The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same.  Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” Don Williams, Jr.

Class XII’s first full day on our International seminar in Panama kicked off at the Radisson Hotel in Panama City, beginning with a self reflection exercise to ensure that we can embrace the experience and be fully present.  Toby then led our class through a learning exercise called Barnga, a Euchre-like card game where each group playing has a different set of rules and no communication is allowed, as a way to help us appreicate the challenges of navigating new cultural experiences without the benefit of perfect verbal communication.  This helped us truly understand the importance of cultural adaptability, acceptance, and most importantly, empathy as we embark on this journey.

The learning continued during the morning, as we met with Peter Olson, attache for the USDA Foreign Ag Service.  Peter walked us through the USDA’s role in country, focused on US market promotion, market access for US commodities, local market intelligence for US Companies, and capacity building.  Peter was followed by the Regional Director for the US Grains Council in Latin America – Marshall’s own Marri Tejada-Carrow!  Marri walked us through her team’s responsibilities focused on Developing Markets, Enabling Trade, and Improving Lives within her scope of responsibility for US Corn, Barley, and Sorghum exports.  Interestingly, Marri shared that agriculture in Panama makes up only a small portion of the total Panamanian economy, relying on imports to feed and power (via ethanol) the population.  Unsurprisingly, the Panamanian economy is driven in large part by the presence of the Canal, which the class will tour in detail tomorrow.  Two demonstrations of leadership that Marri shared in her comments:

  1. Understanding cultural norms in communication is critical to building powerful and long-lasting relationships; the traditional American approach to daily work is not necessarily shared by the locals!
  2. Leadership in a country where you are the guest does not look like railroading your own agenda through the local political machine – and this can sometimes take patience measured in years, not months, for the perfect opportunity to introduce new ideas.

  U.S. Grains Council, Latin America Regional Director – Marri Tejada-Carrow, Panama and native Marshall, MN native and Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) – Peter Olson, Agricultural Attache, U.S.D.A. – provided orientation on import, export and agricultural product status in and out of Panama and global regions of Latin America.

Following our morning of learning, we boarded our new “bus home” for the next 10 days, led by our tour guide Jorge, for lunch at a local restaurant.  The fresh fish was FANTASTIC!  MARL XII then got a group photo at the famous, multi-colored PANAMA sign.  Jorge informed us that we were lucky – if a cruise ship was in the area, this simple exercise could’ve taken an hour or more.


After lunch, we split into separate groups to experience either the Smithsonian Institution on Wildlife in Panama or a local museum celebrating regional biodiversity.  Whether seeing sloths lounging in trees, frogs in varying states of “compromising positions,” or appreciating the local fauna, we were all exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel for a respite before the evening activity: a traditional Panamanian meal and dinner show filled with music and dancing, with some “audience participation” (thanks for showcasing your skills David, Kelly, Toby, Renee, and Turkey Jake).

  From unplanned (and possibly staged) MARL “engagement” photos (old friends Kevin and Sagan), to iguanas dropping out of the sky onto Kate, to breaking back into our own bus at the end of the evening (thanks for volunteering to get yourself through that tiny window, Corey – and this is a story worth asking your MARL Class XII colleague about IN PERSON), Day 1 concludes with all of us tired, our cups full, and hope that the rest of the trip can live up to Day 1!


Corey “Our Hero” entering bus with help from class members to get all of us access thru an “open door!”  Daily summary wrap up by Jason Robinson. MARL  Class XII

Tomorrow we will be on the Canal…. return for more drama and lessons from the Isthmus of Panama.

DAY #3 from Panama

Today was an awesome day.  The first stop…Panama Canal.  We were able to see the last ship of the day entering the canal at approximate 8:30 a.m. EST.  Panama is experiencing a drought and 3 steps have been taken by the Panama Canal authorities to conserve water.

