We started our final foggy day in Duluth with the selection of our individual report topics for our upcoming international study. Nan Larson did a great job of leading our ice breaker activity as we paired up to have short conversations with someone we haven’t had a chance to talk to this week. It was a great exercise, and we all had a chance to learn something new about someone we haven’t spent much time with yet. Next we broke into our EQi coaching groups and had a chance to catch up. We also discussed the benefits of growth through impulse control. We had a chance to talk about triggers that influence our impulses, and how to effectively manage them. It was a great opportunity to discuss some of the struggles and successes that our group members experience. The significant others were offered a session by Olga and Toby about Listening, Focused Conversation and crafting questions. (photos below)

              We welcomed Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Port Authority, to speak with us about the role of the port in the region, and how it impacts the area and the country. Deb provided a tremendous amount of fascinating information including the top commodities exported, top destinations, and the typical trip for the commodities to leave the port. She also discussed the diverse array of services that the port authority provides. The group owns and operates 40 acres, and over 400,000 sq. ft. of indoor warehousing space in the port. She explained that Duluth port is referred to as foreign trade zone #51, meaning they may store, process, and alter products in the area, and not be subject to duties until the product enters the markets. This gives the port an advantage to many industrial and commercial interests. Deb also talked about the environmental stewardship practices that are used by the port authority. They current are responsible for dredging the harbor, and for properly reusing the dredge material. Additionally, they continuously test ballast water (water discharged from the cargo ships) for any contaminants they may put off. Deb was very thorough in her presentation, and her expertise and knowledge was quite impressive!

              Next, we made our way to the port to board our Vista Fleet Cruise. We were joined by Deb, and we were given a special boat tour of the port. We had the opportunity to see the Clure Public Marine Terminal, the CHS Grain Elevator, Riverland Ag facilities, Gavilon Grain LLC, and General Mills Superior. Combined they have the capacity to hold right at 40 million bushels of wheat! We also had the opportunity to see a ship being loaded with Taconite Iron Ore from rail cars on the Hallett Docks. The boat tour was very informational, and we had a chance to take in some beautiful Duluth weather! We wrapped up our day with our extra-large version of “Golden Nuggets” as our spouses and guests joined in. There was a diverse array of takeaways that were all great experiences.

Lastly, Matt Tiffany invited all to the MARL picnic held at his family’s farm on August 7th, where friends and interested individuals are welcome.

Written by Matt Altman

Day two in Duluth started with a bus ride to the Sappi pulp and paper mill in Cloquet, MN.  Chris Martland shared the story of the mill which was originally opened in 1898. The mill’s 730 employees turn aspen and maple trees into high quality woodfibre products, such as fabric as well as paper used in glossy’s, advertising brochures and company annual statements.  We toured the wood room portion of the mill where 400 trucks per day deliver logs and are debarked and processed into wood chips. It looked like a forage harvester on steroids. The Cloquet Mill operates 24/7 so they keep up to five days of wood chips available to feed the pulp processing equipment.

From the mill, we traveled by bus to an active logging site operated by Hull Forest Products.  Owner Josh Hull described the logging process and how his company is a hybrid of old and new logging processes.  The operator of the feller buncher measures and cuts each tree and sorts the trees based on the intended market for the species and size of the tree.  Even though we got a little wet and the bus almost got stuck it was well worth it to meet Josh and learn about his operation.

The last tour of the day was the Hibbing Taconite mine facilitated by Kelsey Johnson, President of the Iron Mining Association.  Iron mining in northern Minnesota started in the 1880s and has become a key part of our state and nation’s economy. Kelsey shared key information about the mining process, the reclamation process, the economic impact of the industry and how recent trade issues have influenced the business of mining taconite.

