Thursday brought our formal individual and class photos – FINALLY! Then we presented our Capstone ideas in a Shark Tank format. Over 25 creative ideas were shared in creative and fun ways! “Mark and Lori” (also known as Toby and Christy) were great hosts!! There was a strong emphasis on ag education, such as turnkey soil fact packs, cart with a farmer (at a grocery store) and raising awareness of ag careers to job seekers and career changers.

We concluded the morning with a tour of the Minnwest Technology Campus and Nova-Tech Engineering. MinnWest Campus has developed 37 buildings on the 110-acre historic site following the closure of the Willmar State Hospital. The Minnwest purpose is “to attract and retain business partners to an innovative, collaborative, and unique environment by providing an excellent customer experience to positively impact economic development in our region.” They’ve done an excellent job of repairing, remodeling and marketing their campus. What started as the home to 12 companies and 125 employees has blossomed to 27 companies and 777 employees. They will work with companies to develop specific space requirements and then lease to them long-term. Win-win for the campus and the company.


Nova-Tech Engineering started our tour with their purpose, core values and pillars of leadership. Their purpose is to create revolutionary solutions that advance our customers ability to feed the world. They truly “walk the talk” in that they don’t start with an established idea and improve upon it, but rather, come up with innovative solutions. That was evident in that they hold 10 US patents. What started as a two person company in 1992 has mushroomed to over 260 professionals. Their equipment can be found in 600 hatcheries in 55 countries around the world. Interesting to note was the value they place on leadership within the company. All employees take the Clifton Strengths based test (their top five strengths are on their name placard) and a leader will discuss it with them. Employees have an advocate that will help them with personal development and growth; opportunities to advance within the company are abundant.

Lunch followed with our peer circles and fellows for most of the groups to evaluate how that process is working. Golden Nuggets and an optional trip to Nada Carter’s farm rounded out the seminar.

Submittted by Nada Carter

Farm photography by Katie Knapp, The Ag Photographer (Class XI)

          After a brief welcome, our seminar in west central Minnesota began with tourism highlights by Kandiyohi County Commissioner, Roger Imdieke (Class V.) We learned that tourism is second only to agriculture in the region. It is fueled by eight state parks that include Glacial Lakes Trail with miles of trails and numerous lakes. Other draws to the area include the New London Spicer High School’s state of the art Performance Arts Center, the Mill Pond Mercantile and assorted boutiques and Prairie Pothole Day, a celebration of outdoor sports in the area.

Our first tour stop was Hemponix, where owner Kevin Ortenblad and daughter, Kara, explained their aeroponic system of growing hemp for seed. Kevin got interested in growing the crop after breaking his back twice and having to be on opioids for the pain. Hemp allowed him to get discontinue the use of the opioids. The father/daughter duo uses clones (cuttings) from only three varieties of mother plants that have passed the stringent tests for desired characteristics. Cuttings are then placed in a coconut planting medium and housed on vertical shelves under LED lights for optimum growth. There is NO soil, therefore, bugs and weeds are non-existent. By controlling the temperature and proper watering, the plants will be ready to harvest in 8-10 weeks. The process can be repeated four to five times per year. This hemp facility is harvesting seeds for the commercial hemp oil industry. Leadership lessons learned at Hemponix included having a strong purpose (the sustainability of people) and continuing education, whether it’s their own trial and error developing their varieties, or educating the public that hemp has amazing medical qualities and it isn’t the same as the “smoking weed and getting high” version. We learned that the main reason that hemp is considered “illegal” is that it was purposely made illegal in 1917 in order to be used in the war effort.

Our next stop was the BNSF railroad where Ben Griffith and Lydia Bjorge shared the very top down leadership structure that is BNSF. The Willmar hub has 450 trainmen, 12 managers and moves 60 trains/day. A strong 50% of the hauls are consumer products and another 13% is ag based such as corn syrup, biodiesel, bulk fertilizer, ethanol etc. While we may think of trucks and pipelines as direct competitors to the railroad, the railroad views both very supportively. They haul pipe and sand for the pipelines and they deliver many goods to customers (the truckers) for final deliveries. Not surprisingly, given their regimented leadership style, one in six of their employees comes from a military background. What was a little surprising was the collaboration with other train companies to most effectively utilize engines.

Louriston Dairy was the last tour stop of the day. We loved their mission of “providing a culture of opportunity for passionate people and innovative ideas. It was easy to see that Riverview practiced their core values of integrity, work ethic, spirit of humility, keep it simple and candor. The owners and managers all pitch in when there are big jobs to do such as supplying teams of people to cover the silage piles. They are intentional about giving back to the community with their Agvocate program which takes high school seniors and allows them the opportunity to educate elementary schoolchildren in the classroom or the public via social media on assorted aspects of agriculture. At the end of the program, Agvocates receive a scholarship toward their post-secondary education. The 9500-cow dairy was silent (a quiet cow is a happy cow) except for the running of necessary machines and there wasn’t a fly to be seen or heard. Amazing animal husbandry.

The first evening brought leadership round tables with the following guests, Representative Dave Baker (Class V); Achieve Results Together owner, Cheryl Glaeser (Class VII); Kandiyohi County Commissioner, Roger Imdieke (Class V); Willmar City Administrator, Leslie Valient and Mike Yost, Yost Farms. Class XI participants were able to bend their ears and ask questions. In addition we heard from Class VII participants regarding their time in Ecuador, which is also Class XI’s destination! So exciting!

Submitted by Nada Carter, Starbuck

This seminar was sponsored by Three Sisters Furnishings, Lucky Duck &  Happy Sol New London, Kandiyohi County Farm Bureau