Day five started out with a discussion about critical thinking. We discussed how our congressional and professional visits made us step out of our comfort zone and challenged the way we viewed organizations and institutions. We discussed critical thinking and strategies to use include which include pause, frame and choose.

– Pause; don’t act or react to a situation, take a breath and observe how you are feeling.

– Frame; what are my assumptions, what objective data support and/or challenge my assumptions.

– Choose; what are my options? What seems best based on the facts and long-term interests.

After another metro ride to the capital, the group embarked on a tour to learn about our capital’s history. From the crypt room to the rotunda, our capital is majestic and contains years of congressional history.

Following the capital tour, we rushed over to Hart Senate office building where we had to the chance to meet with not one but both of our Senators….AT THE SAME TIME. Everyone in our class and the staff were very excited about this opportunity and we made the most of the experience. With Senator Smith we talked about her involvement in the Senate Ag committee, implementation of the farm bill, specifically the dairy aspects of the new bill. Senator and newly named Presidential Candidate Klobuchar also discussed her involvement with the Ag committee, rural Emergency Medicine access, and rural broadband. We were able to snap a photo with both of the Senators and discuss further with Senator Klobuchar’s senior staff member Brian Werner.

After all the awe wore off from our visit with the Senators we resumed our day with a Leadership Search Activity across “The Proper.” Our SMT Team ventured to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to discover how aeronautics and space travel have progressed throughout the 20th and 21st centuries into what they entail today. The most interesting aspects of our visit included all the leadership traits exemplified by a number of men and women willing to risk their lives in order to further civilization through the basic phenomenon of lift.

The entire group convened at the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts following our Leadership Search Activity. Each SMT performed a 5-minute skit about the leadership traits seen as they explored various sites throughout the city.

To finish off the night we had our farewell dinner at Tony and Joe’s where we enjoyed dinner and shared our “golden nuggets” with the group. ­­

Submitted by Scott Schwartz and Stephanie Loch

Issues, Positions, Interests, and Values were the theme of day four in Washington D.C. and we enjoyed a broad range of activities which challenged our ways of thinking and understanding of diverse rural and agricultural issues.

An early morning started with a group discussion around the topic of Issues, Positions, Interests and Values. It was a good time to talk with other MARL members and learn about the values that have shaped them as people and professionals.  Starting the day talking about values and what has shaped us, was a perfect segue into the organizational meetings later in the day.

After the group discussion, we traveled to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with an introduction to the facility by Kathryn Hill from their Office of Communications.  She was a firecracker and we enjoyed getting to know her on a personal level including her international life abroad and opera-singing career. She gave us a quick tour of the North building, which is considered the Administrative Building.  Warren Preston, Deputy, Chief Economist; Dave Miller, Director of Reinsurance Division of the Risk Management Agency;  and Dr. Robert Holland, Associate Director of Operations at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) gave presentations on their departments and their roles at the USDA. It was an opportunity to ask questions about USDA programs, the Farm Bill, and the programs they administer.

In the afternoon, we met with professional organizations with a broad range of viewpoints and issues.  These included the Environmental Working Group, Cato Institute, Land Trust Alliance, Good Food Institute, the International Trade Commission, Natural Resources Conservation Services, Animal Ag Alliance, the American Farm Bureau, Northern American Meat Institute and World Wildlife Fund.  The visits were a powerful reminder of being open to other viewpoints and asking questions for clarification and understanding. 

I was honored to be with a team of colleagues who visited the International Trade Commission.  We were met by a vibrant External Relations Director and a team of International Trade Commission staff who work on agricultural issues.  I was happy to see a team of women in front of me who shined in their roles.  I was also excited to connect with a staff person who worked on alcohol issues and we began the dialogue on international wine challenges.  I left the meeting with a new understanding of an important organization in the United States with information and expert power and a new contact valuable in the wine industry.  Score!

We wrapped up the day with a debriefing at the American Farm Bureau Headquarters and then a social hour with the Washington, Indiana, and South Dakota rural leadership programs.   What an honor and privilege it was to have this opportunity to connect and network with a fantastic group of leaders across the United States. 

We ended the day dividing in groups for dinner together at a variety of restaurants around the city. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the different agriculture industries in their states and their jobs and roles in agriculture.

Submitted by Krista Kopperud

Tuesday, Feb 26th was our 3 day in DC and we had a pretty full schedule of events at the Senate office buildings and the House office buildings.  The first discussion we had was with Roger Johnson, former North Dakota Commissioner of Ag and current National Farmers Union President.  Roger shared some of the history of how Farmers Union began, the overall goal was of the organization and a little bit on their stance on certain agriculture issues.  One thing that Roger mentioned is that the move from North Dakota to Washington DC was quite the cultural difference and that DC is full of young, smart, vibrant people.

