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Big Corn: We Are NOT Brainwashing Minneapolis Schoolchildren

A Racket reader demanded to know one way or the other.

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Late last week, an urgent-seeming tip came over the transom of the Racket Reader Action Desk.

"Don't know if there is a story in this or not," it began, "but our kid came home from Howe [Elementary School] today with a pencil bag of pro-corn propaganda and stories of a horrific mascot who performed a gameshow routine alongside skilled hip-hop dancers."

The tipster provided photographic intel of the alleged "pro-corn propaganda," pictured below, as well as a screengrab of Maizey, the "horrific mascot," who you can see above.

Provided

Deploying our deductive expertise, we were able to determine the group behind both the corn-themed swag bag and the (allegedly) horrific corn mascot was none other than the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA), the industry group responsible for advancing corn interests throughout the state. The reader correctly asserted that this webpage, which outlines MCGA's education outreach program, raises more questions than it answers.

They continued...

How are people getting paid for these performances? Did MPS get a big check for this from the corn lobby? Is there an anti-corn agenda currently in circulation that's escaped my notice? Is corn actually "cool"? I guess it is better than D.A.R.E., but that's not saying a whole lot. This all may be beneath your journalistic purview, in which case I do apologize, but I can't be the only parent blinking in confusion and disbelief at this odd corporate intrusion.

After assuring her that this is well within our journalistic purview, Racket sprang into action. (This being assigned to the very real Racket Reader Action Desk, after all.) We hit up the Minneapolis Public Schools publicist with our newfound concern over the apparent corporate reeducation of our most precious commodity—children, not corn, to be clear.

What are students expected to gain from the in-school corn program? Is money—and if so, how much?—exchanged between MPS and MCGA? And, crucially, is corn in fact "cool"?    

Stonewalled! The school board's comms team vowed to "look into this," but that was six full days ago.

That left us with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association but, before reaching out, we needed to better understand this corn-boosting org.

A subsidiary of the National Corn Growers Association, the local arm of the operation tasks itself with advancing four core industry priorities: ethanol, sustainability, trade, and the Farm Bill.

In 2017, according to public data via Open Secrets, MCGA deployed six lobbyists and spent $160,000 in lobbying expenditures to rhapsodize the virtues of their prefered crop to lawmakers. That top issue—ethanol—matters most because almost 30% of corn grown in Minnesota is turned into fuel, per MCGA. (Over 38% becomes livestock feed while another 16.3% is exported; our state is the nation's third-biggest corn grower and fourth-biggest ethanol producer.) In recent years, studies have found that ethanol might actually be worse for the environment than gasoline, complicating the wisdom of awarding the industry with vast government subsidies. Producers are now fighting harder than ever for fuel-blend mandates that buoy demand for corn.

Anyway!

Back to topic at hand: How insidious and/or innocuous is advancing the corn agenda in Minneapolis Public Schools? Here's Barbara Boelk, the prompt and polite spokesperson for MCGA who we bothered last week.

Minnesota Corn is proud to teach young people across the state about corn and corn farming. Using a fun, educational program, students in school districts in the metro and beyond learn about how corn is part of the renewable food, fiber, and fuel they and their families use every day. Schools opt in to the program, in much the same way that they opt in to other programs and assemblies that meet educational standards. Minnesota Corn does not give or receive payment for placement of programs with any school district. Students learn about Minnesota’s tradition of family corn farming, and its importance to local and state economies. In addition to learning how something grown locally impacts a student’s daily life, students can also learn about the vast array of career opportunities associated with corn farming, like on-farm roles, research, and technology to name a few.

The swag bags? They're meant to instill a "positive memory" of the pro-corn demonstration, Boelk says. And you better believe she has no patience for the besmirchment of her group's grinning corn-ear mascot. "[Maizey is] a fun-loving and joyful ear of Minnesota corn who loves being part of these types of programs where meeting the kids and participating in the program are highlights of the day," Boelk concludes. It's up to parents to balance Maizey's relentless enthusiasm for corn with the real-world impact, positive and negative, the ag product presents.

As for whether corn is "cool"? Nobody spoke to that, though those rubber bracelets more or less put MCGA on the record. We know how this non-Minnesotan tot feels...

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