A struggle emerged in our planning for this Washington trip. One responsibility we had was setting up one professional visit with an organization that aligned with our views and another organization that did not align with our views. While it wasn’t necessarily easy to set up appointments with like-minded organizations due to continuing COVID restrictions, we were able to set up quite a few including the following: the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Brookings Institute, Farm Credit Council, American Horse Council, National Association of Wheat Growers, Cargill Inc, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Environmental Defense Fund, and the Institute for Trade Policy. The second responsibility of setting up an organization that did not align with our views proved problematic. Most organizations that we reached out to, including HSUS and PETA just didn’t bother responding to our requests at all. Others, including FARM (Farm Animal Reform Movement) just blatantly refused due to our differing views. This highlighted the obvious need for the leadership skill of building personal relationships to even “get an audience” with the opposition.

Following our morning meetings, we met at the National Association of Counties building for Reflections on the morning. An over-arching takeaway from most organizations we visited was the need for collaboration to get things done. For instance, the American Horse Council only has three full time employees and two part-time employees. There is no way, without collaboration with other groups, that they could be at all the right meetings and hearings taking place on the issues that matter to them. An interesting observation at the Horse Council was that for some issues, they can rally the entire industry and come to consensus quickly and decided what position to take on an issue. On other issues, their constituency is divided; therefore they remain neutral on those issues. Another take-away was determining how the work in Washington will impact those of us at home and how, as organizations, they can help interpret bills and disseminate the information to local members in an understandable way.

Next, we heard from the National Association of Counties and found out that they are a non-partisan resource for all 3069 counties in the United States. They concentrate on Federal issues through ten policy committees and a number of standing committees. They credited becoming a “subject matter expert” in having upper mobility in leadership. Interestingly on the governance side at NACo, the NACo executive committee consists of eight member elected officials: president, first vice-president, second vice-president and immediate past president, and four regional representatives elected by regional caucuses. The 2nd VP position is the position usually contested as that position advances to first VP and then becomes President. This structure is different than many organizations.

Following the presentation from NACo, our SMT groups gave their Leadership Search Activity presentations. Presentations came from insights at the Washington Monument, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Native American Museum, the Spy Museum and the Capitol Police and a small broadcasting company. Insights included needing not only a 30,000 foot view but a solid foundation; needing to be open to multiple voices and diverse experiences and truly hearing them; needing to adapt on the fly; sometimes leadership is noisy and messy; attitude is paramount to success; decompressing is essential; strong leaders lead with fortitude, strength and foresight; it’s OK to be wrong and change your mind, acknowledge it; without trust, leadership struggles.


We rounded out the day with a discussion of a Class XI fundraising idea and a Farewell to DC Supper at Capitol City Brewing.

Additional leadership tools came into play with classmate, Katie Knapp’s, arrangement of a meeting with the Farm Journal Foundation on Friday. It was truly a collaborative day as their resident gardener was able to learn much from our Minnesota farmers! The week in Washington was truly an invaluable learning experience for our class.

Submitted by Nada Carter

Senator Amy Klobuchar and Class XI pictured at the Capitol

Another beautiful day in Washington DC for the MARL class VI!  We have been fortunate with good weather and good company. We started our day out at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s office to deepen our leadership questioning skills and to prep for our leadership presentations. Our SMT groups all broke up to visit different museums and locations today to find leadership elements, meanwhile learning more about the history and art offered throughout the city.

Dale Moore, Executive Vice President American Farm Bureau Federation, welcoming Class XI

We then made our way back to Capitol Hill to visit Senator Amy Klobuchar which turned into an eventful process to say the least!  We were the first class to have the honor of seeing the Capitol bomb squad! Regardless of the wild events, we still had an eventful and productive day growing our leadership skills. To compensate for our challenging entry, Senator Klobuchar invited us in her top-favorite room at the Capitol: S-219. It allowed for us to visit with her Chief of Staff Doug Calidas, as well as Senior Agriculture advisor Brian Werner and his colleague Thomas Liepold. We look forward to our last full day in Washington DC tomorrow meeting with policy advocate groups.

