As Joel Gasper will tell you, two important things happened in 1983. It’s the year he was born, and it’s also the year that Joel’s dad began farming sugar beets.

“I’m a second-generation sugar beet farmer,” says Joel. “It’s who I am and it’s what I love.” In fact, when we spoke with Joel for this interview, he was in his tractor working a field.

Joel wasn’t just born into sugar beet farming, he was a mere 16 years old when he bought his first shares in the American Crystal Sugar Company. “I’ve always be optimistic about this industry.”

In a Word: Teamwork

Joel is a self-described sports guy. Of course, this makes perfect sense once you learn that he was a professional hockey player and now coaches his son’s hockey team. So, asked to describe in one word what makes the sugar industry so special, it should come as no surprise that he immediately said, “teamwork.”

“Sure, we are individual farmers,” said Joel. “But we also work together because we are all part of something larger.” He is also quick to point out all the moving parts that make up the industry. Farmers are certainly an important component, he says, but they know that many other people play vital roles in getting sugar from their fields to the tables of people all over the country.

Most consumers have no idea that more than 142,000 jobs nationwide are generated by the sugar industry. It’s the processors who refine the sugar, the distributors who transport it, and storekeepers who sell it – among many others. Joel also talks about the informal networks that bind together the sugar industry in a unique and special way.

“When harvest time comes around – that’s when you see what teamwork really means to us. It’s normal for friends and family from around the country to come in and head to the fields. It’s all hands on deck, and everyone pitches in. It’s just amazing to experience, every time.”

“Creating sugar is such a fascinating process that really does take the human touch, every step of the way. You really have to see it in person.”

Sweet, and in His Case, Simple

“What’s my family’s favorite way to enjoy sugar – I don’t have to give just one answer, right?” Joel was quick to point out that with three active kids, sugar adds sweetness in many ways. His kids of course love their candy, and he concedes that his daughter is by far the biggest fan.

But for Joel, sometimes it’s just the simple things that he enjoys the most. “My favorite is actually pretty straight forward. I like to put a scoop of sugar on my breakfast cereal in the morning. Old school.” That sounds just about right.

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