S4:E1 Giving Back in Your Community with David Smith

Jan 19, 2023



Show Notes

Data has shown that giving back to your community can improve your health, but did you also know it can help grow a team and gain brand recognition? In the fourth series of the Field Points Podcast, we are focused on marketing and living out a brand. Our first guest, David Smith, Marketing Operations Manager with Ceres Solutions shares what it takes to get involved in your local community and how employees and customers alike are contributing to their local communities every day.  

“Whether it’s coaching, 4-H, or local fire department, it’s surprising how much our team does,” David shared. “It makes you feel good to be a part of this team." 

If you are considering getting involved in your local community, David suggests first finding your passion. For Ceres Solutions, with deep roots in Agriculture, many of our resources, both time and money, go back to the agriculture industry by way of 4-H and FFA. They also support many local food banks to reduce food insecurity in rural communities.  

“Find your niche, find what you want to give back to- because it's out there,” shared David.  

If you are currently involved but looking to maximize your impact, David suggests leaning into your partners. One way Ceres Solutions supports their employees is by matching employee charitable contributions. Ceres Solutions also receives matches from partner companies like Land O’Lakes, Co-Bank, and CHS. They also partner with CountryMark with their annual Fueling Freedom event.  

“Cooperatives come together too,” shared David. “We’ve done a Habitat Build at the state fair so its nice to see that where 4-5 cooperative came together.”  

Giving back does so much good in the rural communities that our employees and customers live and work. To learn more about the work that Ceres Solutions is doing, tune into our full episode of Field Points.  