  1. Only half of the ships are being allowed through the canal.
  2. Large ships will often times have one or two small boats go through at the same time – referred to as “tandem lifting.”
  3. Water is transferred between chambers (locks) as much as possible – reducing water consumption by 50% per lift.

Ships travel from the Pacific to the Caribbean in the morning and vice versa in the afternoon.   The water level in the locks is raised or lowered to move the ship through the canal, all water is fresh and moved without any pumps, there are many channels for directing water for each lift of a vessel.

The original (ancient) canal was finished in 1914.  The first ship to travel the length of the canal was on the same day as WWI broke out.  A new canal was built near Panama City in 2007 to keep up with the shipping demand.  The toughest part of building a new canal was the logistics.  There were 35 different countries that participated in the building of the new canal.  For example the new lock doors were built in Italy and had to be shipped to Panama.

Locomotives are hooked to the ships with steering cables to keep the vessel from hitting the walls. We observed a ship proceed through the Mira Flores Locks today with about 12 inches of clearance on the left and the right side of the vessel and the lock concrete walls. The lock doors are now operated by computers, previously they were operated by human powered levers.  There are no water pumps on the Panama Canal – everything is operated by gravity. Each vessel moving through the locks has assistance from locomotives “Mules” (cause in many canal systems – a mule “they animal” was providing power to move cargo on boats thru the water.

Before a ship enters the first lock a Panama Canal Pilot is taken to the ship to steer the vessel through the locks.  The crew remains on board and follows the pilots direction.

The Panama Canal is one of the most well-known places in the world. A popular stop on the lake were islands that are home to monkeys. Yes, the monkeys on the islands are pleased with the popularity of the region. The one below is a Howler monkey – did you know that they are the loudest terrestrial animals in the western hemisphere.  Born with blond fur, males turn black as they mature.  Can you determine the gender of this one we spotted?

After our canal visit and the IMAX movie narrated by Morgan Freemen, we ventured to Lake Gatun.  We got into small boats and were given a tour of Lake Gatun. Many large ships passed by us.   Lake Gatun is man-made and was created by damming up the Chargas River.  There are still 7 native tribes in Panama that are keepers of the land.  They are self-governing and protect the rain forests.


Nancy Miller – contributing blogger – MARL Class XII

Chagres River in Panama revealed to us many secrets this afternoon.  The source of much fresh water for the Panama Canal system

MARL class, after their adventures at the Panama Canal and a quick lunch, headed to “Old Town” Panama where we were able to experience the history and culture of historic Panama. MARL class experienced a variety of churches, shops, restaurants, and businesses.


A tour of the community garden and old town from Tino was next. His efforts allow area children the ability to partake in a community garden. This reaches far beyond the community garden as he is able to help provide the children with meals and other basic necessities.


MARL class wrapped up their evening with a meal together at Costa Blanca. Tomorrow MARL Class will head to Penonome to a pineapple farm and an egg farm! The adventure continues!

Ali Bouta – contributing blogger – MARL Class XII

 Catch you tomorrow… A good day fishing on the Chagres for MARL today!

Day #4 – Departing from Panama City – – – 

From Traffic Standstill to Agricultural Marvels – 

Last night’s view – pretty cosmopolitan city.

Day four of our Panamanian adventure didn’t follow the anticipated script, initiating with a slow traverse through a 2-hour traffic standstill due to a protest. Our guide, Jorge, suggested the protestors might be retired police officers advocating for increased pension checks. Despite the delay, as we finally hit the road, our journey transformed into a captivating exploration of Panama’s infrastructure and agricultural wonders. The day’s pinnacle was witnessing the construction of a multi-billion-dollar metro train system designed ingeniously to traverse both above ground and under the canal. This showcased a substantial investment in the country’s transportation future, an ambitious move given the apparent need for observed road repairs during our journey.

