MARL Seminar #5 was located in Saint Paul, and began at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) with a surprise visit from MDA Commissioner Thom Peterson and Assistant Commissioner Patrice Bailey joining us for an informal networking lunch.  Commissioner Peterson opened up our seminar with a recap of his journey into politics, highlighting how important it is to have a smart and trustworthy team around him to drive progress.  He also briefly touched on topics related to implementation of regenerative agriculture principles, finishing his commentary with a clear message of how supporting regenerative ag principles cannot be a unilateral approach, as “not everything works on every farm.”

Toby Spanier, MARL Program Leader then introduced us to the seminar topic of Visionary Leadership by showcasing the value of creating a shared vision.  Toby led us through an exercise where MARL Class XII had to work together, using the instructions of a designated leader-fellow Class member Rick Swenson to accomplish a task (stacking cylinders on top of one another with a rope device while simultaneously all connected to each other, but without seeing what we were doing).

The Power of Shared Vision Activity







In what proved to be a nearly impossible task, we finally turned around and worked together to quickly (and wordlessly) complete the task of stacking all the cylinders on top of one another using the rope device, thus demonstrating that despite having a visionary leader who told us what we were trying to build and walking us through how to build it, the desired outcome was much easier to achieve when the vision was shared amongst all “staff” doing the actual work.

Following the activity, Toby led a panel discussion with a number of leaders throughout Minnesota, including Julie Ring (Executive Director of the Association of MN Counties), Leann Buck (Executive Director of the MN Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts), Patrice Bailey (MDA Assistant Commissioner), Michelle Medina (MDA Government Relations Director), Ryan Roles (MDA Senior Loan Officer), Robin Kinney (Director of Membership and Marketing for MN Farm Bureau Federation), and Jan Joannides (Executive Director and Co-Founder of Renewing the Countryside).  Key takeaways on the seminar topic included:

  1. Use the power of storytelling to connect individuals to your vision – sometimes backed up with data, but always focused on the positive outcomes
  2. Purposefully seek out opportunities to connect in person
  3. Recognize that the people you need to influence may not always “be where you are” – and meet them where they are to create a connection. In other words, know your audience
  4. When thinking about influencing to create change, always remember your purpose: “do you want to make a point, or do you want to make a difference?”
  5. Critical to building trust with those whom you are trying to influence, is to remember:
    1. Your message is clear
    2. Kindness is the filter that allows people to hear tough messages
  6. Don’t avoid conflict and tension – resolving conflict and tension is exactly how we move forward!
  7. Know who you are and how you communicate to effectively convey an impactful message
  8. Know the strengths of your staff or volunteer community to help them give voice to and work their passion
  9. Use your network – particularly your MARL classmates. These are lifelong connections that you can always count on for help, an opinion, or just a listening ear

We finished off the programmed portion of the day with pre-scheduled, individual legislator visits.  Each MARL member had their own individual experiences, but I personally walked away with a clear picture of how both Representative Kristin Bahner (District 37B) and Senator Warren Limmer (Senate District 37) were drawn to politics through both the influence of their upbringing and a sense of public responsibility to their communities.  Senator Limmer also described how leadership looks different whether you are in the majority or in the minority, though the end outcome of legislation that works for all is the same:

  • When in the majority – it is your responsibility to inspire and instigate new laws, but respect the views of the minority
  • When in the minority – it is your responsibility to question, challenge, and force the majority to prove the premise of a new law

Senator Limmer left me with an important piece of advice to ponder, that he received as a young legislator – “The only thing you come in with and leave with is your reputation. Everything in politics is relational, so focus on honesty and transparency.”

Evening activities began with an excellent private tour of the Capitol Building, led by Brian Pease of the MN Historical Society.  Built in 1905 at a cost of $4.5 million, the Capitol Building is 118 years old and was state of the art at the time of its opening.  The Capitol was inspired by the Italian Renaissance, and contains the second largest self-supporting marble dome in the world.