Our next exercise was led by Eriks about exploring difference and how to use a few methods to further our understanding about things that may be different than we perceived or believed. The methods to guide us through difference first started with describing what we may be seeing, hearing or experiencing followed by the interpretation of those things.  After we have performed the describing and interpreting we can then evaluate our interpretation and look at what we feel and why.  We were posed some questions and we discussed that amongst groups of 3 to practice the method presented.

We then had a presentation by Chelsie Keys and Janae Brady about the work they do with the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.  Chelsie and Janae are both Senior Professional staff members for Senator Pat Roberts and the Committee of Agriculture.  We heard a lot about the latest Farm Bill and the work that goes on to pass a large piece of legislation, both by committee members and the staff that supports them.  We learned why SNAP, WIC and Food Stamps are part of the Farm Bill, which is to make the bill appeal and have relevance to all districts in our country to help it move through Congress and the Senate.Following our presentation in the Senate building we traveled over to hear about the House side of Agriculture.  We were joined by Keith Jones, Lisa Shelton and Mike Strands, committee staffers of the House Committee on Agriculture.  They shared the work they do on the Committee and the overall structure and functioning of the Committee. They also reinforced how the system works when the House switches control from Democrat or Republican and how the committees then get new members, many with little or no experience in Agriculture.

The next item on our agenda was to meet with the representatives from our own districts.  Representative Colin Peterson’s district covers a large part of our state and is where I spent my time.  Colin expressed some of the challenges with new committee members and the role he felt he had with educating them.  We had a chance to ask questions and provide input on Ag issues in our areas at that time and I found good value in that. Others were able to meet their district’s representatives. Pictured are the delegations meeting with Rep. Hagedorn, Rep. Phillips, Rep. Peterson and Rep. Craig. Thank you to all for taking the time out of a very hectic day in Congress to visit with MARL Class X.

We had a debriefing on what we heard that day and then were challenged that night to find some food that is outside of our comfort zone.  There are many different cultures in the city and many people experienced food that wouldn’t be available back home.  It was interesting to see the variety of cultures people chose and the dishes they had.

Submitted by Matt Tiffany

First, we started the day off at the Embassy of Spain. We met with Begoña Nieto Gilarte the Counselor of Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and Environment for the US & Canada. We also met with Christoper Abanavas Public Diplomacy and Digital Engagement Officer. We also had a surprise visit from Ambassador Ramón Gil-Casares Satrústegui. We had a really good conversation about Spain export and import markets. We also learned about how Spain is the only country in the European Union to support GMO’s

Next we went to the Embassy of Haiti.

We met with Nicolas Mayard Paul Premier Secrètaire. We also met with Dr. Weibert Arthus, Minister Counselor of Political Affairs. We had a great conversation about the rice market in Haiti. Also, Dr. Weibert made some interesting points about federal relief to Haiti. His opinion was to feed someone a fish, they eat for a day. Teach someone how to fish and they eat for a lifetime. He hopes that one day he runs into all of us one day on the beach in Haiti

We stopped at the Embassy of Tribal Nations, where we were welcomed by Jacob Schelling, Staff Attorney & Legislative Affairs Specialist and Ian Record, Director, Partnership for Tribal Governance. We had some great conversation and learned a lot about tribal affairs. We found out that they played a role in changing the name of Lake Calhoun back to the original name of Bde Maka Ska.

Lastly, Mark Rokala stopped by. He is currently a lobbyist for AURI and other agriculture-related organizations. He said the best thing we could do as constitutes were to follow up with our representative’s staffers and building relationships.

Last we went on a late night trolley tour of D.C We had an amazing tour guide named H.W. We made stops at the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, FDR Memorial, MLK Memorial, and Marine Memorial.

Submitted by Nick Godward

The name of the game was snow and the goal…getting to the Minneapolis Saint Paul Airport in the midst of yet another snow storm. After a few jolting moments of turbulence, we safely landed in DC. We were all excited to walk out into the sunshine and 60-degree weather.

After we all had a chance to settle into the hotel, our program leaders had a fun activity planned for us to explore DC, a MARL version of the Amazing Race. Split into teams of 3-4 people, the race was on! Our first envelope contained our first pit stop challenge: build a “MARL monument” using toothpicks, marshmallows, and playdough. We had fun creating our own masterpieces! Once our challenge was successfully completed and approved, we received our next clue. This clue led us to the nearest metro station where our challenge was to get and load our metro transit card for the week. Navigating the metro lines to a restaurant of our choice for dinner was the next task. My group went to a fun Spanish tapas restaurant where I had my first ever experience eating Rabbit (which I thought was quite tasty). Our fourth and final task was to make our way to a “sight” of choice from a specific list of options. This posed a challenge of its own as we tried to plan the most efficient route to the most convenient location on the list.

Overall, another long, tiring, but fun day full of unique MARL experiences! I know I am excited to see what the rest of the week will bring.

Submitted by Danielle Evers