Our final day of our Itasca seminar began early for the seminar management team.  We were up early making breakfast for our classmates.  Pauline, Russ, Christian and I did our best to keep everyone fed so we could all finish our seminar strong.  Pauline is great at making pancakes, Russ is an expert with scrambled eggs, Christian is a talented whisker, and I make a mean pot of coffee!  A shout-out to fellow team member Ryan for the fifteen pounds of bacon!

After breakfast the class cleaned-up, packed-up and were off to the Itasca Jacob V. Brower visitor’s center where we would have our final few hours together.  At the visitor’s center, the group led by program leader Eriks Dunens, discussed and recapped our visit to the Red Lake Nation.  Then, we all debriefed our community strengths exercise that was conducted the prior afternoon in Bemidji.  All MARL participants had unique experience and learned about Bemidji and the surrounding area from business owners and local residents.

The last couple hours of our morning were spent led by Eriks Dunens on “Strengthening Trust in Communities.”  It was a great presentation and exercise that allowed us to reflect on TRUST and why it is important.  In addition, we learned about the three types of trust, when and where trust is built, and six actions to build trust across diversity.  For me, it was a great way to reflect on the last couple days and really appreciate how the people we heard from applied trust in their leadership style to accomplish some really great things!

Lastly, we did our usual “wrap-up” as we all gathered in a circle to chat about the last few days.  I love hearing everyone’s perspective on what they enjoyed, learned, and plan on applying when they get home or back to work.  Sadly, this means our time has come to an end in Itasca.  We all said our goodbyes and are looking forward to our next adventure together in Austin!

Submitted by Adam Stratton


We began Day 2 of our Itasca seminar with our wonderful tour guide Connie Cox.  She is a fantastic Naturalist for Itasca State Park, giving our group an informative (but chilly) tour of the Mississippi Headwaters.  We enjoyed learning more about the history of the area and the beautiful sites, including the headwaters.

We then had the opportunity to visit Pine Lake Wild Rice Farm.  We thank Peter Imle, MARL Class IV, for hosting us.  Peter joined us on the bus to give us an overview of the field production practices and described the wild rice, soybean, and potato rotation used in their operation.  We were also able to visit the farm site, where we got a first-hand look at the specialized equipment used for their operations.  Our group thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity, as none of us had experienced a wild rice farming operation previously.  Peter shared many insights into his leadership on the farm and how the management team each brings unique strengths to the operation.

After our tour concluded we hopped on the bus again to drive to the Red Lake Reservation.  Here we learned more about tribal agricultural programs taking place.  First off, we learned about their commercial agriculture production.  The reservation owns several thousand acres of wild rice land adjacent to the Pine Lake Wild Rice Farm.  The operations manager, John, gave us an overview of their production and marketing practices.  Then David Manuel, the Foods Coordinator for Red Lake Economic Development and Planning, gave us insight into their new local foods movement.  David and other tribal members are working to bring local, healthy foods back to reservation.  They are working with local schools and families on garden plots, to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the community.  David’s goal is to improve the health of tribal members, knowing that one in two youth will get Type II Diabetes during their life.  Red Lake Economic Development and Planning has been working hard on this new initiative – seeking out grants, going to trainings, partnering with many organizations, and working hard with their tribal members.  This small scale effort has grown considerably over the last two years, with 300 garden plots in 2016 and now 400 in 2017.  This group is passionate about their work and continues to bring new ideas and efforts forward.  One example is the bison herd that will be added next year.  Our group offered potential avenues for David to explore and wished them the best in their continued efforts.

Our day continued in Bemidji, where we explored the strengths of this northern community.  In small groups, we considered the financial, built, political, social, human, cultural, and natural strengths found in Bemidji.  Groups accomplished this in a variety of ways and enjoyed the chance to learn more about Bemidji and experience the community first hand.  Unsung leaders of the community were found through these adventures and we all gained more perspective on the importance of Bemidji to the region.

Lastly, we concluded our time in Bemidji with a wonderful supper at the Sparkling Waters.  We were honored to have Jesse Davis and Corey Hanson, MARL Class VII Alums join us for the evening.

Finally, our class enjoyed time back at the hostel after returning from our adventures of the day.  There was much laughter, discussion, and comradery for all.

Submitted by Pauline Van Nurden, Class IX

What a welcome reunion to see all of our MARL Class IX Classmates at Itasca State Park. Although we haven’t formally met since June not a singe member has been without crossing paths at MAELC listening sessions, County Fairs, Farm Fest, Harvest Parties, Farm Tours and through our WhatsApp group. or other ways. You could say we are a social group. The “brief” personal update we were asked to share with the group took roughly 90 minutes to complete.  Gathering at the Jakob V. Brower Visitors Center was a beautiful setting and we received a very warm welcome from Park Naturalist and Connie Cox (MARL Class II spouse). Leadership, Strength and the new found concept of Conservation were a big part of creating this park and it is wonderful to have it as a resource.

Prior to attending this session, class participants completed the Clifton Strengths Finder Assessment. Ms. Shelly Schell (Class VI) facilitated a session on discovering what those characteristics mean as individuals and team members. “There are a lot of Achievers in this group”, according to Schell who continued the session informally with the group at our evening meal.

Class members then individually presented on Croatia, the destination of the international seminar in February 2018. Each member had picked a topic of their choice, presenting to the class to become better prepared for this special seminar. It appears that we are developing true experts on Croatian topics, including education, sports, aquaculture, as well as specific regions and cities. All members will have a chance to present at the next seminars, for a well rounded, ready class of travelers. Written pieces about each topic will be gathered into one piece.

Long after the itinerary for the day had ended, everyone found a comfortable place to sleep at the State Park Hostel. The cards, games, snacks and refreshments helped to reflect on the day.

Submitted by Christian Lilienthal