From Minnesota to Africa, Local Nonprofit Connects Food Experts Worlds Apart
By Kristen Leigh Painter
The audio crackled as the web-based technology strained to connect people worlds apart. Some voices were louder than others. Some suddenly dropped. But Rose Barry managed to catch promising partial sentences about peanut butter.
“The peanut butter installation ...” (static) “ ... started operating about a day ago ...”(dead air) “We had a bit of a breakdown ...” (static) “The mix is working really well.”
After some clarification, Barry was pleased. Changes regarding production equipment that she and her team had recommended to COMACO, a Zambian food company, were increasing the amount of peanut butter it could churn out. And the lower mixing temperature improved the peanut butter’s quality.
These solutions — and unlikely conversations — are the result of Partners in Food Solutions (PFS), a Minnesota-based nonprofit that pairs scientists and experts from U.S. food companies with smaller African food companies looking for assistance. Barry, a senior research and development scientist for Golden Valley-based General Mills, is one of nearly 1,200 PFS volunteers offering professional skills and free time to help African food businesses.
Companies have long offered volunteer opportunities for its workers to participate in community service projects or contribute to a companywide charity fundraiser. But some companies are seeking to move beyond one-off volunteering events in ways that tap into the specific skills of their employees.
PFS began in 2008 after former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a Macalester College alum, personally challenged former General Mills CEO Ken Powell to do more about food insecurity. A global food crisis had sent food prices soaring 83% in three years.