Difficulty leaving town the morning… Protesting in the streets – stopped traffic – sat for two plus hours – in traffic, appreciated air conditioning…


Our initial destination was the expansive pineapple plantation, covering an impressive 400 hectares. This wasn’t merely a pineapple haven; it unfolded as a thriving ecosystem featuring an array of crops, including limes, passion fruits, mangoes, cassava, mandarins, and various other edible fruits. What set this place apart was the harmonious coexistence of cultivation and wildlife, with hills and small lakes enhancing the landscape. As we explored the plantation, our fascination extended beyond rows of pineapples to the vibrant display of flowers and tropical plants. Heliconia, bougainvillea, hibiscus, and other exotic plants, typically found as interior decor in the Midwest of the United States, thrived in their natural habitat. Amidst this diversity, a noteworthy addition was a restaurant on the plantation where we savored traditional dishes. The menu featured fried rice with chicken and raisins and chicken, accompanied by freshly squeezed pineapple juice.

MARL is blooming in many unique ways during the International Seminar… Scott Schoper displays the Bird Flower and Katie Covino additional color, shape and texture.


On to the Pineapple education and tasting opportunity…


Through the farms we explored, an abundance of crops unfolded. In the first plantation, we encountered a diverse array:

– Cassava (Caribbean Yuca): Regenerating from a stick, cassava thrives in the fertile Panamanian soil. It is described as tasting like a potato, adding a local flair to Panamanian cuisine.

– Dragon Fruit Cactus (Pitaya): Set to bloom in April, these cacti added a unique touch to the plantation.

– Limes, Mandarins, Soursop: Each fruit boasts distinct flavors and economic value. The Noriegas lime variety, with its edible bumpy skin, added a local touch.

– Passion Fruit Vines: Vineyard-like in appearance, showcasing the natural beauty of Panama’s flora.

– Coffee Trees: Yielding robust and bitter beans, ideal for a strong espresso or americano.

– Square Plantains: A staple in many Panamanian dishes, occupying a central place in the plantation.

Our journey also introduced us to local wildlife, from sloths to Caymans in the water and turtles. The diverse flora, featuring Heliconia with its chocolate-like scent, vividly portrayed Panama’s rich biodiversity.

Pollo Agricultura – Chicken or the Egg…


Our journey continued to a poultry farm, providing captivating insights into poultry and agriculture. The visit to a certified salmonella-free farm emphasized cleanliness and egg safety, with shedding light on their commitment to eliminating chick culling. The farm’s efficiency was evident as it incubated an impressive 9600 eggs that morning.

Upon returning to our hotel, we indulged in traditional Panamanian chicken and beef empanadas before exploring local stores and a grocery, comparing prices, and discovering new flavors.


Day four, despite its slow start, transformed into an enriching experience, offering a glimpse into the intersection of infrastructure development and sustainable agriculture in this vibrant Central American country. Furthermore, what stood out during our agricultural exploration in Panama was the growing trend of incorporating agrotourism methods into farming practices. Farmers are diversifying income streams, aiming for sustainability during slower seasons. The pineapple plantation we initially visited, spanning an impressive 400 hectares, boasted its own hills and small lakes where cultivation and wildlife coexist harmoniously.

Contributing bloggers today – Kristy Mach, Nathan Hanel, Maria Kalyvaki, Scott Schoper & Kevin Kruize

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” – Aristotle

MARL cohort is working on self-awareness, self reflection and self-regulation.

Day #5 in the heart of Panama

In case you were wondering, the roosters in Panama say, “coocoodacoo,” baby chicks say “pillo pillo,” and the phrases “chick magnet” and “a good egg” don’t translate.” (I was told that you could complement a man on his good eggs, but only if you’re intimate with him.)

Panama day 5 began at Finca Don Lapo, a diversified farm that primarily produces eggs but also has a variety of livestock for agritourism. Rafael, the second generation farmer at Huevos Don Lapo, showed us two of the layer barns. Each flock of Isa Browns spends 16 weeks in a brooder barn before moving to the next building, where their 18,000 eggs are collected by hand three times a day. Most are sold through a combination of resale and direct sales, both locally and in Panama City.