Morgan Seger (00:02):
Every day we rely on food, fuel, and fiber. But how much do you know about these industries we depend on? In this podcast, we dive deep into the production and processes of these everyday essentials. This is field points and original podcast production from Ceres Solutions. Welcome to Field Points. I'm your host, Morgan Seger. In this episode, we're going to be talking about giving back. This is the first episode of our series around marketing and living out your brand. And one of the key ways to establish a brand is really getting involved and becoming a part of your community. Now, as Ceres Solutions primarily serves rural locations, we're going to be putting an emphasis on rural communities and we're going to talk through how Ceres Solutions determines how they give back and where they give back and how to maximize their impact. Now, hopefully this information is transferrable to you in your business, whether that's a farm or commercial business, or if you are just looking to establish a personal brand. Throughout this series, I will be joined by my co-host Drew Garrettson. Drew is the chief marketing officer with Ceres Solutions and he's one of the most involved people I know when it comes to giving back to his local community.
Drew Garretson (01:21):
Morgan, I'm excited to co-host this episode as you think about our mission that we're on here at Ceres and the reverse own model of Ceres solutions. And one of the ways that we have to live out that reverse own model is through our communities that we serve. I can tell you that the different episodes that you'll hear during this particular podcast and the opportunity that we have to uncover what are some of the things that we're working on, I think are going to be pretty interesting and exciting, A different angle to take on what we do here at Ceresus Solutions. And we're going to focus on the community involvement and community engagement and what things Ceresus is involved in. And I mean, we actually have people deployed to help with these things and that's really, that tells a lot right about our culture and tells a lot about what we're focused on.
And so I'm excited to introduce our guest today Mr. David Smith, who's been a longtime member of the cooperative system. His roots run deep in the cooperative system and has really helped uncover a lot of opportunities both in our communities and the things that Ceres does to be relevant. I mean, he is the voice or the thread that he pulls the things together locally. He is a lot of the times the face of Ceres solutions inside of an FFA chapter or a local 4-H auction or some state convention that we're having. He always wears the logo proud and we're happy to have David as a part of our team. Glad
David Smith (02:55):
To be a part of the podcast here and everything. I'm David Smith and been with the cooperative system about 20 years today. As Drew said, I kind of grew up around the cooperative system. It's kind of been in my lifeline lifeblood for the last so many years. And just today though, I handle a lot of our public relations. So go out and talk to a lot of FFA students, go out and talk to a lot from the 4-H standpoint serving in our communities. I work with the local chapters as much as what we can kind of putting what we do in the communities, but kind of tell 'em about the opportunities that we have in agriculture itself though. So it's exciting too. Talk to the students. And then I do that I'll handle a lot of our scholarships, so it's fun to give back from that standpoint and see the students there. And then I'll handle some of our appreciation through our customer side as we do those trips. So it's fun to do that. Every day is a little bit different from my standpoint. I started through sales 20 years ago and then came into the marketing role about 10 years ago. Now
Morgan Seger (03:59):
With time being one of our most valuable resources, David walks us through how Ceres Solutions decides where to spend that resource in their rural communities.
David Smith (04:09):
Well, I think when we look at a lot of things today we go back to that reverse model again. We go back to the farmer owners and we try and look at, as we've talked about, the 4-H, the ffa, our roots, that's going back to our ag roots and everything too as a farmer-owned cooperative. So through 4-H, through ffa through the food banks, we see a lot of food insecurity still around the state. So trying to reach out to those as well and help as because we are providing the food, the fiber and the energy that's not only feeding the states here but feeding the world as well. So we try and focus on that side of it, come from the farmer mentality as well though is what we're going to look at. And then the other thing that we look at as well is the safety and security. So coming back to the emergency management side, so the fire departments how can we help from that standpoint sometimes too.
Drew Garretson (05:05):
David, I'm interested to know after 20 years kind of seeing the business evolve over that period of time, what have you seen as the biggest change with our customer? We're talking about the reverse on model quite a bit and I really appreciate you bringing that up. What have you seen is how has the customer changed in that period of time?
David Smith (05:24):
Well, I think one of the biggest things that we've seen is just the adaption of technology and that's gone in phases. I mean obviously it's increased considerably over the last five years here but yet overall just the adaption of the technology they can do things a lot more efficiently. They can put that crop in the ground a lot quicker than what we could 20 years ago, 10 years ago. But it's trying to, and when I see technology, every farm's a little bit different. So it's not just the auto steer or the precision planning things that they're doing on every operation. It's doing what's best for that family too. And we're still talking family operations too, though. Obviously the size of the farms have grown, but it still comes back to that family cohesive unit and everything then too. And that's why I started out in ag and that's why I've stayed in ag is because that the families that you're working with today in and out, that that's one thing that has not changed at
