders and starred in MAFC, cluck dynasty video. So there's that don't worry, we'll put those in the show notes so that you can find that one. And without further ado, here's my interview with Zach Evans, Community Relations Manager at Mountaire farms. So thanks for being here with me today to do this interview.

Could you start off by introducing yourself and giving us your background of Ag?

Zach Evans:

Yeah. So my name Zach Evans, I'm the Community Relations Manager at Mountaire farms. I work at a Millsboro Delaware now, but I kind of cover all of the Delmarva peninsula. I got involved in agriculture when I was in college. To be honest with you, I didn't grow up in a rural community. I grew up in the suburbs just outside of Baltimore City. And so I came to Salsbury looking for a rich collegiate experience. And I came here to play sports. They had a really good lacrosse team. I was going to try to walk on and I wanted to be close to the beach. So it seemed like a great fit. And I was a business major. So one of your requirements when you're in business school, they really encourage you to get a professional internship. I was working all through college, so finding a paid internship that also had quality for my career development was really important. I stumbled into that SU job fair, just like all those juniors and seniors do with a stack of resumes. And I worked my way around the room and handed out resumes. And I saw the big branded companies. I saw the things that were top of mind for me as a consumer. And there was companies like Enterprise and Fastenal Tools and they were big multinational companies who had a footprint all throughout the country. And you're a young kid and you see potential, but on my way out, I saw MidAtlantic Farm Credit. And actually it wasn't an HR representative there. It was Pam Anderson. Pam is still with MidAtlantic. She'd been there for a long time. She was there all throughout my career. So I saw Pam, I dropped my resume in the basket and then think twice about it.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later, Farm Credit was making follow-up phone calls from their job fairs that they had been to. And they were looking for a marketing intern. I was a marketing major, full disclosure just like I'm telling you, I told the folks there at that time that I didn't have Ag experience, but I was hard work marketing student. I was interested in learning the industry. I came in for my interview. I think the interview went well.

Meaghan Malinowski:

It must have.

Zach Evans:

Yeah, they were a little surprised. I showed up in a suit and tie. I was a business major. I was coming in for a paid internship. So I showed up like I was heading into an office building. And one of the first things that they teased me about in the lobby before I even met with the woman who was interviewing me was farmers are never going to borrow money from a guy that looks like that. So you might be in the wrong place. And anyway, that was my introduction to agriculture. I got internship as a junior in college. I was working full time my junior year, just because I wanted the experience, but also needed the money. I was paying my way through school and I just threw myself into it headfirst and I really credit Farm Credit. They gave me the freedom to learn the industry as well as the role. And they encourage that. And that was part of the culture there. It was we want people who walk the walk and talk the talk. And if you're going to work with farmers all day and you're going to support them, then you need to understand what they do. So that was my first exposure to Ag was the people at Farm Credit.

And it didn't take long for me to realize that there was something special about the customers they helped. Not only that I consumed their goods every day. We don't think about farmers as being the people that deliver to us products that we use on a daily basis. And I don't want to sound corny, but you also start to see the struggles that farmers and production folks have. The blight of the modern American farming operation. It is challenging. There's a constant push to scale, but then there's this other side for consumers where they're focused on value add.

So as someone in marketing, all of that stuff was really interesting to me. I liked what drove consumers to buy different products. And then I also liked the aspect of how farmers added value and made their products more important. So that's a long answer, but my introduction to Ag was an internship at Farm Credit, where they gave me the freedom to learn the industry, as well as the role. And pre-COVID you were able to get out of the office a lot. So I was also going around to marketing events and I was interacting with people in the industry, and with those producers. It didn't take long for me to kind of become passionate and really interested in entrenched in that community.

Meaghan Malinowski:

It's almost like you get to learn something new every single day. And once you start to really understand it, it almost becomes like a challenge that you want to know it better and want to keep going. And I saw the same thing when I started as an intern, because I also didn't have the Ag background. So having them kind of be like, well, I think you could probably learn it. And then just kind of letting me jump head first into it. I think that's pretty cool that you don't have that background, but obviously it was ingrained by Farm Credit that you were able to really start jump in and start.

Zach Evans:

I mean, so they instill that interest in agriculture as an industry for me, and then once you become deeply involved and you're entrenched and you feel strongly about the issues, what I do best kind of just emerge naturally. And so in terms of advocacy or relationships or things like that, I probably would do that in any industry, because for me to work in it and for it to be my livelihood, it's got to be something I'm connected to. And I was just lucky. I think that I found farming because it wouldn't have found me in Glen Burnie. That's for sure.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Sure. Absolutely. Yeah. Well, that segue is literally right into my next point of your advocacy in this area has been integral to bringing back the Wicomico County Fair, and you have way more details on this than I can even remember, but I know that there was a time where they had stopped doing it completely. And that was something that after you I guess, came to Farm Credit, you were able to start up.

Can you tell me how you got into helping the Wicomico County Fair and bringing that back to the community?

Zach Evans:

Yeah. So I will. And I think it's funny because I didn't think about it before you had mentioned it earlier. We both started as interns. We both had marketing backgrounds, but I think our skill sets led us in different directions. And little shout out to Farm Credit marketing team because they've hired a lot of marketing interns over the years.

Meaghan Malinowski:

I like to call it the intern club. I was going to put that in your intro. So this is a very exclusive club, but it's so cool that we get to do it. And I think you're absolutely right. A lot of them are from marketing.

Zach Evans:

Yeah. So I think that's pretty cool. And maybe it just speaks to the opportunities that you're given in marketing there. Because you can see sort of a top-down view a thousand mile, however you want to think about it. You're really looking out on the company as a whole. So we won't get on a tangent because I know we got a lot to talk about, but Wicomico County Fair was something that I became involved in and I don't want to do it a disservice. It was the Wicomico Farm & Home show incorporated. And that is still the name of the entity, the nonprofit that hosts the fair. But the Farm and Home Show had been around now for 83 years. So it's been a staple in the community and we're marketing people, so when you hear the name, Farm and Home Show, you get sort of a preconceived image of what that might be, but really it was this area's fair. So it was an opportunity for agricultural providers to come and showcase their products, to market them. Because in a regional food system and a local food system like we had 83 years ago, it was really important that your neighbors saw the fruits and the produce and the livestock that you were raising. That was the only way to really get the information out. You didn't have the forms that you have now. So it was a true rural fair in the sense that it was a way for farmers and Ag producers to showcase their products. But then Salisbury is one of the larger metro areas here on Delmarva. So there was always that component of the Wicomico Farm & Home Show.

There was a lot of local businesses who also came out and vendors who came out to sell their goods and services and it became this holistic thing. And you've got carnival rides and games and all that fun stuff. So you fast forward to 2014, I was a young person who had gotten involved in the Farm and Home Show primarily because I was a young person. And they needed just some youth and some fresh energy. And they would have been the first folks to tell you that. They recruited me because I was decades younger than they were. I told them I was willing to work hard when it was hot. I would work long hours and I would pick up heavy stuff. So I did go for work for the first two or three years. And there was one of my predecessors when I was at Farm Credit, Tim Sargent was a loan officer there. He had been involved with the Farm and Home Show for 20 years volunteering. So by the time I jumped on board, things had slowed down. They were a very tenured group of folks. They were tired, they had been putting their all into it for decades. And the support was waning. For whatever reason, a lot of local politics played into it. There were strong personalities and there was a sense of ownership from a few individuals who for better or worse had made it harder for other people to get involved.

So 2014, it was the last year of the Wicomico Farm & Home show, as we knew it by that title. There was a little bit of a shakeup in the last day of the event and the board members that were present got together. There was some fallout and our leadership team walked away and they said, "Look, we've put our best foot forward. It's just not working anymore. We're going to go ahead and step back. And if you guys want to continue, here's the reins, take it over."

Meaghan Malinowski:

Have at it.

Zach Evans:

Have at it. So no one emerged as a natural leader. No one kind of stepped up and it was an afterthought for me at that time, because my role was limited just to go for work. In those two to three years, I had taken on educational vendors and activities. So all I was focusing on was set up and breakdown and then trying to find free educational opportunities for kids. So I had no budget and I was responsible for moving stuff. But I got a phone call one day, at that point in my career, 25-26 years old, I'm doing everything I can as a loan officer to try to make myself more visible in the Ag community. And opportunities like that one with the Farm and Home Show had worked up to that point, but I don't think I'd realized how well they had worked because I'm sitting in my office one day and I get a phone call from our County executive. God rest his soul. Bob Culver is no longer with us, but he was my biggest cheerleader as a 25 year old kid. And I hardly knew the man, but he called me and he arranged a meeting where we were going to meet with Pete Richardson, who was also no longer with us. He was a big auctioneer out in Wicomico County and a big time supporter of the fair and the former president of the Chamber of Commerce at the time, Ernie Colburn. So I walked into this meeting not knowing what my role was going to be and thinking that I was going to be part of a much larger audience.

And there was just the four of us. And those guys kind of railroaded me. They brought me in and they sat on a lot of really nice things that they had heard. And then they dropped the hammer and they said, "Look, here's why we called you. We understand that the Farm and Home Show is considering disbanding. They're gone through a transition. Have you ever considered stepping up into that role?" And I was quick. I said, no, I haven't. That's not my world of expertise. I'm a loan officer. I do numbers. I don't plan events. I don't know how to solicit funds and sponsorships and do all this kind of stuff. And they joked around and said, "Well, there's a lot of parallel. The skills you use in your current role would be advantageous to this organization. And if you and the remaining team is willing to take it on, we'll partner with you. The Chamber of Commerce will support you. Wicomico County will support you and we'll work together to make this thing happen." So that was it. I kind of blindly accepted the offer and the invitation, and then quickly realized that we were going to be starting fresh, building this thing from the ground up. There was a lot of institutional knowledge that had been lost with the folks that left. They didn't write anything down. That was the biggest blessing. We were able to kind of scrap everything and start fresh. Now we didn't lose all of our board. So I'm a 25 year old kid and I've now been elected nominated and voted in as the President of Wicomico Farm & Home show. The closest person to me in that room and age was 30 years my senior. I would say the average age of the board was probably 65. So I was not only the youngest person there and the least tenured, there was a big generational gap. And I think there was some uncertainty. So I really had to earn trust and respect.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Really had to sell it.