The farm uses spent rice hulls for bedding and hand blends its own feed, mostly a corn and soybean mix that comes from the United States. Calia, the farm manager, explained that the ration also includes vitamins to help with yolk color and achieve better egg quality.


After many standard attempts at rodent control failed, Rafael says that the farm has had success managing them with snakes (!). He assured us that their diet is rich enough in mouse protein to keep them away from the eggs and chickens. None of the MARL members seemed keen on trying this out at home.

Avian flu is less of a concern in Panama, possibly due to the hot and sunny climate. This is fortunate, as Rafael anticipated that there would likely be no government assistance available in the event of an outbreak. Still, the farm practices biosecurity and treats their flock with some antibiotics to safeguard against intestinal viruses.

Aside from livestock production, One of the most relatable topics Rafael discussed with us was the challenge of multigenerational farm succession. He and his siblings were encouraged to get an education and study abroad, which certainly provided them opportunities but may have kept many from returning to the business. He said he is always looking for ways to attract more of his family (immediate and extended) back to the business. Agritourism is one way they are trying to diversify (the farm has a variety of birds, unique poultry, cows, sheep, iguanas, rabbits, and deer), and Rafael continues to try modernizing their operation using computer technology.


Our chickens might sing different songs, but our farmers have many of the same dreams and challenges!


Friday afternoon we made our way to an agriculture school where students can enroll starting at age 14. They can receive their high school certification in 3 years or continue on to receive technical training for 5 years. Students are able to live at the school and for a fee of $60/month this includes room and board. This allows students from all over Panama to enroll in the school. Currently, 176 students are enrolled. To become a student, they have a 2 week “bootcamp” period to make sure the students know they want to have a career in agriculture. They must know how to use a machete and basic skills like how to drive a tractor. This period weeds out the students who do not want to be there. While the school is currently run by the government, they are in the process of transitioning into a more private school so all the funds from sale of products produced on the farm can go back to the school. Students have the opportunity to learn skills from dairy farming, goat farming (milk goats), pigs, beef and many crops.


Once the school transitions to an independent school, the plan is to offer more technical training as well as traditional farming training to allow students to understand they do not need to have lots of land to have animals or crops available to feed their own families. The more technical training can allow students to be more employable in larger sections of agriculture. As a previous high school agricultural educator, it was great to see opportunities for young people to learn skills in a hands on setting and the similarities as well as differences between US and Panama.

The heat was intense here today.  The setting sun on the beach was delightful…

Share more with you on the weekend… MARL International Seminar continues….

We started our day with lunch at Lakeside Event Center and Golf Club in Perham. 

Doug Huebsch, MARL Class IV Alumni, Perham native and current resident who is very active in the community shared welcoming message and highlights of his MARL Class experiences.  His life experiences have led him down four paths: Agriculture, Real Estate, Retail and Service.  Doug has operated a turkey farm and a cow-calf beef operation. He has and does own real estate as part of an investor group in Perham that has provided housing for the community.  He is also an investor in a number of local retail businesses in Perham and in the New London/Willmar areas.  Lastly, he is very service oriented serving 12 years as a Ottertail County Commissioner and as current Vice Chair of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.  Doug presented an overview of the Perham community, highlighting the importance of creating and maintaining an attractive location amidst the Lake Region for people to live, work and engage in recreation.  The Perham Area Community Center, Boys & Girls Club, new school system and healthcare facilities were highlighted amongst the favorable business environment that the City of Perham and County has supported.

Welcome to Perham, Doug Huebsch, MARL Class IV shares greetings.

