It is hard to believe that in our roughly 26 hours our MARL class went from acquaintances to peers and friends. We shared stories, a joke or two and many laughs all while learning more about how our communities function. One thing that is apparent is that in order for any community to function it takes leaders. Leaders who can organize, leaders who can manage projects, leaders who are good at outreach, and leaders who can teach others to grow.

One important step in creating leaders is identifying, training and targeting individuals who have a desire to be a part of something greater than themselves and develop specific goals and opportunities for those individuals to prosper. Paul Hansen, Leader Development Manager for Land O’ Lakes discussed with our class ways to engage people to become advocates, strategic thinkers, communicators, and collaborators. Land O’ Lakes has a specific program designed to coach and mentor member owners and growers to engage in various leadership roles. The program is designed to help interested individuals start by being engaged as members, then leaders, and help create diversity within their corporate structure.

Our seminar concluded with the discussion and presentation of our capstone project. This project is meant to build on leadership skills that we can target towards a project in an area that is of interest to us. These projects will be presented and shared at our final seminar June 22-23rd 2022.

Steven Marsh, current MARL class member invited the group to his family farm in Gonvick, MN where they grow wild rice and soybeans. The majority of the class was able to stop by and tour the farm and experience wild rice in Minnesota.

Submitted by Brittany Ullrich

Day 2 started off with breakfast conversations, networking and of course caffeine. We dove into demographics with guest speakers Susan Brower and Brigid Tuck.

Susan Brower, Minnesota State Demographer walked us through data that is collected and analyzed to project future MN population, demographics, and also how these demographics can shape and change how our state funds and promotes different investments and projects. For example, the 2020 preliminary census data revealed that we are going into a phase in Minnesota where our population shifts from being more younger adults, to more older adults and compared to school age children. This has the potential to impact where local and MN government funding dollars will shifted. As our older generation grows, there is more budget pressure for public programs like healthcare and long term care facilities. The younger generation typically is the most expensive demographic with school, community ed, and program funding.

Brigid Tuck, Senior Economic Impact Analyst followed our discussion around demographics and presented our group with some of the economic impacts that COVID has presented within our state and our country. We took a trip down memory lane and reviewed how GDP was calculated (Capital + Government + Investment + Net Exports). Brigid explained as we moved through the pandemic, stimulus checks, unemployment and the chaos our nation was in there were huge shifts in savings vs. consumption which had a direct effect to our GDP. Durable goods like snowmobiles, boats etc.. had a 20% increase in demand, and non durable goods like groceries and gas had a huge spike in consumption and then dropped off. These extreme fluctuations in our economy created supply and demand issues that can take business years to pivot to accommodate their consumer needs. It also is an uncertain time to build or expand businesses because the ability to predict what consumers will be doing in 6 months – 3 years is so variable.

Our final speaker of the day came from Digi-Key, the largest company by far in Thief River Falls. With 4,000 employees, shipping to 180 countries and 20,000 order per day worldwide DigiKey is a well oiled machine. Their passion and dedication to their employees and their loyalty to their company is one of the things that makes Digi-Key so successful.

In talking with our group, the highlight of our second day was doing site visits with local businesses and farms in Thief River Falls. Our first stop was a newly opened rural boutique called Black Barn. Founded by Brenda and John Hamre they took a dream and made it into a reality offering a slice of rural peace along with a unique shopping experience for residents of Thief River Falls and tourists passing through. It was very apparent the pride, passion and dedication this family had of their newly opened business. We spent time visiting and all had the opportunity to tour and shop before we headed out to our next visit.

Our second stop was River Falls Ranch hosted by Neil and Nichole Peterson. This small family owned farm has capitalized selling fruit and vegetables through their local farmers market, and CSA members. As their business grew, they transitioned away from cattle and focused on building windrows, enhancing their fruit and vegetables offered as well as canned goods. You can find River Falls Ranch at the local farmers market, and also can grab pumpkins in the fall on their large trailer in town. Again, another very passionate and dedicated couple working towards their dream.

Our third and final stop was at Trinity Creek Ranch. Mikayla and Benjamin Tabert along with David Miller walked us through their unique farming operation that consisted of cattle, small grains, corn and soybeans. They also sell seed and market their cattle to local buyers and shared all kinds of ideas on how they are continually looking for new ways to maintain and build soil health and find new opportunities for revenue. We got the opportunity to go walk through their Peaola field (Canola and Peas seeded together) as well as a sunflower field. Hearing the passion and excitement as Mikayla talked about their operation and her openness to sharing their story and involvement in the community as well as their willingness to try and experiment almost anything was intriguing! The Tabert and Miller family was kind enough to host our team for dinner where we were met with several MARL alumni, and family members of our group.

Submitted by Brittany Ullrich

Including Photography by Katie Knapp, The Ag Photographer

June 23rd will forever be remembered as a key day in MARL Class XI’s journey. Although we walked in to see familiar faces, we had yet to all be in the same room in person. It was an incredible feeling to be amongst our peers, together at last.

The key theme for our leadership seminar is Community Leadership. As we kicked off the first day, we spent some time re-introducing ourselves and getting to know each other a little better by creating a MARL class XI playlist. We each chose 2 songs that remind us of leadership, a moment in our lives, or songs that define us. Look for the details on this playlist coming soon! We had everything from the classics like ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey, modern country, rock and even some R&B.

As we started to take a deeper dive into community leadership, Ben Winchester led us through a conversation about the future of rural communities and presented data and statistics to walk through how to re-write the rural narrative and be and advocate of the benefits and amenities of living in rural Minnesota. Publications can cause a confusing lens on this topic, as some show that populations in rural communities are declining, while other research shows that due to technology and most recently the pandemic people are moving out metro areas into rural communities.

One of the highlights for our group was getting to go into the community to investigate and take a deeper look into Community Capitals (financial, built, natural, cultural, political, social, and human). We broke into a peer learning circle groups and each went to visit different parts of the Thief River Falls community. It gave us all a different perspective on not only the towns we live in, but also how we can utilize the framework of community capitals in our careers and daily lives. We ended the day with singing Happy Birthday to Steven Marsh & Brittany Ullrich after presenting what we learned to our peers.

Submitted by Brittany Ullrich