Zach Evans:

I really had to sell it, but again, I think I was better for it. So we recreated the wheel. We put together a new playbook and we kind of redefined our mission because again, I'm a marketing person like yourself. I think that's at the core of everything you do use to start with that. And you should always go back to that and you should always constantly be reevaluating and checking everything you're doing to make sure it's still supports that mission. Because if it doesn't want it, one or two things needs to change. And that's your mission or the action you're taking to satisfy it.

So we rewrote our mission statement. We were going to continue to celebrate and preserve the rural heritage and lifestyle of Wicomico County while also highlighting the businesses and the community organizations and nonprofits that we have in our backyard. And I was big on branding. And to me, Farm and Home Show didn't mean anything. I don't want to discredit the history that they had established because it meant something to a lot of people. But as a layman, as a member of the general population, as someone who doesn't have a connection to that program, I couldn't visually conceive what a Farm and Home Show was. It could be anything from vendors with kitchenette displays to people selling livestock, but I wasn't marrying those two images together. So County Fair. It's low-hanging fruit, regardless of where you grew up, regardless if you're from the County, from the city, from the country, you know what a County Fair is, and there's some stereotypes there that can be problematic, but for the most part, everyone knows what that means. It's a celebration, it's a community event. There's games, there's rides, there's entertainment, there's something for every family

Meaghan Malinowski:

Family friendly.

Zach Evans:

Yeah. So if I asked you to describe County Fair in five words, it would be different from my five words, but we'd have a description. So rebranding was the biggest thing in those early years. And I took the support of those couple community players. And I really leveraged that to just build relationships. And the way that that materialized over time, we had a small board, we knew we were lean. So we started looking for opportunities to the way I sold this to people early on, it was hard to go to organizations like Purdue and ask them for a check on good faith. Because I was a 25 year old banker who worked for Farm Credit.

So I commend Purdue and Toyota. And some of our gateway Subaru was one of our sponsors in the early years before Toyota. All of those guys and gals really put their faith in me and they put their faith in the Bob Culvers, the Ernie Coburns, the Pete Richardson of the world that they had selected the right candidate for the job. So it was never lost on me, how much it meant to have the backing of the right people. But through that backing of those folks, we were able to start engaging groups throughout the County who were very good at what they did. And they stayed in their lane and they had a pre-packaged program or a product or service that they needed a venue to market it.

And that was how I looked at. It was, look, I'll give you a venue and an audience. And if you can come in with comprehensive programming that will add value, then I won't charge you a vendor fee. If you can come here and you can entertain people, I'll give you people. And that was how we started in the early years. So it was a lot of handshakes. It was a lot of informal agreements. And we went from 2014 where we had about 500 attendees to 2015 first year rebranded as the County Fair, we brought in a carnival and we did some other stuff. We served alcohol that first year, which had never been done at the Farm and Home Show. And we had 5,000 attendees. So we increased tenfold.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Huge.

Zach Evans:

Now, COVID be darned. We were shooting for 25,000 this year and that's not an unrealistic number because in 2019, we eclipsed our highest total ever for attendance. It was 22,000 people. And we think that's a conservative number because we just use traffic counters. And then we use the County average for a family event, which is 1.75 people per vehicle. We know we're a family event. I know nuclear household isn't the way that every family looks, but we've usually got a couple of adults and a couple of kids, whether it's grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, whoever it may be. So I think that 22,000 numbers really accurate. And that's probably the thing we're most proud of. The programming is awesome. The fact that we've got all this sponsorship support now, we're totally funded through sponsors and a grant that we get from the State Fair Board.

Our partnership has grown to be one with Wicomico County itself. We're not involved with the chamber anymore. We partner directly with the County. So they reap the rewards of a successful event, but they also help us to withstand any potential loss if we have a catastrophic event. We can't plan for weather and things like that with an outdoor event. That's the County Fair story. There's a lot more to it, but it really just took the right people, nudging me in that direction. And then me recognizing how valuable their support was and leveraging that to build relationships and like a snowball, it rolled downhill. Now the calls come into us and people say, "Hey, I got this really cool thing that I do. And I'd love to show it off at your fair. Do you have room for me?"

So that's a good problem to have. We've got people who fill up our minimal sponsorship levels early, and if there was more available, we could probably sell more. But exclusivity, there's some value in that. So we also want to be conscientious and make sure that we promote our partners. And you get to a point where when you've got 100 partners, it's really hard to give them all a pat on the back publicly, but we're doing a good job at that as we move into a more virtual world. There's new tools every day you're learning that yourself, right?

Meaghan Malinowski:

Yeah. And I also kind of think too, even though COVID ruined this year, people are going to be so excited to get out of the house when they can go and do things and take their kids places and feel comfortable with it. So fingers crossed that that is 2021, and we can get back to regularly scheduled programming.

Zach Evans:

And look, we're still meeting once a month. We've been doing zoom meetings. We've been holding more fundraisers this year because it's a time where we can't focus on programming. So we're going to focus on raising funds and doing it in meaningful ways. Chicken barbecue fundraisers, and stuff, an excuse for people to get out of the house and not eat at home. Restaurants are opening back up, but it's limited. So it's been a learning experience. And I'll tell you what, that County Fair thing, it opened doors for me personally and professionally, because I was not interested in planning events. I was not interested in politics. I was not interested in education. I didn't have kids. I was a young person.

Education just wasn't top of mind for me, there was no reason. Now my personal education was different. But I wasn't worried about the public school system. I wasn't worried about the curriculum they were teaching and how to support and provide them more resources. So you get involved in a thing like the County Fair and all of that becomes relevant because those are the demographics that you're working towards. It's really young people and family units. So from a broader perspective, that's a whole lot of interests, that's a whole lot of needs and it's been fun.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Well, it tees you up to for this current role that you have with Mountaire, because right now you are a Community Relations Manager with Mountaire. So it's almost like your experience with setting up Wicomico County Fair and starting that from the ground up. I mean, you had to think about the entire community and not just yourself is what you're pretty much saying. You had to kind of take that scope and make it so much bigger than what you were even used to. So I want to segue into talking about Mountaire and what you guys are doing there from a big picture kind of level.

So I know that Mountaire is the sixth largest chicken company in the US. Can you tell me a little bit more about them and maybe what makes them kind of special?

Zach Evans:

What I think is most impressive about Mountaire Farms is it's like a lot of agro businesses, it's a family owned company. We have over 10,000 employees, but it still has that feel and that culture of family and have one cohesive team. So it's huge. It's unlike anything I've ever done in my previous life, because before I worked for a regional bank and we did a great job with a very lean organizational footprint. So Mountaire is still very lean in comparison to our competitors.

We have 10,000 employees and we really focus on being in the top 20% of everything we do, which is I think that's afforded us the ability to grow the way we have, because we're always focusing on operational excellence. And the way that we evaluate ourselves is we want to be in the top 20% of everything we do. Community relations, IT security, processing birds, feed mix and whatever it is.

So we always aim to be in the top 20%. It's actually part of our mission statement. So first and foremost, I think that expectation of holding yourself to a higher standard is something that culturally makes us different. And then I also think the fact that we've managed to grow slowly and sustainable. So coming from the bank, slow sustainable growth was something that I always preached to agricultural producers because they were small business owners. And that's something that you hear preached to small business owners and entrepreneur is make sure that your growth is slow enough and sustainable, so that you can manage it. And so that you don't overextend, you never want the pendulum to swing too far one way. Mountaire is a family owned company. They were started in 1914, out of Little Rock Arkansas as a feed company. And they were a regional feed company. And that's what they did.

Fast forward a number of decades later, Mountaire bought their first processing facility and they became a poultry processing company. But in between there, we had acquired a number of feed mills and grain facilities and other supporting businesses that are needed for a vertically integrated model, which is kind of the model that you see now in agricultural production in terms of livestock and poultry.

So that vertically integrated model, I believe is only achieved through slow deliberate controlled growth. And I think that's what's cool. We went from being the 33rd ranked company in 1990 to the sixth ranked company in 2020. You work in agriculture, so there's some trends that you can kind of put your finger on that explained part of that. The consolidation and the need to scale for agricultural producers is the same as it is for agribusinesses. So there was opportunity there to increase our foothold and our footprint in terms of the assets. And I think we did a great job identifying key pieces of our business and picking them up over the years and bringing on staff and the team needed to manage that growth.

A lot of times when we bought facilities we also invited a portion of the staff with it. So we didn't lose that specific knowledge associated with that operation. But I got a lot of reasons that I'm proud to work for Mountaire and perhaps the one that resonates with me the most in my role as community relations, what makes them special is the fact that their core values are steeped deeply in Christian values.

So the Cameron family and the leadership team at Mountaire, is not shy about the fact that they're a Christian company. And for better or worse, whatever that may mean to some audiences, what it means to everybody across the board is we have a core set of values that we practice just like we preach. And our mission statement really pushes to be in the top 20%. But when you think about our creed, I think that embodies who we are really.

