Starting the next day after an evening full of storms, the MARL class took on the Hormel Plant. The class divided up into three sections and suited up – literally. From head to toe, the class was dressed in lab coats, hair nets, rubber slip-ons, and ear plugs. Additionally, to hear the tour guides more efficiently throughout the plant, the class was given head sets with mini speakers to communicate with the tour guide. The tour lasted a bit over an hour and the class got to travel through the factory. They saw many different cuts of meat, and of course bacon! They saw the smoke houses for sausages, the production and processing of SPAM and so much more. The tour was overall an enriching experience for the class to see the whole production cycle of processing different livestock.

After the Hormel Plant, the class made its way to the YMCA (which is partially funded by the Hormel Foundation) where they met with the Mower County Soil and Conservation District.  First to speak was the water plan and outreach coordinator Tim Ruzek. Ruzek’s passion for sharing his community was outstanding. He highlighted all the opportunities the Cedar River had for recreational activities such as kayaking, shared community efforts to keep the River clean and presented many of the outreach efforts he gets to do. Following Ruzek, Justin Hanson the district manager for the district gave his presentation. He shared more on the different watersheds in the county, the daily challenges his faces each day and most importantly he highlighted on his leadership mantra. The class really appreciated Hanson’s intake on leadership. One quote Hanson said was “That’s what leadership is – it is service.”

Following the presentations, the class made its way to the SPAM museum. They huddled in a circle and did their golden nuggets which consisted of something that inspired them during their trip to Austin. To conclude the trip, the class toured the SPAM museum which highlighted the history of SPAM, the different flavors and so much more.

Submitted by Kaelyn Rahe

A seminar in December…I think we all anticipated potential weather issues like maybe a snow storm or freezing temps but I don’t think any of us expected record temps reaching 64 degrees and severe thunderstorms and tornadoes! Leave it to the crazy Minnesota weather to toss us another curve ball. Regardless of the circumstances that continue to be thrown at Class XI we maintain our flexibility and never let anything get in the way of representing MARL, learning and most importantly enjoying our time together as a class.

Extension Educator Christy Kallevig introducing the seminar.

Day one began at the Hormel Institute we kicked off the seminar with initial discussions regarding the upcoming fundraiser. Following the discussion, we were joined by Gail Dennison, Director of Development and External Relations and Brenna Gerhart, Development Associate. They shared with us an overview of the Hormel Institute, the history that spans nearly eight-decades and the incredible work Institute is doing with their accelerated discoveries aimed at beating cancer and improving the health of the world. It was clear they are truly passionate for their work and the work of the entire institute. Their efforts in raising funding, coordinating annual events and so many educational outreach efforts are all truly remarkable.

Following the presentation, we had the opportunity to tour their facility. The building had multiple expansions one in 2008 and one in 2016 that created additional opportunities to continue their work on advancing research and providing education that benefits not only the Austin community but the surrounding regions and the entire State of Minnesota. A highlight of the tour was the Kryo EM Lab which is the first in the Midwest. This state-of-the-art microscope allows for scientists to study the form and function of specimens and see how they are built and what they do in much greater details than ever before. This facility houses some of the world’s most cutting-edge technologies and expert scientists.

Next, the class split up into groups and embarked on an adventure to explore the innovation taking place within Austin in one of three visits.

  • Austin Welcome Center
    • This group met with Varinh Van Vugt a program director for the Welcome Center. The Welcome Center is a small organization run by four women which began in 2000. The vision of the Welcome Center is empowering diverse community engagement through guidance and connections. They offer a number of services that help build the highly diverse community of Austin from employment, medical, social and educational services. They are also leading the way with some incredible and innovative events for example their biggest event called “Taste of the Nations” is free to the community and an opportunity to celebrate Austin and learn about the different nations represented in the community. The event helps raise awareness through dance, music and cuisine. The small but mighty organization is doing a significant amount of work spanning across the entire community and truly impacting the lives of so many people.
  • Hormel Foundation