Drew Garretson (06:19):
All and help translate that then to the next generation. So you're talking about serving FFA chapters in 4-H and Ceres engagement sponsorships at all kinds of different levels. Give me the where did that 20 years ago, what was our engagement compared to what the way that it is now? Well,
David Smith (06:36):
I think we're still similar from that standpoint. I mean obviously FFA looks a lot different today than what it did 20 years ago because we don't have as many kids coming from that farm background. I think as we look at the farm base today if I go and talk to, I was just at a fire event, which is a leadership training for students down at Trafalgar as they raised their hands, I think there was probably 25 to 30% that was from a farm at that time, but yet that's shrinking numbers. But it's trying to tell our story of ag and that's a part of what I do. But I think when you look from the farm standpoint though, and from our customer standpoint, there's still a similar base and everything too though Drew,
Morgan Seger (07:17):
There are a lot of ways that you can give back to different organizations. David walks us through what this looks like for Ceres solutions.
David Smith (07:25):
So what we do for a lot of the FFA is we'll go in and help them from the standpoint of showing them opportunities. So I may take precision ag with me and kind of show 'em some of the technologies we're using today. So maybe it's the drone. Obviously everybody's seeing the drones and kids are excited to see that. When we go and did the 4-H roundup last summer, we took again our agronomy team, we talked about sustainability. Betsy was on so it's Betsy was able to speak we had a application unit there. So they're able to see the technology we're using today. And then we talked about the stewardship and the things that we're doing to preserve the land, not only for their generation but for that next generation as well. And we look at some of the things we're doing though too, we're giving back 4-H wise, we're basically just helping out from the junior leader standpoint.
We provide a lot from each county fair. We will give them dollars there. Then that goes to the four each council for every county that we serve throughout 37 counties in Indiana and Michigan. And then obviously we're involved from the auction standpoint and each one of those county fairs as well. And if you look at our employee base, a lot of them are coming from a 4-H background or a FFA background. So they're happy and thankful to give back to that community because not only do they serve in it, but their kids are probably in it. And that's what we see when we look at those 4-H kids when you talk to 'em. And that's one very proud thing I can say is when I talk to 4-H kids, you talk to FFA kids, they're going to look you in the eye and they're going to speak to you from the heart and you can tell that and it just renews your hope and your feeling and that next generation because it's it. They're there, they're those next leaders and that's who I get a chance to talk to and it's fun to do that.
Drew Garretson (09:16):
How do we make those connections? How do we get invited into the school to have that conversation with that FFA chapter or get the opportunity to serve at the local four? What's our way or our thread or our way into those conversations?
David Smith (09:33):
Well, I think Drew, from that standpoint, our tie is usually that local branch because again, our employee base has commitment. There's some branches that we help 'em out FFA wise with, maybe they've got a test plot that we help 'em out with or we've got kids of our team members, maybe they've got kids within an organization or a lot of us are from those areas that we're surfing and everything too. So whether it be Wabash or Crawfordsville, whatever it may be, we've got people that's lived there their whole lives, so they know that local advisor, they know the local kids and obviously a lot of them are 4-H members or 4-H leaders themselves in too. So when you're that leader, you get to know those kids so you get to know what they're doing within the 4-H community and then obviously you're following 'em through the FFA side and everything as well. So it's that local contact. Yeah, that's what it is.
Drew Garretson (10:31):
It reminds me of a little bit of the flame that got lit inside myself as it relates to working for the co-op and being involved in FFA in 4-H because now that you said that, I remember my FFA chapter had a test plot too that we went out there and we learned, we actually hosted a day to bring local farmers in to show 'em the new technology. You got the seed donated from local folks to be able to showcase their product and each one of 'em came out and talked to it and I'm like, well, this is pretty cool. I was probably 12 years old or 13 years old or so I was pretty small. But now that you say that I was our local co-op that was actually involved in those kind of things. So yeah, that's pretty neat. Well, I remember as a little kid being involved in the livestock projects and going around and being on the livestock judging team or just least toting along with the high school kids through my FFA advisor or those were very impressionable things that happened in my life that when I often tell the story that when I was a freshman in high school and after six weeks of ag class, I'm like, this is what I want to do.