And there's four prongs to that creed. And that is to provide quality and service or quality and service consistently. To be honest and fair with everyone including our customers, suppliers, community neighbors, which is big for me and each other. To provide an environment dedicated to personal and corporate growth which I always think is important. I think that's how you get the most buy in for your team as you afford them the opportunity to be the best version of themselves, and you encourage that.

And then the fourth part of the Mountaire creed which tends to fall in my wheelhouse more often than not is to be a good steward of all the assets that God has entrusted to us. So you see that a lot in the community relations role. We're able to give back and we're able to support community initiatives, and that's what I love about Mountaire. That's what I think makes it a little different.

The other thing, I don't want to bore you with it, but the reason that folks aren't maybe familiar with Mountaire as a brand, we don't have a branded consumer product. And that can be a good thing, but it can also be really challenging because it means that people don't associate our brand with any kind of emotion. So for better or worse, when there are headlines, when there are stories, we have very little control over that narrative because we're not a household name.

I think that's unique about Mountaire in that sense, we're a big player in the industry. We're the largest private retailer of chicken in the United States. So I can rattle off a whole bunch of grocery store chains and in all likelihood if you buy chicken from there, even a couple of the ones that we have here in Salisbury, if you buy chicken from there and it's their white tray pack chicken, there's more than a 50% chance that that's our chicken.

You've been buying it and consuming it your whole life, you just didn't know. Right. So we also have relationships with people like Healthy Choice and Oscar Meyer and Dietz and Watson and Zaxby's Fried Chicken and Panda Express where when you're eating their product, you're Mountaire Chicken. So we sell a lot to grocery stores for private label. We do a lot of sales to second processors.

So even those hot dogs and those chicken nuggets that you're buying from other chicken companies, there's a chance that a portion of that product is ours. And then food service and restaurant service is our other biggest sector. So we sell a lot to Restaurant Depot and US Foods and Sysco. So again, any restaurants that are sourcing their poultry from there, there's a really good chance that that's Mountaire's chicken.

Meaghan Malinowski:

What a unique challenge though, to be a part of a company of that kind of scope and not have a connection directly with your consumer. I mean, for you being in a community relations role, that is literally your job. So you have to find, assuming, you have to kind of figure out what that bridging that gap looks like.

So what exactly does your role look like as a community relations manager?

Zach Evans:

So that is something that I asked my now boss, my first day is, what's my job description? Because what you provided me, the bullets that you've provided me seem all encompassing. It seems like there are really no limitations. And Cathy's been great to work with. She kind of teased me a little. Well, you're going to pave your own way. You're going to create that job description.

We hired you because we trust in your ability to make relationships. And let me back up because Mountaire for 35 years had a guy named Roger Marino. And Roger has been my mentor in this community relations role. And Roger did an amazing job by himself as a one man team doing community relations in Delmarva and in North Carolina.

But he was just one guy. So he picked his lanes and he stayed in them and he had to do that. That was deliberate. And it made the most sense because he was very limited in his resources. And as one man, there's only so much you can do to represent a company with thousands of employees. So when I asked Cathy, what is my role with Mountaire, she joked and she said, "Well, we're going to figure that out.

You're going to create some new programs and we're going to figure out ways to make meaningful relationships." And the thing that she said that resonated with me the most, and that I've kind of come to own as my job description is we're going to figure out how to take our resources and make the most positive impact in the community that we can.

And so, when I think about my job as a Community Relations Manager, I serve as the bridge between Mountaire Farms and the communities that we serve. Now, unity is that we serve, we have 14 grain facilities, we've got six feed mills, we've got four processing plants. We have two hatcheries here on Delmarva, hatcheries down in North Carolina. We have our entire breeder operation in North Carolina. We have 500 contract growers here on Delmarva. So when you start talking about the communities you serve, you really talking about regions of the country. So it's hard to get granular, but you have to get granular to be meaningful. And so what I try to do every day is assess the needs of the community at large, figure out what they need and then identify opportunities where we can leverage our resources as a corporation to fill those needs.

And we're chicken company, so I'm kind of limited in the resources I have. I have the ability to give in a monetary fashion. I have the ability to give in kind and give chicken. But I think the most untapped resource that Mountaire had and has today, and we're still figuring out ways to tap, it is human capital. We have 10,000 people that are great at their job. They perform in the top 20% of their field.

They have to, to be a part of our team. So we have 10,000 experts. There are lawyers, there's accountants, there's farmers, there's people with engineering degrees, so every walk. There are people with marketing degrees and banking experience. My boss was a former Press Secretary for a US congressmen and she spent time in journalism. There's literally people with every skill set that you can imagine. That's what I want to leverage the most because that's what will resonate with people, right? Because we don't have a branded product. Because we don't have something that's in your pantry so to speak. That's always going to have that subliminal connection, I'm trying to put a face to Mountaire. And Roger Marino did a great job of being the face of Mountaire. But there's 9,999 other faces, and those are the stories that I want to tell. So I try to serve as the bridge between the communities. I try to leverage the resources we have. And I try to help, not control that narrative, but provide a narrative. Here's who Mountaire is. And here's what we do. And here's how we do it.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Absolutely. And if you don't provide the narrative, somebody else will.

Zach Evans:

That is one thing that I commend Mountaire for, is for a long time because of their core values being so steeped in religion and faith, they do not like to brag about what they do. They do not think they should be boastful. That's unbecoming of a good Christian, and that's not who Mountaire wants to be. The trouble, Meg, is sometimes if you're not telling your story, you're relying on other people to do it.

So I think we're at a position now as an organization where we're telling our story, but we're doing it in a way where we hope to inspire change in others. In essence, we want to be the change in our communities that we hope to see. So we're telling our story, if nothing else, to make other people feel accountable. To bring the same level of commitment to their community. So I love that about our approach.

Because we don't have a branded product it means anytime we tell a story, it's genuine because it's not going to sell us more chicken. We're never going to sell more chicken to consumers in the lower shore or our own, excuse me, in the Delmarva territory, we'll never sell more chicken to consumers because we donated to the school in their backyard. That's not how we do business. But I love that from a giving aspect because it helps keep our intentions pure, right.

And someone who works in marketing and community relations you know, Meg, how the lines can be blurred. The motivation can sometimes be blurred. And as a for-profit business, the motivation is typically always profit. But I love the fact that where we don't have a retail presence, we don't have a consumer facing brand. Everything that I do is because we believe it's the right thing to do. And we believe in that initiative and we believe in helping.

Meaghan Malinowski:

That seems like a freeing kind of feeling to have because from my perspective, when I start to get into, it's almost the end of the quarter, so it's almost reporting time for me. And I start thinking about how are we going to raise these numbers? Or how are we going to make a bigger impact with this advertisement or this webinar or whatever that thing is. Whatever that channel is or whatever it is, my question is always, how can we get more? How can we do more of that? And I think when you remove that effect that you have on the consumer and their opinion of you, or if they don't have one, then you're really just, I mean, putting yourself out there and trying to almost create something out of nothing is what it seems like.

Zach Evans:

No, I've never thought of it. It is a very freeing experience. You're right. That's a great way to describe it. Because what's driving me is no longer income based. So I'm also constantly evaluating the capability of the nonprofit or the community partner that we're working with to utilize the resources that I'm going to allocate to them in the best fashion.

And I think that's another unique thing about what Mountaire does. So we take the time to build those relationships. Look, there's nothing wrong with writing a check to support a cause. It's incredible. I encourage everyone to do it. If there's something you feel strongly about, give. If you can't give your time, then give your money. If you can't give your money, then give your support in another way. Right.

Do whatever you can. But I love the way that we approach it because we also look to give people a hand up, right? A handout only gets you so far. It's the old teach a man to fish instead of feeding him. So we work with community partners to figure out, okay, you're a church pantry who feeds 150 families a week, but you don't have a walk-in freezer. How can we make that more meaningful? Right. So you don't have the ability to come to us with a refrigerated truck and pick up a pallet of chicken.

And as a large corporation, we can't justify taking one of our trucks that should have 40,000 pounds of chicken and using it to deliver a 1,000 pounds. So what did Mountaire do? We created a food pantry delivery program. We went and bought a small tractor trailer and a small reefer unit that can get into tight church, parking lots and tiny school turnarounds and cul-de-sacs in private neighborhoods. And we run deliveries twice a month.

Meaghan Malinowski:

It's pretty incredible that you guys were able to pivot though, and kind of make that change. Sometimes it seems stuff like that can be out of range when you're saying, oh, well, I'll buy a new truck that can actually fit in these parking lots. But it really does take, I mean, there are so many steps that have to go into it because you have to think about who's driving the truck, who's loading the truck, who's doing all of these things. So the ability to be flexible and to kind of go with the flow, I guess, to a certain extent.

Zach Evans:

I kind of have a running joke and it's an ice breaker that I use at Mountaire, but I recognized and I learned very quickly in my role in community relations. You know, we've already touched on the fact that there wasn't a specific job description, right. They kind of wanted to hire someone and then have that individual develop what that role would look like. Well, because of that I have these ideas that I need the assistance of people throughout our company to help come to fruition.

So while I have some autonomy, I don't really have access to resources or any specific expertise in regard to what we do and how we make that happen. Fast forward to my first week on the job I'm trying to get stuff done. And it dawned on me, Zach, every time you approach one of your colleagues you're asking them to do something that is not in their job description. Its other duties as assigned.