SMILE PRETTY! and… the proof of those photos are now on the MARL website – Class XII is smiling in style – check out the class!!!

MARL Class XII started their second day at the Drury Hotel in St. Paul dressed to impress. It was photo day for all in attendance. Brad lined up a photographer to come and take professional headshots for all participating in MARL Class XII.   The fresh feature of the Class XII is now featured. – Class XII

We continued our session of visionary leadership. Hearing from various speakers from the State of MN and the University of MN Extension.  Highlighting important trends in our state’s citizen make up, the current economy and comparisons from years past. We heard from the following speakers.

  • Susan Brower, State Demographer, State of Minnesota
  • Laura Kalambokidis, State Economist, State of Minnesota
  • Brigid Tuck, Senior Economic Analyst, University of Minnesota Extension

Brigid walked us through various activities of collaboration, with round tables on trends playing out in our communities. After reflecting on the prior presentations it was interesting to hear how some communities are taking a proactive approach to issues. She stressed we should all check out the State of Rural MN, on the Center of Rural Policy and Development website. The State of Rural 2023 | Center for Rural Policy and Development (

Following Brigid’s interactive session the MARL class participated in an open space session discussing issues such as Ag in the schools, Government control levels, and MARL class recruitment.

It was a great day of learning topped off with a handful of class members heading to the BadAxe axe throwing establishment, while other attended the Ag Day Gala. It was another fabulous day to make connections, learn about each other, our communities and really focus on our visions of leadership.



Day 3 – March 22, 2023

Seminar 5 rounded out at The Food Group! Sean Hurdle hosted us at the Food Group for a fun day of learning, competition, volunteering, and reflection.

The Food Group ( is a nonprofit working toward food justice and equity. MARL Class XII learned that The Food Group operates under three pillars that helps drive toward their mission of providing nutritious and quality food for the community.  These three pillars are: hunger relief, affordable grocery, and Big River Farms.  Hunger relief programs assist in food distribution, serving more than 180 food shelves.  Affordable grocery allows programs like Fair for All (30+ pop-up locations once a month) and their Mobile Market bus (40+ sites) to make a more just and equitable food system.  Big River Farms, the most asked about program by our MARL group, is an incubator farming space where The Food Group helps families or individuals learn as emerging farmers.


Since The Food Group believes that access to food is a fundamental part of strong communities, the class volunteered to pack dry food goods.  As a group, we scooped, filled, and sealed one pound bags of lentils and garbanzo beans, some more skillfully than others.  Sagan kicked everyone’s butts, showing her bartending skills put to work in the hole-in-one competition.

In the end we packaged 81 boxes of food which equates to 2025 lbs. of food that will make for 1687 meals.  Amazing job MARL Class XII team!







After all the calculations were complete, the class enjoyed a brief tour of The Food Group followed by our final reflections – seeds for growth from our seminar.  Everyone shared something personally reflective and it was incredible to hear all the different ideas from the seminar.

As we all departed with food in hand, or in our bellies, I think we can all look back on how wonderfully informative and fun Seminar 5 was in St. Paul and New Hope!

MARLblog contributors for Seminar #5 – the Seminar Management Team (SMT Group)

Jason Robinson                             Renee Brod                                 Kate Ferguson                          Rick Swenson



Visionary Leadership is key in our lives.  This seminar provided many insights into organizations and individual’s vision for now and into the future.

The MARL Program vision is for current class members, alumni and future applicants of this powerful program that each will develop the skills of Minnesota agricultural and rural leaders so they maximize their impact and effectiveness in local, state, national and international arenas.

MARL Vision #1:  Future MARL Classes have over 40 applicants – assist by inviting individuals to consider this pre-eminent MN program.  Send names of nominees to MARL Ex. Director Brad Schloesser

MARL Vision #2:   Funding that is sufficiently supporting the program to meet our mission.  Assist with supporter recommendations and provide impact that MARL has had on you personally and professionally.  Send your impact story in written form or by video to MARL Ex. Director Brad Schloesser