We ended that day with supper at the historic Glensheen Mansion.  Leading up to the Duluth seminar, Christy Kallevig had shared a clue each day about our international destination which increased the anticipation.  Katie Schneider (Class IX), MARL Board of Directors and Alumni Representative announced that we will be visiting Cambodia and Taiwan!! Olga and Christy gave an overview of both countries and shared something unique about our trip.  MARL Alumni Ralph (Class I) and Mena (Class IV) Kaehler will be our guides on the trip as they have established relationships with key people in Cambodia. I am looking forward to learning more about these two countries as we prepare for the trip!

On to day three!

Written by Chris Horob

Today MARL Class X and their significant others/partners met in Duluth at the Hoffbauer Farm, home of Doug (Class VI) and his wife, Lois, which they have been working and living on for over 40 years. The Hoffbauer Farm is not what most would consider a typical farm. What started out as a vegetable and Christmas tree farm has morphed into a value-added and lower labor intensive farm, which allows for access to new markets and time off the farm. In Doug’s welcome he explained how they have expanded from chickens and vegetables to Christmas trees, maple syrup, peonies and value-added products. With this new transition Doug has also transitioned himself into being the go to person for the local media. He spoke of how farmers need to make the media welcome on their farms so that their farm is the media’s farm. With so many generations removed from the farm you need to invite them to your farm and help them understand what is involved in what you do; that farming is hard, dirty work that is all to often taken for granted, and that we need to be the ones telling the story.

After Doug and Lois’ welcome, we were joined by a group of agriculture professionals to take a closer look at different issues and production systems of the farm in small groups. Troy Salzer, an Ag Productions System Extension Educator spoke about the size of farms in this area, with 96% being less than 500 acres, the stiff competition for farm laborers as there are good paying jobs with health care in the city, and that farmers are leaving farming for these health benefits and higher wages on the range. He spoke about how the soil makes for unique farming in that the pH is very low, the phosphorus levels are high, and the potassium levels are also low. To deal with the low pH elders have told him that they put wood ash on their gardens which improved productivity, and the U of M has done research projects on the use of wood ash to raise pH in the area, a program they have worked on since 1991. Wolf depredation is also an issue here and many livestock as well as dogs have been killed. There were 314 indemnity claims in northern Minnesota last year that were verified by a certified trapper or DNR officer and paid out. Livestock kills without a carcass or proof are not eligible for indemnity payments.

Bruce Miller, Director of Membership for Minnesota Farmers Union addressed the issue of agritourism and farm liability. Minnesota Statute 604A.40(2016) when posted on a farm provides protection for farmers in stating that visitors are on a working farm which has inherent risks, of which you accept. Of course all farms that have agritourism should talk with their insurance agent to ensure that they have sufficient liability insurance, but it is another layer of protection for farmers. Local foods is also a growing trend in Minnesota in which restaurants buy directly from the farmer and create dishes that utilize local products. Minnesota Cooks is one such program that connects farmers and chefs and highlights these partnership at on the first Sunday of the Minnesota State Fair during Minnesota Cooks Day.

Bob Olen, a Horticulture Extension Educator took us on a tour of the different specialty crops that are being grown on the farm. We learned that growing in a northern climate is tough as the soil takes so much longer to heat up in the spring so farmers have to take every advantage possible. On the Hoffbauer farm this includes planting into black plastic, high tunnels, winter hardy plants and covering plants to prevent against frost damage. He talked about how farmers need to know their margins, that consumers are willing to pay for a quality product, and that you have to tailor your crops to your climate. He also spoke of the lack of a migrant work force and the challenge agriculture faces in competing for workers in an area that has major industry and that pay high wages. In a high tunnel we learned the difference between determinant and indeterminant tomatoes, that both have pro’s and con’s but we also now know the key to identify which is which, and outside of it saw the bee hives on top of a container to keep the bears away.