Every time, Zack, picks up the phone, sends an email or walks to the door of your office he's probably asking you to do something that you never planned on doing. But what an incredible culture where I walked in as a stranger who, I'm in an office now in our admin building with around 200 people, I walked into that admin building with a handful of allies and people that I had met in my previous life. And I was able to immediately rely on those colleagues and those coworkers to do things that were completely outside of the scope of their responsibility. Most of these folks are tasked with helping our operations team or our production team or our live team make money. Right? They support the revenue driver for the company. I'm one of five people who gives that money away. So anytime I approach them, I'm usually asking them to do the exact opposite of what they've been trained to do. And that's a really scary thing, but I'll be honest with you. I've never met anyone who wasn't supportive. I've never met anyone who wasn't excited at the prospect to be involved in the project. I think that just speaks to the culture of the organization. They immediately knew this is something we support, this is the initiative we back and I've gotten access to all the resources I needed ever since then.

Meaghan Malinowski:

So I'm going to skip ahead. I know that that was a little bit later in our question kind of list, but what do you think contributes to creating a culture like that?

Because I think it's very, like you said, I mean, that you're completely asking people to do things that are completely outside of their realm. They had probably never thought to do that thing and you're asking them to spend time, valuable time on it. And that is a very difficult thing to do. But I think to have a whole company culture that really embraces that is very unique and special.

Why do you think, or how do you think other people can replicate that giving culture?

Zach Evans:

Man, I'm going to default to my roots and I'm going to pander to you a little bit, Meg because you're a marketing person, too. I think it comes back to being really deliberate and honest when you put together your mission or your vision, and always remembering that you need to circle back to that. And if what you're doing doesn't support that, then you need to change one of the two, right?

You need to change the mission of what you're doing. So I think that's important in establishing that culture early on, but for Mountaire, one thing I've noticed that seems to permeate throughout the entire culture is empowering people to make decisions, make choices, and have access to resources to get the job done that you've tasked them with. The easiest way to say that is don't micromanage, right?

So if you have trust in the people that you've brought in, understand that their solution to the problem might look different than the one you had envisioned, but as long as the problem gets solved and you're comfortable with that, that's what they're there to do. So I think Mountaire does an awesome job at creating this culture where, I don't want to use a negative connotation, but its sink or swim. You can either do this job that we've hired you to do and we're going to trust you to do it, or you're going to sink. And you know, the great thing about a company that has 10,000 employees means even if you don't fit in this role, we felt you were a good cultural fit. It made sense for you to be here. If you still feel the same, let's find a role that you enjoy. I think that's part of it, too.

When I look at Mountaire and why they've been successful, is people are able to move from one department within that organization to another and there's no hard feelings there. There's nothing about it. It truly does focus on personal growth. And that's part of their creed, is they want to create an environment that does that. So empowering people, making them feel like they have ownership and their tasks and making them feel like you've got their back. I think that's important.

For me personally, I think positive affirmation is very important. So whatever reward or incentive structure that you create, make sure that it's one, basic psychology tells us that people respond to negative and positive reinforcement, so make sure it's one where the negative and the positive reinforcement are very consistent. And where people are able to manage expectations and they know what they're getting themselves into. They know what to expect, should they do A or B.

And so I think that consistency, ingraining it in the culture early on with the mission and the vision statement. And then empowerment is one of my favorite words because I think when someone has a vested interest in what they're doing, they just inherently are going to be more dedicated, more passionate and it comes back to that ownership. Right? So how do you give ownership to your employees while you empower them?

But then you also ask them for their ideas. You send out calls for action, right? So that's one of the big things that I noticed that Mountaire does is they establish committees and work groups that pull people in from all different departments and they troubleshoot and they brainstorm and they throw stuff against the wall and they see what sticks. And they're not afraid to fail, if they try 10 things and one of them works, well, we got the one that worked. Well, we're not going to get caught up on the nine that failed. So I think just establishing those guidelines, being clear is really important. And for us, we have a culture that in community relations we're trying to emphasize giving back. And 10,000 employees, a lot of them work in our processing facilities. And so they do a labor intensive job. And I'm not going to sugar coat it, our director of processing operations, he referred to our folks that work in the plant as industrial athletes. And I love that because I'm so tired of hearing it called unskilled labor. Because if you were I were to grab a knife and go and try to do that job, we wouldn't do it.

Meaghan Malinowski:

I would embarrass myself.

Zach Evans:

There's a lot of skill there, right? It's muscle memory. It's physically taxing. The margin for error is tight because you want to get the same consistent piece of meat from birds that aren't consistent. They're organic, biological creatures. Right? They're living things. They're not the same size. They're not all grown to spec. We don't want them to help you grow in a spec. We want a natural bird.

So we have these employees who day in and day out they do the same job, they see the same thing. The monotony of that can be overwhelming. It can be exhausting. So one thing that Mountaire does a great job with, as much as we focus on community giving, we also have developed programs and we've developed ways to show appreciation to our employees.

And so whether it's giving away chicken and the fixings around the holidays for holiday dinner, whether it's cool T-shirts with Rosie the Riveter in response to COVID saying that our industry really stepped up. We just got done, Meg. We just got through our book bag program. We order 10,000 backpacks and they go to our employees. Our employees are able to sign up for as many backpacks as they need for their kids.

Meaghan Malinowski:

That's awesome.

Zach Evans:

And it's a little thing like that, right? Everybody's got to go back to school and half of these kids may not like the Mountaire logoed book back on their bag, but it's not about that. It's about showing that your employee recognizes the struggles that you have every day in your household. And the challenges that you're confronted with as a parent in response to COVID and we're cognizant of it. And we want to try to help, right? So we do a lot of employee giving.

We do big outings to the water park or to ball games at the shorebirds. Our Millsboro and our Selbyville team put together softball teams. They go the Shorebirds field before the game and we play softball. What a great way to meet a bunch of people. So Christmas parties, birthday celebrations, those little things that that can seem cumbersome in Corporate America, they all amount to something much bigger than that. And it's culture. Little actions that we can take like that, that support the mission and support the vision and support our creed. Those are the things that I think helped to instill that culture. I had made some notes on that, but I think that's the biggest thing is empowerment and engagement. Asking for feedback from your people, listening, responding and making actual change.

Meaghan Malinowski:

I think everything that you just touched on is, you need each piece in order to have it come together and that kind of culture, so the empowerment. I think the other thing that you have touched on a couple of times that really speaks to me from a marketing perspective too, is having that clear mission and having everybody be on the same page and know exactly what their goals are and what they're trying to do as a group together. Because that's, I mean, it's a huge struggle when you get so many different departments and people from different regional areas, everybody's got a different idea of what success looks like. But if you all have the same mission and vision that you're working towards, well, that just makes it even more powerful. Because then you're like, no, like you said, is what we're doing matching up with what our goals are, what our mission is. And if it's not, then we need to reevaluate it.

Zach Evans:

The thing too, that's new to me at Mountaire is culturally in terms of our demographics for our employees. We have a large population of Spanish speaking employees. We have a large population of Haitian Creole speaking employees. Well, there are just basic fundamental differences in family unit cultural type issues at the household level. When you think about the approach and you weave in language barriers, cultural barriers, people who comes from different walks of society, it all becomes really complex which is why it's more important for that uniformity and that consistency. And to your point, it's more important to be so devout to the mission that you aim to serve, that you can do no wrong. Because as long as that's always driving the actions, then you really can't mess it up.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Then you're on the right path, right?

Zach Evans:

Yeah. And from a Mountaire community relations standpoint, we're going to talk a little about Mountaire Cares. But from a Mountaire Cares standpoint, who doesn't feel good when they know that their employer is giving back? And that's what I mean earlier when we touched on the fact that we're doing a much better job at sharing our narrative. That's as much for internal motivation and to instill a sense of pride where people work as it is for the community based relationships. Because we know it's not consumers, I'll use this word and I don't mean it to be negative, but we're not pandering to anyone, right? Because it's never going to sell us more chicken. So it really is based on presenting and putting the best foot forward in regards to the community relationships, but also instilling a deep sense of pride for our people. We want them to love where they work. And Meg, you're a person who you volunteer your time and you give back. And I think that most people want to do good. I'm not one of those folks that looks out at 2020 and sees all the social and civil discourse and unrest and thinks that, yes, there are some serious issues that need to be addressed but I believe that more people are good than bad. Right? And I think that most folks are inherently good, they just don't know how. I think that most folks are inherently good, they just don't know how to bring that into action, and they don't know how to bring that to life. So, the one thing that I've always preached early on was, if you give people the opportunity, you give them an outlet to volunteer, to donate, they're more inclined to take it, because sometimes volunteer work can seem daunting. If I come to you and say, "Hey, Meg, help me plan this event." Well, that has all kinds of alarms ringing already. But if I say, "Meg, we've got this event planned and if you and your family are interested in coming out for two or three hours, we're going to help the local boys and girls club." Okay.

Meaghan Malinowski:

It's easier to make the commitment, because I know what the goal is and I’m clear on what you’re trying to do.

Zach Evans:

Yeah, you know what the goal is. You know what the expectations are in your role, your level of engagement doesn't have to exceed the level of energy that you have on that particular day, because we're not asking you to shoulder that much of it. So that's a big part of what we, as a community relations team do,  is we try to build those outlets where people can give and feel good about what they're doing. And look, Thanksgiving for Thousands, Rock the Block, some of the programs we're going to talk about, those aren't my programs, those aren't Roger Marino's programs, they're Mountaire's programs. It takes thousands of us to do it. One guy or girl from community relations is never going to make that happen.

