NCF #FutureFocused Q&A with Alyssa D. Hamill
Alyssa D. Hamill is the corporate sustainability specialist for Smithfield Foods and is part of their Environmental Affairs Team. In her position, she tracks the company’s progress toward environmental goals and targets.
Hamill grew up visiting many national parks, so she has always felt close to environmental conservation. After taking an environmental science course in high school, she became hooked on wanting to learn and do more for conservation.
Hamill recently spoke with NACD about the National Conservation Foundation (NCF), its goals and its legacy.
How did you become involved in the Envirothon program?
Smithfield has been a longtime supporter of Envirothon and has donated nearly $500,000 since 2015 to further their mission. Our farms and facilities donate to their local chapters and send volunteers to assist with the competitions. At the national level, our employees serve as volunteer judges, and Smithfield donates the scholarship money for the three top winners at the international competition. When I joined the company, I was excited to become involved with our Envirothon partnership to help support the next generation of environmental stewards.
Has your involvement in the Envirothon influenced any personal or career goals?
Yes, absolutely. Envirothon has solidified the reality that conservation education needs to be more widely available. At Smithfield, we play a vital role in helping to provide access to conservation education. In the last few years, especially since being involved with Envirothon firsthand, I’ve become very passionate about providing access to that education. Our company does a lot of great work in the area of environmental stewardship across all of our operations, and we want to share what we’ve learned with the communities we call home.
Through Envirothon, we’ve connected with the Virginia soil and water conservation districts at the state level to discuss sustainable agriculture at their annual youth conservation camp (YCC), which is a weeklong hands-on experience for high school students. They study different parts of environmental conservation each day, and for the last couple years, I’ve been able to spend a day with the students to discuss sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job, and that connection was formed through Envirothon.
“It’s powerful to see the ripple-effect this program has.”
Why is it important for us to support the next generation of conservation leaders?
Through Envirothon, these students are learning the importance of being an informed and responsible citizen, and that they too have a part to play in the stewardship of this world. They are learning that you don’t have to be an expert to understand the importance of soil health or be a scientist to appreciate the gravity of climate change, invasive species and so on. Every citizen has a part to play in taking care of the environment, and these students are learning that firsthand.
As inspiring as these kids are, they can’t do it alone. They need access to a variety of resources, equipment, coaching and emotional support. We’re going to hand them the reins to the world in the not-so-distant future. The least we can do for these students and young adults is to help prepare them to take on this enormous amount responsibility, to do so successfully and to do it better than we did.
Why is supporting NCF and its programs, such as the Envirothon, important?
In order to be impactful, you need to have quality resources, which are provided by adequate funding. NCF’s programs, especially the Envirothon program, help to ensure that those positive impacts are carried on and ultimately improved upon by the next generation of leaders. Having well-informed leaders makes all the difference. These programs also help students develop their project management skills, critical thinking and presentation skills. All of those are crucial for any field that they decide to enter. They are able to hone all of these key skills in hands-on scenarios, while tackling real and complex issues. I think that having the opportunity to do that in such an interactive, immersive way makes all the difference in a student’s education and experience.
“I think we create a truly sustainable world and society by sharing what we’ve learned with the students and young adults who will one day be in those critical decision-making positions.”
What are you most passionate about in the realm of conservation?
We are experiencing a climate crisis right now. We’re living it, and change needs to happen immediately. I’m most passionate about helping to educate people on just that – we need change and we need it now. Also, that we can all contribute to being part of that change, and there’s nothing too small when you’re trying to make a difference. All those small pieces add up to something really great and impactful.
It’s fulfilling to work with a company that takes bold action to protect our climate and environment. In fact, earlier this year, Smithfield became the first major protein company to commit to becoming carbon negative in all company-owned operations in the United States by 2030. This builds upon our current ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25 percent by 2025 across our entire supply chain, which was announced in 2016.
How does diversity strengthen conservation as a field and as a community?
As a young woman in the environmental industry, I can’t stress enough the impact and the importance of empowering and encouraging diversity across the field. We’re so much more successful when everyone not only has a seat at the table but feels like their voice is valued and heard. You can’t pat yourself on the back after you invite someone to the table but then don’t let them contribute anything. When you have a chorus of voices with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, that’s when you get the best ideas and the best momentum.
Why should today’s students choose to pursue conservation as a field of study?
The field of conservation is so vast – there’s something of interest for almost everyone. Plus, the work being done is not only changing the world, it’s saving it as well. I can only think of a few things more rewarding than that. There’s some powerful work that’s being done and to say that you were a part of that is very rewarding.
Why should individuals donate to this campaign – to NCF and to the Envirothon program?
Envirothon fills a niche that I think very few other programs do – it has students engage with these environmental topics in a way that is inherently interdisciplinary. It links human actions, topics like farming and climate change, with the environment in a way that is both substantial and also accessible for students.
I think that if people believe in that mission, then they should donate. Envirothon operates at local, state and international scales. There are a lot of people along the way who are developing competition resources and tests, who are running stations, and who are trying to make sure that students can get to these competitions. The infrastructure for competition is so well-run, and so many students participate. That does take money to happen, but the impact is definitely worth it.
Please help support conservation leaders by donating to the #FutureFocused campaign! As we prepare for a new 2021 NGLI cohort and the rescheduled 2021 NCF-Envirothon competition in Lincoln, Nebraska, set to be held in July 2021, your financial support is needed to help keep these programs moving forward.
Every contribution matters, and your support will be matched dollar-for-dollar throughout the campaign.