I want to be the world's next best ag teacher. And I was just determined that, I mean I already decided my major in at Purdue, that's what it was going to be and that's what was going to happen. And obviously life changes and things like that, but I did, I spent two years in the ag classroom and so I was familiar with everything that went on before I left to come to work for Ceres. But I mean it made a major impact on my life and I hope those opportunities, those kids that you were talking about get to have that same fire lit in them. The agriculture is a great place to work. You don't necessarily have to be on a farm all the time. I mean I think that's one thing about ag retail and the cooperative system is that as farmers continue to consolidate and there's just not as many of them, the opportunity for you to become a farmer, that's hard.
But yet ag retail and the cooperative system is as about as step as close as you can to actually being a farmer without being a farmer. And that's why I think work here has been so attractive for a really long time. And the way in which we do that is an example is our local team and David actually working with these local f FFA chapters to expose them to what it is that we do. So there's here to help them and serve them and we obviously donate money and time of ours, but in return we find great people that are talented people for our organization because they've been exposed to some of the things that we're doing.
David Smith (13:08):
And we try and talk about the internship opportunities. We talk about the scholarship opportunities. We're trying to shape their future a little bit is what we're trying to do and encourage 'em to follow their passion. And if that passion is ag, we'd love to have you. If it's not ag, then we kind of tell 'em that there's opportunity. Not everybody here at Ceres Solutions obviously is firm of an ag background. As we have grown and changed and evolved, our marketing team here is a perfect example to where we have grown and what's it going to look like in five years. I don't know, but I can tell you we're going to continue to grow and there's continue to be more opportunities with it though too. So it's exciting to see it. Yeah,
Drew Garretson (13:51):
I was thinking about that the other day. Somebody asked me about the jobs of the future. For one, I think I see the cooperative model really turning to a service model, but I think data becomes one of the most critical pieces of information that we help farmers manage. And a year ago we hired a data specialist to come to work at Ceres, and I can tell you that in 20 years they're probably going to be a lot more than one of them on our staff because there's just that critical of a role
Morgan Seger (14:24):
Similar to the plot that Drew described. Ceres Solutions participates in local field trials and when they can, they also include things like Sweetcorn that they can then donate back to the local communities.
David Smith (14:38):
Well, I think a lot of our branches have got obviously our footprint is pretty good size sometimes at a lot of those branches to where they've got space for all the equipment and everything too. They may have a space to where they can put a plot and whether it's a test plot that we have, we'll put sweet corn into it. And at that one that you're talking about, I mean we'll pick that sweet corn and take it to the local food bank. So we try and select different areas. Obviously like I said, food insecurity is happening all around us but it's trying to help out those that we can and that's just, I kind of look at our team from a servant's hard standpoint. They're wanting to serve that local community. They know that we're involved in producing that food, the fibrin energy that's going to feed, and when we've got that opportunity to do it, they're doing it and they're stepping up and doing it.
And it's kind of an organized effort that they've got. Mean obviously from the ag standpoint, that season starts March 1st and it may not end until that middle of August where they're still spraying fungicides and everything a little bit, but yet they find that time to help out too though. And each branch has got their different things. Some of them will serve. We've got another that'll go and just help hand out food this winter at a local church for a food group there as well, just helping out people and as they come in and they're helping serve. So it's being able to do that as a group or as a team too. So it passes on that camaraderie, but we're given back to the local community as well when we do
Drew Garretson (16:16):
It. David started collecting information from our team out in the field about their level of engagement. And it is very impressive to see the members of our team that live in the communities that we serve and the list of things that they do. We have a group of employees here at Ceres who are not only focused on the job that they have at hand to serve our members and our customers, but they're also a focus on their communities and their families get given back. And that's certainly a cool thing to see.
David Smith (16:50):
And some of 'em that we've had come in, it was like, how do you get that all done? I know spring season and end of the summer what you're doing, so you're busy, but yet I see all these things that you're involved in, whether it's coaching or whether it's four fire department, I mean it, it's been surprising how much, but it makes you feel good to be a part of that team.
Morgan Seger (17:13):
Drew talks to how Ceres solutions supports employees involvement in their local communities.
Drew Garretson (17:19):