So, I think the engagement aspect of what Mountaire does is also why, even as we have turnover, even as we have generational changes and shifts in leadership, which rings true, because we're always giving our people the chance to get involved and give back. And we're not asking them to go be the president of the little league or to donate a large portion of their check. We're just asking them for some of their time and we'll even work with them to give them the time off of their normal job and figure out how we're not taking away from their family time.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Gotcha. Well, I want to segway into the relief that you guys helped provide in Lake Charles, Louisiana. So, I was on your Facebook page, as a social media guru, I guess is what I'll say, I do a lot of Facebook stalking and I got really excited for this interview, because you guys do a really good job showing what it is that everybody at Mountaire is working on. And recently, Hurricane Laura was affecting the Gulf coast and it really wreaked a lot of havoc in Louisiana and those surrounding areas. But you guys went and took 40,000 pounds of chicken to help support Operation Barbecue Relief.

And I wanted to ask you, what was that like? How did you guys decide that that was something that you were going to get behind and do? It seems like it's probably a lot of moving parts.

Zach Evans:

Yeah. So, we're a chicken company, which means we're up to our ears in chicken. And that's a good thing and a bad thing, because it's a food product. And there's always an opportunity to help combat food insecurity in your local community. But when these natural disasters happen and the entire infrastructure is offline, then the need is really compounded and it really grows. So, I'll tell you a little bit about Operation Barbecue Relief. You've got a group of guys and gals who are professional barbecues’, restaurateurs, whatever you want to call it. A lot of them compete on the Kansas City Barbecue Circuit.

So, they mobilized and decided, and these were local folks from that area or the surrounding area, "We want to help our neighbors. Our neighbors need help. This is terrible. Man, let's do what we know how to do, let's go cook for them." And that seems so simple, we eat three meals a day, no big deal, until you've lost absolutely everything and there's no power, there's no water, there's nowhere to buy fresh food. Any food you had that was perishable has perished, because there's no ice, there's no refrigeration. A hot meal in a situation like that, now, granted, I've never been personally impacted, but I was able to go down there in Lake Charles and see what a hot meal can do. And it can be the one thing that day that doesn't go to hell in a hand basket- for a lack of a better expression.

Meaghan Malinowski:

The one thing that goes right.

Zach Evans:

The one thing that goes right that day. And so, that was Operation Barbecue Relief's whole thing, was it started in 2011, it was a bunch of folks that knew how to barbecue really well. And they took their own cookers, their own smokers, they took their own coolers and the resources they had for competitions, food trucks, whatever and they showed up. Fast forward to now, in 2020, Operation Barbecue Relief has served over 8 million meals. They have a network of over 10,000 volunteers. It's pretty much all a virtual base network, because it's people all over the country.

But the way that that relationship started with Operation Barbecue is actually my boss. So, Cathy Bassett has worked with them a few times. She had sent chicken down to Houston after the really bad hurricane there. And when she went down to Houston with that chicken in her previous role with another organization, she didn't know where she was going, she didn't have a game plan of who she was going to partner with. Someone dropped a line and said, "Hey, reach out to these folks at Operation Barbecue." Now, since then, Cathy is on their short list of folks to reach out to when they need food.

So she's done some hurricane relief in Wilmington, in North Carolina. And when this storm hit in Lake Charles, what resonated with us was, it was a catastrophic storm. The numbers were just as bad, the hurricane in terms of its strength. Now I'm not going to talk about billions of dollars worth of damage, but in terms of the strength, the wind speed and the damage it did, it was stronger than Katrina when it made landfall in New Orleans. So, this was a category four hurricane, 140 mile an hour sustained wind gusts. It also hit a community that was more rural in nature. So, there's probably some positives to that, because the loss of life wasn't as great, the evacuation wasn't as cumbersome. But what it also means is that that's a rural county. It's  Cameron parish in Louisiana, they don't have the same resources that a city with millions of people does. They don't have the same county and city workers, county and city vehicles. They don't have the same level of support, because the population is smaller.

So, I commend Cathy. She, when this storm was coming, she said right away, "I think this is going to be bad. And I think because of where it is, and because of COVID and everything that's going on, it's going to be really hard for people to provide relief. So let's keep an eye on this storm." And we were tracking it. The Wednesday before it made landfall, we decided we're going to send a truck of chicken. We had no idea where it was going yet, because we don't know where the storm is going to hit.

We start processing that chicken fresh. So, as a chicken company, we don't have an inventory. We don't have a lot of freezer space on site. What we process, those birds that are harvested that day are already predestined for their home. So we processed a fresh load of chicken that Wednesday and Thursday, by Friday morning, after the hurricane had moved out, we were ready to go.

But, all cellular communication was down in Lake Charles, all power was out, there was no water. We're trying to troubleshoot with people on the ground in real time, they don't even know where they're heading. So, we finally figured out where the site was going to be, we sent the truck load of chicken down and our driver went with it from North Carolina. And then Cathy and I had to figure out how to get to Lake Charles, Louisiana.

So, we took a bunch of regional, small planes from tiny airports. Eventually we got to Lafayette, we were able to find a rental car. Honestly, it was just dumb luck. We were able to find a hotel, because everything gets blocked out in a natural disaster. You have the Red Cross and FEMA and other organizations like that, who immediately block out all the hotel rooms and they should, because what I realized once we got there was that it's all hands on deck, people come from all over the country. Droves of electrical boom trucks, droves of dump trucks and flatbed trailers carrying pilings and building materials. I mean, it just never stops.

So, we get there on a Monday and we get all of our stuff figured out, we find out where we're going to stay. Thank God we rented an SUV, which I'll get to that later. But we rented an SUV, which was all they had, they didn't have any compact cars or sedans. So we were trying to be frugal, we're going there to give back, we're not trying to waste money, we want to put all of our money towards good. But we wound up in a little mid-size SUV. We tracked down our truck driver. He had stayed in a nightmare of a hotel the night before, because he couldn't find anything else. He probably would have been safer in the sleeping cab of his truck. I'm not being demonstrative. It's a scary. So we're staying in Lafayette, we would get up at 5:00 in the morning, that first day we got up 5:00 AM and we headed out of the hotel and it was still dark. And the first thing you notice when you get on the highway, there's just tens of thousands of cars all heading the same way. The other four lanes were completely empty, but there was taillights and it's 5:00 AM. So this isn't a work rush. This is people from all over heading in on that major thruway to Lake Charles and the impacted areas.

So, that first morning, that drive was the scariest thing ever, because the highway was crowded, we decided we were going to take some service roads. We got a truck driver riding shotgun. Gary knew how to get around. He's like, "Pop off here, as long as we're heading westbound, we're good. We'll look for a major interstate. We'll pop back on. We'll go South. We'll get there." Well, we got within 30 miles of Lake Charles and it's pitch black, but you could start to sense the devastation that was just eerily quiet and dark. There was no glow from streetlights, there was no business lights, there was nothing, no residential lights.

And it was right around the time where the sun started to come up and we were getting moving on this rural stretch of highway, probably doing about 50 mile an hour that the first telephone pole jumped out in front of us. It was hanging down across the middle of the road. So we kind of veer over to go around it. And as Cathy pulls back into the lane, we realize that every telephone pole for as far as we could see was down. And I say telephone, but utility pole, every electrical pole that we could see was down. That was the story for the next three days. Every utility service we saw was lying in a heap on the ground. Every substation we passed looked like a crumpled up tin can. There were water and sewer systems and water service lines that had just been blown, literally blown out because of the storm surge.

I watch CNN and the weather channel coverage, just like everybody else, but there's only so much you can catch in that frame. No matter how well the camera pans, there's only so much you can pick up. And it's not until you're driving through it for hours and as far as the eye can see, and every stone you unturn, there's another problem. It's overwhelming. You plan events, we were joking about that earlier. I don't know how you start the planning process, because with a thousand-piece puzzle, you have a certain strategy. And with a 10,000-piece puzzle, you might have a different strategy, but with a 10 billion-piece puzzle, how do you even find the corners to get started?

And when I look at the devastation in Lake Charles, that's all I can equate it to. I can't figure out, for the life of me, how you develop marching orders. And I think that's part of it is people come in from all over the country. Once it's classified as a state of emergency, people come in from all over and they're able to work with some autonomy, they are able to make decisions unilaterally to an extent. But, again, there's no incentive other than help people. So, everybody there is just trying to solve the problem.

And I mean, we saw staging areas for power trucks, where they were taking a field that is used for growing rice paddies, and they were bringing in crush and run. And then the next day that that 20-acre field was a parking lot. And it was filled with power trucks that were just staged with their lights blinking, ready for their marching orders. So, it takes a village, it takes a country to help something like that.

And Operation Barbecue Relief, what they do is they support all those other first responders, as well as all the people who have been displaced. So, they actually do bulk meal serving. What we did was we took 40,000 pounds of chicken down and then we said, "We want a volunteer too, because manpower." And we're so glad we did, because of COVID and restrictions that the governor had put on out-of-state travelers, their volunteer numbers were down significantly.

So, that first day, I was asking the guys on the team, "How do you get the word out? There's no internet, there's no cell towers, you can't get any signal on your phone. How do people know you're here? You're in a Walmart parking lot and there's crumpled gas stations and roll over tractor trailers all around the perimeter. People can't even tell you're here. How do they know?" And they said, "It's just grassroots. It's word of mouth. This thing will grow, we've learned that it'll grow, we expect to do 30,000 meals a day by the time it's done."

So, there was 20 volunteers. That first day, 30,000, like I was shaking my head like you are, that's a lot. I have trouble feeding eight people, Operation Barbecue has developed these partnerships, they've got these big commercials Ole Hickory smokers. They've got huge vats that are made for prepping and cooking sides. And that first day, Meg, we did like 7,000 meals, which was awesome. We were so proud of ourselves. And as we're cleaning up, you load the meat the night before for the next day, because it's going to smoke all night and they use pork butts because why not? We got 12 hours on a smoker.

