ROME — For Indiana farmer Kip Tom, his new position as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture is a world away from his seventh-generation Kosciusko County grain farm.
But his farm and his family always is close.
“I had good parents and I’ve got good children and we’ve had a lot of learning experiences over the years in running a farm operation and a lot of it has applicability to the things I’m doing right here in this mission,” Tom said.
Tom is living in Rome as he undertakes the duties of ambassador to those agencies, which include the World Food Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
While the work schedule may not be much different for Tom, he is in the office at the U.S. embassy by 8 a.m. each morning, including the day after he arrived in Rome to start the job, and duties and events may go late into the night, what he’s doing and the issues he has dealt with so far aren’t the typical day on the farm.
Take, for instance, the World Food Program’s work to get emergency food aid to people in Yemen, which has been gripped in a four-year civil war.
“As people want to go into those villages in Yemen, it’s not uncommon for them to be blocked in getting to the food aid by the Houthis, who are taking their children, their sons, and making them join their army so the rest of the family can get to food aid,” Tom said.
Tom, himself a father and grandfather, paused.
“I can’t think of anything more sobering and disheartening and heartbreaking for a family than to get access to food, but you’ve got to give up your sons,” Tom said.
He served as a trustee of the National 4-H Foundation and was a member of the National FFA Board of Directors.
He’s also learning the ropes when it comes to the culture, not just of Rome, but also of his new position in the UN.
“To blend into this culture is to make sure you are being diplomatic, working with others, finding places where you have common ground and investing your time accordingly,” he said.
Tom, who served as a member of President Donald Trump’s agricultural advisory committee, was nominated in July 2018 for the U.N. post. He was confirmed to the post by the U.S. Senate on April 11.
But he was working before he boarded the plane to Rome.
“I’ve been onboarding, so I was pretty well prepared, working with all the different agencies in Washington, D.C., to make sure that when I got here, I could hit the ground running,” he said.
His farm’s reach includes northern Indiana, as well as Argentina, and Tom said 45 years of working on and running the family farm and agribusiness has provided him with a unique perspective on food production and agriculture.
The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization holds a special spot for the new ambassador.
“It is the organization that we work with to create resilience and capacity in food production systems, to help people learn how to feed themselves. This is something I’m very passionate about,” Tom said.
He emphasized the connectivity that the agencies he oversees have and how the activities of one agency can impact the others.
“I say this often — if we can’t create resilience and capacity in food production systems, there’s no way we will ever put enough money into the World Food Program to feed that hungry world,” he said.
Another mission at FAO is where Tom’s farmer voice and experience play a role.
“We’ve been very engaged in the conversations around what’s going on in the European Union around the use of glyphosate or not allowing the access to import food from the United States that has been produced with either biotech or has our crop care products on it. We are involved in all these discussions,” he said.
Later this month, the U.N. FAO will elect a new director general. Four candidates, from China, France, Georgia and India, are in the running for the job.
“I’m involved in a lot of discussions with different candidates who are running for this position,” said Tom, noting that farming is a universal language.
“Some people really have a good understanding of what it’s like to be out in the field and produce a crop, and the challenges that, whether you are a farmer in the United States or whether you are a farmer in Bangladesh, impact you. I’ve had experiences in a lot of places, so I’m putting that into practice,” he said.
Meanwhile back at the farm near Leesburg in northern Indiana, Tom said planting was slowed due to the weather.
“I got a report in today, we are not quite 30% planted,” he said.
The farm is in the capable hands of family and farm employees, and Tom said his new post could help them, as well.
“They will probably do better without me around. I spent 45 years there, so it’s actually time for them to do it and I am proud of everyone who works at Tom Farms and the efforts that they make to continue to see it be successful and continue to see it grow,” he said.