Doug focused on the maple syrup business, Christmas trees and how Minnesota Grown has been a huge help in marketing the farm. Last year they harvested 110 gallons of maple syrup from about 500 trees and spoke about how diversifying his farm has led to 43% of sales not being tree sales. Growing Christmas trees in zone 3 can be a bit difficult and they have lost trees due to extremely cold winters. They have 60 acres of trees and are planting more trees into their old vegetable garden as they have moved away from farming vegetables. added to that is an investment of 10 years until a tree is harvested, during which time consumer trends change but those trees are still going to keep on growing whether consumers want them or not. Predicting and planning can be hard, so investing in different varieties and limiting stock help to keep demand and prices high.

Lois taught us how she has brought value added products to the farm. They have started a pick your own pumpkin patch on the farm, and at the same time customers buy a pumpkin they can pick out their Christmas trees. She uses birch bark to create different crafts that she sells at the farmers market, transforms maple syrup into candies with a huge profit margin, and grows peonies for wholesale markets. We learned that once a peony flower feels like a marshmallow, it is ready to be harvested and if stored properly will hold for up to 6 week and will bloom when taken out of cold storage and put in warm water.  Her passion for value-add has allowed them to work less and have more time off, but to also increase their agritourism and educate consumers on their farm practices and to really get to know their farmer.

After the fantastic farm tour we traveled to the hotel for the afternoon session and to learn about our new program leader, as this was our first seminar without Eriks Dunens. He departed as our MARL program leader back in April at our Crookston seminar, as he and his wife Elizabeth moved to Philadelphia for her doctoral studies. Eriks is truly missed and we send our best wished to him and Elizabeth. Our new fearless leader is Toby Spanier. Toby has been in Extension for over 20 years and his ag roots run deep to his family’s dairy farm between Belgrade and Sauk Centre, where his father was a successful dairyman and his mother still lives. After college he spent 2 years in the Peace Corps volunteering in Honduras in soil conservation. He later got his masters degree in Leadership & Civic Engagement which essentially equates to community development. He and his wife, who was also a Peace Corps volunteer, have 4 daughters. His passions are fitness, sports, the outdoors, leadership, travel, international leadership development. We then did an activity where we shared where we are from and our connection to MARL. It was a good refresher of the Class X members and their spouses, and we learned a few things about each other that we hadn’t known. From all accounts it sounds as though he’s ready to take Class X on our international trip, wherever that may be, so welcome to MARL Toby!

After Toby’s introduction,  we spent the afternoon talking about an issue that many of us try to avoid, or some come at fearlessly, which is conflict. The session Navigating Conflict in Today’s World is timely and relevant for many of us, as everyone has or has had conflict in their life. It’s unavoidable and for some a daily occurrence, whether that be in our work lives or our personal lives. Conflict is hard as we each react differently to it and have different ways of managing and responding to conflict. It turns out that conflict affects the way our brains work, and that when our amygdala sense conflict, it can take over and create an “amagdala hijack.” This is the body’s physical reaction to conflict, which may include anger, pumping heart, getting worked up or feeling stressed out. After learning a bit more about conflict, we took the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument to better understand which of the five conflict-handling modes we utilized the most and the least, and how knowing this can help us better handle conflict. In groups of like modes we discussed how we handled conflict, the benefits of how we handled conflict and the downfalls of our ways. The five modes are competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating. As an avoider, we talked about how we will avoid a conflict in the hopes that it goes away, but if and when it doesn’t we try to keep avoiding it, which then can lead to an ever bigger conflict down the road. Each group went through this exercise and then shared back with the group. All the significant others in attendance participated and took the instrument so it was fun to see which group they and their partner were in. It was a good time to really analyze our response and think about how we can improve our response to better manage the conflict, and in the case of the avoiders, not bury our heads in the sand wishing it to go away.

After completing the session on conflict, we talked for a bit about the upcoming MARL auction. We have quite a few ideas and are excited to get planning. Finally, to finish the day we all went out to dinner. We were staying at the Park Point Marina Inn which is just a short walk to Canal Park over the lift bridge. There were lots of options for food and drinks in Canal Park and the evening was a great end to an interesting day.

Written by Michelle Medina