So, they load everything up, we clean off, everybody heads home. The next day you come back and the first thing you do is you start taking that meat off and that's going to be your lunch. And you get your lunch done by about 10:00, you wash everything, because the second day we serve 10,000 meals at lunch. So we serve more meals at lunch the second day than we did in total the first day. But we showed up on Tuesday, Monday was Operation Barbecue Relief's first day cooking. So, again, that natural kind of grassroots momentum, it snowballed.

So, you get there in the morning, you prep the 10,000 meals for lunch, by 10:00 AM, you're thrown on the meat, you're going to smoke for dinner, which that second day was our boneless thighs that we had sent. They like just having options, because they're feeding a lot of the same people and they're going to be there for weeks. So, as much as you and I like pork barbecue, we don't want to eat it two meals a day for the next 14 days. So, having access to chicken and pork and beef and sausage and whatever it may be, is really important.

But by 10:00 AM, you're prepping dinner, you get dinner served and ready to go. By 4:00, it's out the door, you clean up for the second time that day and then you start for the next day. And these Operation Barbecue folks, that's what they do for 14 days at least. That's their commitment, usually, when they go into an area is two weeks. So, by the third day, when we left, we did 25,000 meals that day. And we maybe had 25 volunteers.

Meaghan Malinowski:

That's amazing.

Zach Evans:

It's awesome. But it's a tried and true system. And the other cool part is, you've heard the expression, you don't want to have too many chefs in the kitchen, all we had was chefs in the kitchen. But somehow they make it work. And I say that jokingly, because I saw some interactions and engagements that I thought were heading South, but there is no ego, there is no personal agenda here, it's all just to feed people. So, you literally would have 10 restaurant owners, 10 barbecue chefs. They all have their own way of doing it. They all know better than the other. Because they've all stole trophies from one another in competitions. But they work together and they do something really incredible. And I hope that that's an initiative. Actually, I know that's an initiative that we'll continue to support. And I look forward to my next chance to be of service.

Meaghan Malinowski:

How cool that you guys got to be flexible on it though, and be able to, you observed it before it even became a thing and you were like, "We're just going to do it." It doesn't really matter what the situation is now, we're going to have to do this anyway, so we might as well just get it ready and gear up and load the truck up and be done with it. Because that's where it's heading.

Zach Evans:

I talked about it, the cultural underlying strategy of empowering your people. When this all came to fruition, that was the approach. It was like, "We're going to pull the trigger and we're going to do this and we're going to make it work." And I think that's a big part of the Mountaire culture as well is make the decision and whether it was the right decision or the wrong decision, just solve the problem-

Meaghan Malinowski:

We're going to find out eventually anyway.

Zach Evans:

See it through to fruition. So, maybe you'll learn that there was a better way to do it, but finish that first and then let's talk about retooling it. So, there's just this mentality that we're always going to get the job done and then we'll debrief and we might be better for it or we might figure out that that strategy we came up with in real time worked just fine and that's what we're going to roll with.

But yeah, I mean, I was, personally, I'm trying to figure out who's going to watch the dog, I'm trying to figure out how I'm getting to the airport, what I'm packing, what I'm taking. And those problems pale in comparison to the stuff you see when you get there. So, it's a humbling experience. You walk away with a lot of humility.

Meaghan Malinowski:

What a blessing though, to be a part of an organization that really enables you to be able to do that and control. I mean, nobody can control the outcome of that, but you got to go and be a part of that relief and provide that support. I mean, we had a storm here two weeks ago and my power was out for 36 hours. And I thought it was the end of the world. But I had food in here, I had all of those things, but it's humbling to even just hear you talk about it, because it's not even. Our little problems pale in comparison.

Zach Evans:

You talk about food and things like that and I never thought about, when that storm comes, you can't go to the service station and get gas, you can't go to the grocery store and get ice to keep what you have in the fridge. The grocery store is not open, the gas station isn't standing anymore. Everything is 30 to 50 miles away and your car may be under a tree. So, you start to think that there's really easy solutions to these problems in modern society, but that's the nature of these natural disasters is modern society doesn't exist after that storm comes through.

And you've got a bunch of people who are used to operating in the confines of society and then panic sets in and despair is prevalent and it's hard to avoid that. And one hot meal a day can honestly help turn the tides for folks and it can be the pickup that they need and it can be the gleaming light of hope. So, I love Operation Barbecue Relief and we'll continue to support them however we can.

Meaghan Malinowski:

So, I'm familiar with your guys'  Thanksgiving for Thousands program and a little bit about the Mountaire Cares kind of thing.

Can you give us just a little rundown on how that works here for our region too?

Zach Evans:

I will. So, because I, and I know this is the nature of a podcast, but I think I'm probably talking 90% of the time. So I'm going to ask you to talk about Thanksgiving for Thousands, because you've done it before, right? You volunteered.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Twice.

Zach Evans:

So, tell me a little bit about your perspective on the event and then I had volunteered as well before I started working for Mountaire. So, I'll tell you what I've learned.

Meaghan Malinowski:

So, I enjoy Thanksgiving for Thousands because it is something that it fits within a tight range in my work day. So like you said, I have a set time that I'm going to be there, we have a goal of packing, I think, it's 10,000 boxes.

Zach Evans:

You got it. You got it.

Meaghan Malinowski:

And so, I like the idea of showing up, but I think it surprised me the most when I got there, how many people we actually fit in that warehouse to pack the boxes and on those assembly lines and how many people are just. It's such a good feeling to go in there and do it, because it's kind of one of those things where you sign up for it and you're like, "This is going to be good. It's going to be pretty straight line. It's going to be a good thing." But then you get there and everybody is in such a good mood to be surrounded by their friends and their coworkers and to be contributing to something. That's what I've enjoyed about it and that's why I do it every year, to help. But the 10,000 boxes, we always get through it so much faster than we think we will.

Zach Evans:

So, COVID is going to really make it interesting this year, but we've got a good game plan on how we're going to execute. Because we do 10,000 boxes here on Delmarva and we do another 10,000 in North Carolina. So, 20,000 meal boxes total. And those boxes are aimed to feed a family of four. So, it's a Thanksgiving dinner and all the fixings for a family of four. And you know that, but I'm just giving the audience some perspective.

So, before I jump into the other programs that Mountaire does, we've talked a lot about the culture and how you instill a culture of giving. And if we reverse engineer the Thanksgiving for Thousands program, I think that's the answer to a lot of those questions. So, what Roger Marino did with Thanksgiving for Thousands for the last 25 years, last year was the 25th anniversary.

Meaghan Malinowski:

That's amazing.

Zach Evans:

So, 250,000 meals and the number of people fed probably is a multiplier of two or three, because we're aiming to feed a family unit. So, what Roger did early on with Thanksgiving for Thousands was he recruited people like you and me, people that didn't work for Mountaire, people that worked for local businesses, local churches, and local non-profits, who were looking for an opportunity to give, but were intimidated by the prospect of giving on their own.

To your point, how much easier is it to walk into a warehouse with three or four of your coworkers than to walk into the food bank by yourself, to work on a shift next to people that you don't know, to meet a contact that you registered for online that you've never met. So, what Roger did in building Thanksgiving for Thousands was he built a donation and a giving program that Mountaire enabled, but everyone else owned.

So, we now give those boxes to over 200 churches. And what those churches do is they take those boxes and they run their own food drive. So, those people at that church want to feed their congregation, but they may struggle with resources or they may struggle with the logistics of how to do it. Well, we've taken that off the table for them. Now, it's part of their Thanksgiving tradition. Just like for you, every year, when you register for Thanksgiving for Thousands, it's part of your Thanksgiving holiday tradition.

So we have 100 to 200 volunteers every year that have been coming back for decades, because it's part of their Thanksgiving tradition. It's part of what they do to make themselves feel good about giving back to people who are less fortunate. That's the Mountaire trick in establishing a giving culture, is empowering people and giving them ownership of the program. So, much like we encourage people to grow professionally, we're empowering them to give.

And look, we do a lot of legwork. It's a lot of work for my team. It was a lot of work for Roger by himself, I still don't know how he did it. Can't say enough about that man. He was a rock star. Last year was his last Thanksgiving for Thousands, but only because of COVID and some other limitations. He'll be there with us this year volunteering. And Lord, do I wish he was there on the front end helping me plan it. But that really is the approach that Mountaire takes now with all of our giving.

So, Thanksgiving for Thousands is a great segue for me to talk about the Mountaire Cares program. Because what the Mountaire Cares program is, is that is the benevolent or the giving arm of our corporation. So, it's a program that exists within community relations, but it requires every department in the company for it to be successful.

And there's three prongs to that stool, if you will, it's community involvement, it's community investment and it's community leadership. So, community involvement is exactly what we've talked about, it's volunteering. How do we get our employees more involved? How do we give them the opportunity to get more involved? So, Thanksgiving for Thousands is a great example. We did a project in Selbyville, it was my first project as part of the company, called Rock the Block. So, two minutes, we partnered with Habitat for Humanity. Some folks from Selbyville plant, who also live in the Selbyville community, went door to door with me.

So, I took one of our training guys, Victor, and we went door to door. Victor speaks Spanish, a lot of the residents of that community are non-English speaking, non-English first language speakers. So, Victor was able to help me navigate those waters. But all we were doing, we were canvassing and going door to door. And we were saying, "Do you have any projects around the house you need help with? Do you have any yard projects you need help with? What about that gutter that's hanging?" Whatever it might've been. But we went and we asked homeowners for projects.