There's no incentive for them to do that. I mean obviously we've given, we give them the time and effort to do those things and we encourage that type of culture within the organization. But I would say that a lot of it is just done on their own. I was always told that if you want something done, go ask a busy person. I mean, I said that, as crazy as that sounds, but those are the people that try to figure out how to get things done. To David's point, I mean that's exactly how those things happen is you see that there's a need and you have the resources to be able to do it. We also give our team a lot of flexibility to go and run their location within their area. And I think that is good because that gives them the autonomy and the agility to do what they
David Smith (18:03):
Want. I think we do encourage them to give back to the local committee too. We do a match program to where we'll match so many dollars for them to give to the local food bank or whatever cause they choose. So we do have those options as well for the team. But it's just good to see from the standpoint of what the local team members are doing and everything to the employees themselves.
Morgan Seger (18:25):
If you are a business or organization looking to maximize your impact, leaning into your partners might be a great opportunity. David shares how Ceres Solutions works with some of their industry partners in this way.
David Smith (18:39):
I mean a lot of what we'll do through 4-H especially is we work with Land O'Lakes, our partners there are not, so they will match a lot of our funds that we give to our local communities. So it's going back to where we've had, I can think of one that we did a few years ago to where we had a 4-H project is specific county that obviously they're building and a lot of the ones are trying to update and keep things up. So we are doing things from that standpoint. They matched what we gave Land O'Lakes did and we'll only we'll do that with Land O'Lakes, do it with CoBank and we'll do it with CHS as well. So there's matching funds that will work with different organizations and try and partner from that standpoint. Another thing that our cooperatives come together too, we've done a habitat built at the state fair so it's nice to see that where four to five co-ops came together and employees would do it.
Our president was there and just being a part of it and giving back that time, the house actually stayed in the Indianapolis community and that is what we did as a team. But yet there's many projects like that across the states that you can get involved. And then the other one that we work with as well is Country Bark and the Feeling Freedom will do that during the summer months to wear 50 cents out of every gown goes back to the National Readiness Group. So helping out those reserve guards that's going away and helping those families out then too. So that that's always a great cause and a great day in June that we do that.
Morgan Seger (20:17):
In addition to those matching funds, Ceres Solutions also has scholarships for students entering into college.
David Smith (20:24):
That window is open till March. Yeah, correct. And we just actually posted those on the website here in the last couple weeks. It's for seniors this year obviously. And for somebody that's going to be looking at pursuing a ag related field of study, that student has to have a parent or a grandparent that's a member within the cooperative and everything within Ceres. If they're from a farming background or their parents farm, their grandparents' farm, then that's who's going to qualify for 'em. And we do ten one thousand dollars scholarships around the trade area and then we'll do five scholarships through Purdue. Like you say. It's just being able to give back to those students and obviously as we do that we get a chance to look at and see some future employees and everything from that standpoint as well. We're just proud to give back from that though. And we've given back around $250,000 over the last since we've formed those scholarship programs and as we've grown and come together over the years.
Drew Garretson (21:15):
One thing I think it's really cool is that we actually actually have a resource like David to help the local person. So you got a local branch manager or a local liquid fuel driver who wants to help with something, but he's not exactly sure how to go do that. They have a resource within David to be able to call and he can help them get started and maybe give them some ideas and some creative way. That's really cool to see that our organization has somebody that is kind of dedicated and helping them get involved in our local community.
Morgan Seger (21:43):
David walks us through how he helps connect employees with opportunities in their rural community.
David Smith (21:48):
Well, it's kind of the same thing I tell the FFAs kids and I tell the 4-H as well is kind of find your passion and at their age and everything too though I can remember what kind of motivated me at my age and those high school years was to, I thought at that time I didn't want to do sales at all. I was kind of quiet and didn't want to get out and speak. I didn't like doing things exactly like this public speaking. Actually, FFA was my chance to speak a little bit. So find your passion, find what you don't want to do, so to say stretch yourself. That's what I encourage kids to do. From the service standpoint though, find something in your local community that whether it, maybe it's not 4-H, maybe it's not ffa, it makes you feel good about what you're doing. Sometimes too though, if you are feeling, especially this time of year, we're in the holiday season, catch your blessings, look at what you have around you and know the good Lord's looking out for you and each and every day you're just thankful for it. And as you serve and help each other, then it just gives us that thankful heart for what we're doing. And that's kind of the sense of the community and what you have here at Ceres Solutions as well.
Drew Garretson (22:55):