After spending time with the Hormel Foundation we found that it was the desire of George and Jay Hormel that the company headquarters remain in Austin. One way they insured this was by making the foundation the majority partner of Hormel foods. The foundation receives all of its funding from dividends paid by Hormel foods. They’re then able to redistribute those to projects within the Austin area. When the foundation was set up there was a clause that the money needed to stay in the Austin area. They are also set up to be a supporting organization so they can only donate to other organizations. They have a list of 15 that are approved by the board. 335 million have been donated through the foundation since it’s beginning in 1941. With 300 million of that being since 2000. The donations have a wide variety of impact on the community from helping with a new community center to cleaning up the river as well as scholarships for high school students to attend the local community college. It amazed me that a Fortune 500 company is in Minnesota and set up in such a way that so much money is going back into the local community. especially when we look at the foundation funding all of the operating expenses for the Hormel institute so any money that comes into the institute goes directly to research. I felt that through the Hormel Foundation you’re really seeing how a 130-year-old company can be so mature and humble by making large donations without claiming all of the credit. I felt that they enjoyed being a silent partner and seeing the benefit that it had in the community.

Hormel Foundation report submitted by Elizabeth Golombiecki

  • Riverland Community College – Center for Agricultural and Food Science Technology
    • “Something New is Growing Here at Riverland”, Nick Schiltz the Agricultural Instructor & Program Coordinator at Riverland Community College (RCC) in Austin, MN passionately proclaimed.  Nick began with some interesting statistics; 2 out of every 100 people have a family link to agriculture, 45% of all jobs are linked to the Ag & Food industry and 10% of the workforce are farmers. Interesting to learn that so few people are producing the food, fiber and fuel for everyone. Nick is an all-star promoter of agriculture and thrives on helping students of all backgrounds explore the opportunities in agriculture. As Nick was sharing stories of students that discover they have a passion for agriculture, to watching some of his students in the Ag program that have never been on a farm feed animals, bed pens, or ride in a tractor for the first time and suddenly for that student all the classroom farm terminology has practical comprehension. It is easy to see how Nick’s high level of enthusiasm for teaching agriculture is sustainable. Nick, RCC and the community of Austin have developed and built an excellent Ag program, Ag community culture and a bright future for those entering Agricultural related professions. RCC offers three Certificate options- Agribusiness, Precision Ag and Farm Business Management which by the way is RCC second largest program. An Associate of Arts (AA) degree in Agricultural Sciences Concentration and an Associate of Science (AS) degree in Agricultural Sciences are available. Both degrees transfer seamlessly to U of MN, SDSU, SMSU and UWRF or into the workforce as well as the certificate programs. There are also a multitude of non-traditional educational options.  Whatever the students end goal is, the faculty at RCC is available to provide guidance to help the student achieve their end goals.Nick invests in the youth of the Austin community through two programs. The first  program is STEM Comes Alive Boot Camp for students entering grades 9-12. A one week free, fun and fast moving boot camp that makes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) come alive through an agricultural lens. Second is a 10 month R-STEP Academy for students aged 16-22 (entering 11th grade) that increases STEM knowledge and skills through an 8 credit college level courses like Math, English with topics in Tech, Engineering, Ag, and the Environment. Applied research learning and enrichment, STEM- based activities and events, special guest speakers, and field trips are apart of this academy.
    • Riverland Community College has many partners that help make RCC an excellent place to receive an agricultural education. Answer Acre Research Farm, Local Ag industry Companies and Cooperatives, and local farmers are all working together to ensure classroom content has practical applications in the workforce. RCC offers an affordable and relevant education while building a solid foundation whether going onto a University or entering the workforce.Riverland Community College report by Deborah Mills

To conclude the evening, we had the privilege to gather at the Hormel Sales Cabin and exclusive opportunity for us to reflect on innovation and the experiences of the day. Jeff Grev, Vice President of Legislative Affairs joined us for a presentation on Hormel before dinner. We learned about the growth of Hormel with their new facilities as well as the diversification of their brands. Hormel fosters a culture of accountability and they truly empower their team members to think differently and be bold. Continuing with the concept of innovation they have created a 20 by 30 challenge in which they have determined goals pertaining to their products, environmental sustainability, include and diversity, education, hunger relief among many others. Hormel also created project Spammy in which they designed a shelf stable poultry product that is fortified with vitamins and minerals to help prevent childhood malnutrition in Guatemala. They donate over 2 million cans of Spammy each year…truly amazing! And what evening wouldn’t be complete without some innovative Spam appetizers. Spam sushi…coming right up! Moments after seating for dinner the severe weather set in and the class enjoyed the evening meal with the power out.  Another first we can add to our ever-growing list!

Submitted by Jana Stangler

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