We partnered with Habitat for Humanity and AmeriCorps. And we had 90 volunteers that came out on a Saturday morning. Some of our employees worked night shift and got off that day at 5:00 AM. They had worked a 12-hour day with no sleep, they changed in the parking lot and they walked across to the warehouse and met with us for Rock the Block. But Rock the Block was a program where 90 of our staff, a whole bunch of AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity volunteers went out, we completed projects for 23 homeowners in Selbyville. Those are our neighbors, those are the people that if they don't work in the plant, they have lived next to and supported that plant and that operation in some capacity.

So we gave back to those folks. That's another great example. We had plans to do a project with the Boys and Girls Club in Oak Orchard. And I might get in trouble for disclosing this because it's going to be a big surprise but we were going to do like an HGTV, 48 hour make over. Kids were going to leave on a Friday. And when they came back on Monday, we were going to have painted two 10,000 square foot facilities where we had put new floors in, new kitchens, new landscaping, new toys, new equipment. I was working with paid contractors with donations, with our employees. And it's incredible when you start a project like this, how many people are receptive to being involved in giving, which goes back to my initial theory that most people are good. They just don't know how to go about getting in a meaningful way. And it seems too overwhelming to do it on their own.

So the Mountaire Cares program, it really focuses a lot on involvement. So we're trying to encourage people to volunteer and then there's community investment, which is exactly what it sounds like. That's writing the check. So you live on Delmarva. You don't have to look far to find the last names of people who have been in the agricultural industry on educational buildings, on schools, on hospitals, on highways, on cancer research centers, on wings of hospital. Whatever it may be, this is the house that agriculture built. So we as an agribusiness have played an integral role in that up to this point, but it's not done.

Meaghan Malinowski:

It'll never be done.

Zach Evans:

No. And the infrastructure in the Northeast, in this region especially gets like, I mean, a failing grade. I think we get a rating of D or worse on infrastructure because this is a population center. There's a lot of wear and tear. You're constantly growing. And especially on Delmarva, there's a big influx of people moving to Sussex County, where we do most of our business. And we want to make it an attractive place to live because we have employees that live there and we want to attract the highest quality of employees. And we want to thank our neighbors for buying our product and for growing our grain and for driving our trucks, whatever it may be. So that community investment is a big part.

We have a Mountaire Cares fund where we earmark a dollar amount every year. And then it's the challenge of the community relations team to go out there and figure out how to make the world a better place. One thing I haven't said yet, when I met the CEO of our company, his name is Kevin Garland. So Kevin has been close to this business for a long time. And I am someone who they have hired to be an outward face of the organization. So I was scared to meet Kevin the first time. It's intimidating. His title is intimidating. Now he is a man, he's the most welcoming and warming. I was immediately comfortable, but that's the CEO of the company you work for. And it's a big company who does substantial things.

And Kevin asked me a lot about what I thought the role would be. And I asked him, "What do you want of your community relations team?" And he said, "I want you to wake up every day and think about how you can come to work and make the world a better place. That's your goal. I have the best job in the world.

Meaghan Malinowski:

What a goal.

Zach Evans:

I mean, we are the luckiest people in the world to have somebody like that supporting us. Now we justify what we do and we were very thoughtful about the things that we do throughout the Mountaire Cares Program. But to know that, that's who's standing behind you, my gosh, is there anything more empowering? Again, I use that word a lot, but is there anything, if you want to establish and create a culture of people who are willing to put their best foot forward and put their time and energy into helping your business succeed, show them you support them, show them you stand behind them. So the community leadership part, that's really important to the Mountaire Cares Program because we're going to identify, inspire and empower people within our own organization to go out and affect that change. And what that means is we're going to be cognizant of the work-life balance in such a way that it allows you to follow your passions.

Now, if you want to go work for another company part-time, and you're slacking off at your... That's not what we're talking about, but I think you get it. We can laugh and joke because what we're really meaning is if there's something you support, let us know, tell us how we can support you or the initiative. And that's what I love about the Mountaire Cares Program as a whole. There's a lot of stuff that falls under that, like going to Lake Charles, like Thanksgiving for 1000s. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that we do 10,000 boxes at Thanksgiving, but we do another 2500 at Christmas and we do another 2500 at Easter. Where does that come from? That comes from those same organizations that we're giving those boxes to at Thanksgiving saying, "Hey, there's still a need."

There's another holiday coming up that's really important. And for people that are down on their luck, it hurts just as much to sit alone on Christmas and not be able to provide your family with a Christmas meal or to sit alone on Easter. We're a Christian company. So we want to make sure that people can celebrate those holidays and that they can make it meaningful and that they can spend time with loved ones. And they don't have to worry about where that meal's coming from. So that's a big part of Mountaire Cares. We want to be the catalyst for change, but it's not all us. And we don't want it to be all us. So as much as I enjoy handing out scholarships myself, as much as I enjoy going to Lake Charles myself, at some point, there's going to be other people doing that on behalf of Mountaire because I'm not the face of Mountaire.

I'm just here to help figure out how to show the many faces of Mountaire. And the Mountaire Cares Program, it's a little known. We don't publicize a lot, but the other thing we do is we provide assistance to our employees. So life happens and it comes at you fast. And with 10,000 employees, we're constantly hearing stories of an unfortunate circumstances and events that impact our people, our members of our team. And we actually have a committee of folks internally and some external people that sit on our Mountaire Cares committee. And we take requests from employees, from co-workers, from family members. And we learn, and we hear stories of folks that need help. And we go to them privately and we help them. And usually that looks like a check but it can be anything. It can be helping to offset moving expenses or funeral expenses or helping folks who have been impacted by a natural disaster. Or folks whose children have received an unfortunate diagnosis or whose loved ones have received an unfortunate diagnosis.

And we don't necessarily go looking for those, but because the Mountaire Cares Program is established, people know that they can share those stories with us. So we have supervisors and managers and peers that come to us on a regular basis and share stories of struggle with us. And the Mountaire Cares Program is also there to help our folks because just like we want to give a handout, there's nothing wrong with it, but you're not helping someone better themselves. We want to give a hand up to our people as well. So I didn't know that, that existed within Mountaire. When I started working here, I started having interactions with my old customers from Farm Credit, and they would tell me things like, I had a parent who grew chickens for Mountaire for a long time. He was in a bad accident and we weren't contracted with Mountaire anymore. But one day someone showed up to the door and said, Thank you for your years of service. It's unfortunate what's happened to your family. This is a small token of appreciation for what you do." And I've heard stories like that now from four or five of my customers who may or may not grow chickens for Mountaire, may or may not sell grain to Mountaire. May have driven a truck for Mountaire for a couple of years, but those stories resonate. And when the Mountaire Cares committee hears of them, they're going out and on a personal level, they're making a change in people's daily lives. So I love the big programs we do, but in terms of tear jerking stories and really heartfelt engagements, you'll never feel as good as you do when you help someone who you know is not in a position to give it back to you. And that's the great thing about giving and that's the approach that Mountaire takes. There is no quid pro quo. We're not going to sell more chicken. We're not going to strategically position our product to be more value added than another through the things that we do. Thankfully, because that's not our business model. So again, to your point that we made earlier, you have the purest of intentions by default, because now your only motivation is to do the right thing.

Meaghan Malinowski:

I wanted to bring it up too, because I think it's cool to see and hear you talk about this new position, because I can tell that you're clearly passionate about it. And what a cool opportunity to just be able to think about how you can help make your community and the world a better place. Like that is just neat to me. And it's cool because similarly, I know when you were working at Farm Credit and it's something we've been talking about for forever, the shift in generations, on the family farm from the dad, grandpa. Everybody that's been running the farm for 50 years.

Zach Evans:

Yeah. What's the average age of the farmer now? I mean, you guys kicked that number around.

Meaghan Malinowski:

66 years old.

Zach Evans:

See. And it's been stuck in that high 50s for awhile, which leads me to believe that they're juking those numbers because you and I see it. The patriarch and the matriarch of the operation is just getting older.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Exactly, but to see that generational shift and something else that we've read a lot about with millennials and gen Z, is not to make it a generational conversation and not to make it seem like you're running some kind of show. But I think I wanted to get your opinion on what that generational aspect is because even outside of the family farm, in Farm Credit, we've seen tons of retirements and new faces coming in. And I think that is just it's frequent across the entire industry.

 So is that something that's happening with Mountaire too? And do you think that, that might have some kind of impact on this culture that we're talking about?

Zach Evans:

Look, there's definitely shifts from every generation to the next. And as we get older, you and I, we look back and we think that we never behave that way. Things were never that bad. Things were never that expensive.

Meaghan Malinowski:

I would never.

Zach Evans:

And I would have never done that. If I had Facebook, when I was 13 years old, I would have been a saint. So we know that's not true. And so some of that is perspective. So some of it is when you're young enough, you're naive enough to believe that this is the only way. And then you get to a point and you start to realize that, "No, there's 100 other ways, so I really got to fight for my position." But I think there's definitely a shift in the mindset of millennials, but also there's a shift in the expectations of what those millennials bring to the table.

So like for Mountaire specifically, I think it has to do with us. A great example is the way that we're telling our story now, Meg, in 2020 versus the way we were telling it even five years ago. And we joke about things like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Tik Tok.

Zach Evans:

And Tik Tok. Yeah. And so look, layers one that even for me, as a youngish person, I don't feel as confident about. Like Tik Tok scares me a little bit. Like it worries me. I'm just figuring out Snapchat. And now you're going to drop Tik Tok in my lap. But I say that because for Mountaire, in a community relations perspective, how different is the way that we're telling our story today than two years ago or five years ago. So the way that millennials consume information and the credibility that they assign to the sources of their information is much different. We're now competing with a 24-hour news cycle and that's been going on for a long time. But the delivery of news 24 hours a day was never handheld.