David mentioned something earlier I thought was pretty interesting about just being involved in our local schools or F FFA chapters and Forage and the encouragement that you get to see that next generation of agricultural leaders. And I've had the opportunity for the last two or three years, just years to serve on our Lilly selection committee in Indiana for our local county. And I have the exact same feeling that David mentioned about those kids. If I ever hear somebody in the older generation complaining about the new generation of kids said, you need to come with me, volunteer to be on this selection committee, and I want you to listen to the talented young individuals that come into that room and sit through a 30 minute interview with me. And it's not the same people that you're complaining about. I guarantee it because they're impre, they're very impressive.
Morgan Seger (23:47):
Finding where to give back may be easier if you're in your own hometown. Next, drew walks us through how to find ways to connect with your local community even if it's a place that you are new to. I
Drew Garretson (24:00):
Think I answered that question a little bit, Morgan, because I was a transplant from Central Indiana to Southwest Indiana when I came to work for Ceres, and when you're working with farmers, they're involved in a local community and they've lived there their whole life. And I remember a farmer calling me one time it was in the fall and we were spreading a lot of fertilizer and so him and I communicating back and forth on a regular basis throughout the day was pretty common. And I remember him calling me and he was in the combine and he said, drew, I could not be more happy with the job that you're doing helping us here at Ceres. He goes, but r FFA chapter needs some help from you. Would you be willing to serve them through an advisory board type of role because they could use some of your thought process.
And so here he was a school board member, a local farmer, a customer series in helping trying to connect those dots because he cares about the community that he's living in. So I think some of that's like when you start to get involved and you're open to new ideas. I know for me and my family, we're living in a rural area, we could kind of live where we want to some degree. And I remember some of our local community members and leaders and call it stakeholders within our community, started asking some questions like, well, why are you here? Help me understand what made you choose to live where you live? And started to asking some questions and then it was you said, well, if we're going to be here, we're going to be involved. We're going to try to make this place as good as we possibly can. So try to give back as much time and effort to our local community as
Morgan Seger (25:37):
Possible. If you are already involved in your local community, this may be an opportunity for you to think about the impact you can have by inviting someone new into your organization
Drew Garretson (25:48):
With a small group of farmers that are helping represent the future of Ceres. They volunteer on over 20 boards just for that group, group of 12 farmers. So not only is it a common thread within the people who work for Ceres, but also the farmer owners of Ceres are,
David Smith (26:08):
They're giving back,
Drew Garretson (26:08):
Very engaged in that's what we're doing too.
David Smith (26:10):
Well that's good.
Morgan Seger (26:11):
Now all of this takes resources. Next, David walks us through how Ceres measures the impact of their service.
David Smith (26:19):
Well, it's a good question. I mean, I think when we look at going out and talking to students, looking at the scholarships, looking at how we are impacting communities, obviously from a food bank it, it's going to stay local and you're trying to help a local family that may be food insecure, but I think you're building that camaraderie amongst the team as you're doing it with the team and you're serving that local community. It's helping them, helping those that's receiving that. But I think it's helping yourself though too. It it's because you're able to give back and I think that's what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to reach out to each other and come together as one. And that's, I think we need more of that right
Morgan Seger (27:03):
Now. As we wrap up this conversation, David encourages you to get involved.
David Smith (27:08):
My say, just find your niche, find what you want to give back to because it's out there again, whether it's a food bank, your local church, maybe it's not FFA or 4-H, but yet we've got team members at our coaching youth sports and everything too. So making an impact on that youth. Keep 'em off the iPads. <laugh> seen that out there a lot too. As a kid. Drew you probably too. You, you're, you're out there and about you're, you're playing outside. That's what we did as a kid. Get 'em out, let 'em experience things today. Yeah,
Morgan Seger (27:39):
I love how this culture of giving back and having a servant's heart is not only just through Ceres solutions at a company level, but also through the employee's personal lives and the customers they work with. If you're listening to this and you feel like it's time to start giving back to your community but you don't know where to start, I encourage you to reach out to your local Ceres solutions location or reach out to David. He has a lot of great connections and knows where people are looking for help. In our next episode, we're going to be talking about building a brand and living out your brand with Laurel Mann and Callie Curley. You won't want to miss it. The show notes for this episode will be available at ceres dot, that's c e r e s dot c o o p. If you enjoyed this deeper dive, be sure to subscribe and leave us a review. Your review and feedback will help other listeners like you find our podcast, and we are so thankful for that.

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