Submitted by Haley Ammann-Ekstrom.

By Tuesday, our class was finding our travel rhythm and bearings around the city, and the magic of MARL started to come through.

We started the morning around the corner from the hotel at the National Farmers Union office, proving the convenient location of the hotel. In the introductions we learned that many of our classmates are Farmers Union members but also that several classmates didn’t know much about the organization. We learned about their policy priorities as well as their appetite for collaboration on key farm issues. This was quickly becoming a theme for each meeting we had while in DC–that the best way to move anything forward in and around the federal government is to drill down to the one common thread you have with many other stakeholders and collaborate to find the solution. The other key theme we heard is that everyone wants those solutions to have actionable implementation planned early in the process. No one–on either side of the aisle–wants large sums of money designated for any policy without knowing how it will be spent appropriately. There is angst from everyone about how the newly signed infrastructure bill will be implemented.

Our next stop of the day was in the nearby park where we met with the policy director of the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. One of his insightful comments was that our founding founders specifically chose to call our legislative branch a congress rather than a parliament. Congress is the action of coming together and parliament is speaking. Our founding farmers meant for our government to be loud and messy. This session also gave our MARL class a new mascot, the large, brown rat that joined our group.

From here we split into regional groups to meet with our respective members of congress. Some were able to meet with the actual member in person, while others met with staffers in their office and some had Zoom meetings. As a result of this, we all have an increased understanding of how to work through the staffers on specific issues in order to effectively and efficiently reach our elected officials.

The last meeting for the day was with several staff members with the Senate Ag Committee, one of whom is a southeast Minnesota native, Chelsie Keys. We discussed the next Farm Bill as well as how farmers can and should communicate with staff like them because that is how they know what is happening on the ground.

Submitted by Katie Knapp

Day 1:

The participants of Class XI, together with educator Toby Spanier and Exec. Dir. Olga Brouwer, traveled to Washington, D.C. on Sunday evening, November 14, 2021. An uneventful flight was followed by a shared drive or metro ride to the Phoenix Park Hotel late in the evening. All were ready for a night’s sleep and diving deep into the seminar content on Monday morning. Extension educator Christy Kallevig, who planned most of the seminar, supports the seminar from Minnesota with continued planning and readjusting the seminar to our hosts and speakers. A great start!

Day 2:

MARL class XI hit the ground running in DC today, for our first day in DC! Met with American Farm Bureau Federation and learned a plethora of knowledge about working AG policy and working with ‘the hill’.

Advocacy Training

Tom Donnelly, Director, Grassroots Program Development

Welcome to Washington

Ryan Yates, Managing Director, Public Policy

Policy Briefings

Climate – Andrew Walmsley, Senior Director Congressional Relations

Taxes – Dustin Sherer, Director, Congressional Relations

Trade – Dave Salmonsen, Senior Director, Congressional Relations

Broadband and Infrastructure – Emily Buckman, Director Congressional Relations

Overview of AFBF and Office Tour

Congressional Insights Simulation

The latter was a highly interactive game, facilitated by Thom Donnelly, Director, Grassroots Program Development and colleagues. It simulated the many dilemmas and choices congress members have to navigate. A great way to quickly get a feel of “stepping into the shoes” of our legislators, in an active way. Fun!

We ended the day meeting with Senator Tina Smith, her senior agricultural staff Adam Schiff and others,  and heard about her path to Washington and her leadership style. Senator Smith shared leadership lessons and -experiences, such as: “Lead by Example”, “Have fun”, “be humble”, “admit to making mistakes”, “laugh every day”. The group particularly valued her genuine demeanor, and her priority to listening, as well as her perspective on team culture. We agreed that Sen. Smith truly created a sense of hope.

Deepest thanks to Senator Tina Smith and her staff team, as well as the leaders, facilitators and speakers at American Farm Bureau for a highly educational and inspiring first day in Washington, D.C.!


Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Submitted by Shannon Gegner, Class XI and Olga Brouwer, Exec. Dir. MARL.