Compeer Financial pledges $1 million legacy gift to The Hormel Institute

Published 6:05 pm Tuesday, July 11, 2023

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A commitment by Compeer Financial, a farm credit cooperative based in the Upper Midwest, will help establish a new research fund and laboratory that will focus on the connections between foods and disease prevention, as well as the promotion of human health.

It was announced on Tuesday that Compeer Financial will commit $1 million to The Hormel Institute under the newly formed Farm to Wellness Research Fund.

Specifically, the fund and laboratory will commit to studying the benefits of agricultural commodities produced in the Upper Midwest and their role in preventing cancer and other diseases. 

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“Collaborations like this can help everyone,” said Jase Wagner, CEO of Compeer Financial. “When you make connections (like this) … think about the work being done here.”

According to John Monson, chief mission officer for Compeer, the roots of this collaboration reach back to 2008, during a conference at The Hormel Institute  that brought 39 counties together from the region to look at how health, science and agriculture can come together.

“This is exciting,” Monson said. “This has been a day we have envisioned for 15 years.”

“We’re going to understand the human body better,” he added.

At the center of research in the lab run by Dr. Leena Hilakivi-Clarke, assistant director for Faculty Affairs, Professor of Food Science and Nutrition and Women’s Health section leader,  will be milk and soybeans.

“We are extremely thankful to Compeer Financial for this legacy gift continuing their faithful, generous support and vision supporting research that is critical and underfunded,” she said. “The first research project done with these funds will determine how soy foods and milk consumption in adolescent girls will cut later breast cancer risk by up to 50%.”

Hilakivi-Clarke focuses on research involving the role of dietary factors affecting breast cancer risk and mortality. She investigates intakes at different points of the life cycle of various dietary factors, including plant chemicals, vitamin D and obesity on the microbiota and immune cells.

The fund will also be looking for more partners in the future.

There’s also a larger component to this in that Tuesday’s news works in with the City of Austin’s overall goal of attracting businesses and institutions that are involved in agriculture, health and science and that compliments the industries already in place, including the Institute.

Dr. Robert Clarke, The Hormel Institute’s director, said that this new fund and upcoming research fits perfectly into those goals.

“It sort of helps bring a lot together in one place,” he said. “It’s one project that requires participation components in all areas. You can only really do that in Austin. This is our community.”

Like in all arms of science, there will be no instant results, but Clarke said he thinks initial results could show a general direction of research in around five years time.”

There’s also a hope by both those with Compeer and The Hormel Institute that this partnership can lead to other such partnerships. That this can be an example of where research can go when multiple entities come together.

“Hopefully, we can bring others into this and show them the way,” Wagner said.

“Really, this is the beginning,” Clarke said later. “I think it’s going to be very beneficial.”

The $1 million legacy gift comes from Compeer Financial’s donor-advised fund, the Agriculture and Rural Initiative, created through their corporate giving program, the Fund for Rural America.

The Institute’s growing Food Science research unit is focused on the critical connections between foods we eat and the human body leading to disease prevention and control. 

On top of Tuesday’s news, the Institute also announced that it added another food science section lead. Dr. Annie Lin joined the institute in June having come from Northwestern University.