You had to actively sit down in front of the television. Now you get notifications pushed out to you. So I think about it in terms of how we share what we're doing. It's totally different. And the way that we communicate and engage our employees is totally different. I don't have a sign up sheet on the door anymore. Everything is virtual because if I don't make it easy, I'm competing with literally everything for their attention. It used to be as a volunteer organization, we were just competing with other volunteer organizations, but now everyone has unlimited access to entertainment, recreation, whatever it may be. So to get someone to volunteer on a Saturday, I'm not just competing with the church and the soup kitchen and the food pantry, I'm competing with little league, with the movies, with Netflix, with whatever it may be. I think from that approach, the way that managers have to manage millennials is a little different because there's so much more stimulus. There's so much more direction that they're getting. There's so much more engagement that they're getting on a daily basis that can make it hard to prioritize. Even as someone who grew up around computers, there are plenty of days where you and I get overwhelmed with our email when we look at that number in the inbox. And millennials are doing a better job with communication in that regard, but are there other instances where they don't have the experience and the face-to-face interaction. Just think about what it would look like for a student who had learned behind a screen for 10 years, as opposed to someone who has that daily interaction with classmates.

So I think the big shift for us as a corporation in how we deal with millennials is aligning the incentives more appropriately with what drives them, having a much more flexible work-life balance. That's huge. That's not only huge in agricultural production, but it's huge in the office. Farmers nowadays, the younger generation of farmers, they're relying more on those handheld devices and maybe spending less time in the field. Could be good or bad because that time that was being spent in the field before is maybe being spent in exploring other opportunities to generate revenue. So I try to be optimistic and look at these things as opportunities instead of challenges or problems, but there's a clear generational shift. And in terms of agriculture in general, I think the most exciting part of that generational shift. And actually, I'd be curious to hear what you have to say about this, Meg. I was thinking about it on the way here.

I use Mountaire as an example, but I think maybe Farm Credit and other agribusinesses can relate to this. Agriculture for a long time wasn't proactive in their own advocacy. So what I mean by that is agriculture didn't share their story that kept so much of it close to the chest. And I think that was defensive in part, because you look around and you see the family farms consolidating and becoming larger. So you don't want to release anything proprietary. You don't want to show behind the curtain, what you're doing to be successful. The problem with that is now you allow for consumers and for people who are removed from the industry to tell your story. So similar to what we were talking about for the Mountaire story, for the last 10 years in agriculture, when people asked me about advocacy and agriculture, that's the most inspiring opportunity for changes.

We have a generation of storytellers now. We have a generation of millennials who for better or worse have been curating and narrating their own life story to their liking for as long as they can remember. So if you think about it in that framework, like we can go back to my MySpace. I hope it's not still out there, if it is, and you find it, please notify me. Whoever's listening to this. If you've stayed with me for this long and you find my MySpace, please shoot me an email because I put together that MySpace page at 15. So I wanted to portray the things that I thought were important at 15 years old. I was curating my life to an external audience. I had practice at that. Well, we have a whole generation of people who have practice at that, who are really good at it. Now, I think as a society there's problems there. It's problematic. Because everybody is always seeing-

Meaghan Malinowski:

We can start a whole new podcast. That's an entire new topic.

Zach Evans:

That's a whole new podcast. But trying to be optimistic and look at it as an opportunity, there's about to be a whole generation of people entering the agricultural industry who are storytellers. For better or worse they're storytellers. And by God, if we don't take advantage of that, and we don't start telling the story of agriculture and start connecting people to their food, through the faces of the producers and the stories of the producers, then I think we just continue to get further down this path where you have misconceptions about factory farming. You have misconceptions about commercial ag. So I think that is a huge opportunity in that generational shift in ag.

And then also we're adopting more technology. We're adopting new practices and we've got a generation of young farmers now who are leveraging a global network of producers. I just think the fact that we broke down those barriers to communication is going to make us better as a whole. There's all kinds of unintended consequences. Like you mentioned, we could get into all kinds of podcasts about the social fabric unraveling before our eyes, but I'm an optimist. So again, I think we're better today than we were yesterday. I think progress is slow moving, but it's relentless. So we continue to move forward. We continue to sharpen our pencils and get a little better, but that's my... I don't know.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Spiel.

Zach Evans:

My spiel. My positive-

Meaghan Malinowski:

The generational spiel.

Zach Evans:

Yeah. And as we shift out of that millennial generation and into the next one, I'm even more encouraged that, that next generation of farmers are going to make us better. I thought about it a lot, what that generational shift would mean and what the challenges would be. And I always kept going back to the positive that we're going to be in a better place. We've got a whole bunch of people who can tell a story.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Working at Farm Credit, I get to see it all. Like, I don't just see one family farm here, I get to see a family farm in West Virginia or Pennsylvania. And each one looks different. And each, like the ways that they do things are all different. So it's constantly just an educational moment for me. But I think that is the one thing that is definitely going to persist across the entire scope. No matter what you grow or what you raise it is having the capability to tell your own story and have it be out there just for free, for everybody to look at. I think that is one of the most beautiful things that could happen for agriculture. And I hope that people don't, similar to what you were saying about Mountaire being humble and not wanting to boast, people are very afraid of putting themselves out there because they don't want to be tooting their own horn.

Zach Evans:

If you're in business, and you put a target on your own back, oh, man, that can be counterintuitive.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Right. Not great. Especially when you're the only producer that does X, Y, and Z.

Well, we're going to go right into the sign-off question, because I think you probably already gave me what I would expect from it. But everybody seems to surprise me when I asked this question,

What do you advocate for in agriculture?

Zach Evans:

Transparency. Yeah. I think there's a lot of value in knowing how the sausage is made. I really do.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Or the scrapple.

Zach Evans:

The scrapple, exactly. See, perfect. There is a lot of value in knowing how the scrapple is made. And look, we don't give people permission to pass judgment on other people. Without getting to know that individual firsthand, we're very quick to put down someone who's passing judgment without having all the information at hand about another individual. But I think agriculture as an industry has been subject to that for decades now. So again, I can't say it enough. We have a generation of storytellers that are going to get into agriculture and they found their voice before they ever got into that business. For me personally, we didn't talk about it a lot, but I started to recognize the value in agricultural advocacy through my role in Farm Credit. But through also working with farmers and farmer groups that I felt were just disenfranchised, who weren't given a fair shake, who have some really good stuff to talk about and be proud of, but no one knows.

And why should consumers take their energy to do the research on their own? We know people well enough to know that the motivation doesn't exist for them to do any more research than they've already done when they make that purchase. So it's on us to continue to tell that story. So I will constantly push for young people to find their voice, whether it's through Tik Tok or Instagram posts or Facebook posts. Or you wind up in a role as an ag extension agent, you're doing the same thing, you're telling the story of agriculture so that we can preserve it and so that we can make sure it continues to progress moving forward. LEAD Maryland was huge in that for me. I loved what I did at Farm Credit. And for a long time, if you asked me why that was, I would've told you it was because I like making loans.

But it was really through LEAD Maryland and the two years that I spent looking internally that I realized, "Man, that's not it. There's something deeper at the core of this." What I enjoyed was helping people. And in the bank, I had one way to help them. I could give them money. We had one product. We had one service. That was what we were there to do. So I could restructure their current debt or I could give them more debt. That was the only way I could help them. In my role now, at Mountaire Community Relations, I listen to their problem and then I come up with a comprehensive solution on how we can help as an organization. And that's been awesome. That's been the coolest thing, but it wasn't until I did some personal development and I took the initiative. Farm Credit supports ag leadership programs like LEAD Maryland.

And we at Mountaire support ag leadership programs. We are a big supporter of LEAD Delaware, we don't have home operations. We've got some grain mills and some other facilities in Maryland, but we're really centered in Delaware. So I've been working with another ex-Farm Credit employee, Kenny Bounds.

Meaghan Malinowski:

The infamous Kenny Bounds.

Zach Evans:

The infamous Kenny Bounds.

Meaghan Malinowski:

He will be on this podcast before we know it.

Zach Evans:

That's right. So when you get Kenny in there, make sure you have Kenny talk about the importance of leadership in agriculture and advocacy, because he was instrumental in starting a lot of these programs in the mid-Atlantic region, 20 or 30 years ago. And it's really helped to develop a network of people with voices who are confident in their voice. And through that network, we've also figured out how to leverage each other's contacts and make stuff happen for farmers. So I'll leave folks with that. The biggest thing you can do to advocate for agriculture is tell the story that you know about agriculture. And if you're in this industry or you're close to it, then chances are you've got a story that 99% of us who don't grow the world's food have never heard. So share it and be proud of it and answer questions, peel the curtain back. I think when you can see how the scrapple was made, you appreciate a lot more what goes into it, and you can make your own decisions on whether it's something you want to consume or support, right?

Meaghan Malinowski:

Absolutely. 100%

Zach Evans:

Yeah. But when you hear horror stories or you hear somebody else building it up, you're relying specifically on that person and that's great, but we all have a unique perspective. So go out there and get your perspective and then share it with the rest of the world. Because people who aren't in agriculture, they don't deserve to be the ones telling the stories of how hard these men and women work to feed this country and the future.

Meaghan Malinowski:

That's fantastic. That's a great way to end this off. Thank you so much for your time. I've taken quite a bit of it.

Zach Evans:

No. You're welcome.

Meaghan Malinowski:

We really appreciate it.

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of The Farm Credit AgVocates Podcast. Don't forget to rate us, review us and subscribe and make sure you screenshot this and share this with a friend. You can get all the podcasts notes and subscribe to email alerts at mafc.com/podcast. And we invite you to send any topic or guest suggestions to podcast@mafc.com. Until the next time, keep on agvocating for what you believe in.