Following the Highlights of Perham as a community MARL Class XII began work focused on Facilitating to LEAD. Throughout this part of the seminar we talked about what it means to lead and facilitate as well as what followership is.  We identified different leadership mindsets and how they worked to facilitate meetings and committees.  We worked individually as well as in small groups to understand the importance of each of these roles.  We identified skills and tools that both facilitators and followers could use to have successful meetings.  Specifically we talked about 7 common traps that derail a productive meeting.



7 Common Traps: allowing productive meetings to derail…

Trap 1: Letting Private Interests Influence Public Decisions

Trap 2: Lacking Direction and Purpose

Trap 3: Filling Seats with the Usual Suspects

Trap 4: Going “Off Track”

Trap 5: Making Decisions Outside of Meetings

Trap 6: Getting Stuck in Conflict

Trap 7: Lost in Virtual Space

  After this workshop, we were able to spend time in the evening at the Disgruntled Brewery, which Doug owns in Perham and network with the MARL Class, Alumni and some community guests.  Grateful for place to be nourished and network – Thanks Doug, Becca and crew at the establishment – good time had by all. Enjoyed the tour and photo opportunity.

MARL Class XII enjoying the good!

Thursday-January 25th

Thursday morning MARL Class XII kicked off our day with a tour of Bongards Creameries – Perham Plant. Plant Manager Justin Larson took us through the facility where 4.2 million pounds of milk are processed daily. A current expansion to be completed in the spring of 2025, will increase that amount to 5.5 million pounds a day. Bongards has been a co-op since 1908, specializing in cheese making in addition to butter and whey production. Bongards of Perham serves around 250 dairy farmers in a 150 miles radius of the plant. As a manager for over 9 years, and a family history with managing Bongards, Justin was extremely knowledgeable and truly had a passion for cheese production. Justin expressed how much he enjoyed the co-op structure and how it allowed himself, employees, and board members to serve the patrons while producing a wholesome product.

Converting waste into power.

Brian Schmidt and Scott Mattson at Prairie Lakes Municipal Solid Waste Authority gave us an inside view of creation of energy from waste.  This facility is a partnership between five counties to handle municipal solid waste and create steam power.

The process starts on the tipping floor, where trucks are unloading the waste from area counties focused on minimizing landfill accumulations.  After the trucks are unloaded, the waste material is sent to the municipal utility reclaiming facility.  This process sorts household waste, removes recyclable materials and PCB’s????

Once the material is prepped it is loaded into a burner, incinerated and the heat generated runs a boiler to produce steam.  This steam is sold to industries needing the steam source – like Bongards’ Creameries and Tuffy’s Pet Foods, both Perham businesses working in collaboration with the solid waste authority.

According to David Beyerl, “the neatest part of the tour was seeing how they use 55,000 tons of garbage to create energy (STEAM) to process raw agricultural commodities into food” – pet food (Tuffy’s) and cheese at (Bongard’s Creameries.)



KLN Candies:

This afternoon we had the privilege to meet with folks at KLN Brans.  Robb Moser and his team talked about their business and mostly about their “WHY.”  KLN Brands is a very community focused organization.  They are involved in many facets of Perham and beyond that truly give back and also support their employees to purchase a home as well as collaboration with the local hospital to increase local daycare options.

The President of the KLN Brands, Chase Rasmussen, spoke as well as highlighting the fact that KLN Brands does not just manufacture and sell ap product, they do that to give back.  Again, he kept going back to the “WHY” of their business.  Courtney Rooney also joined us.  She is the company’s Dream Manager, with a background in mental health, she is working with employees to reach their life goals and dreams all as a way to create a great working environment at KLN.

We were treated to a great tour of the production floors of candy and popcorn and numerous snacks from their production lines were provided.  Consistently we saw positive employee interaction amongst each other and with management.  Great facilities, a growth mindset, and a giveback attitude were major take away points.


Our evening session was shared with MARL Alumni Carl Aakre, Class V, National Director of the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) a special project supporting middle school and high school Ag, Food & Natural Resources Education across the country.  We appreciated learning with Carl and hearing his journey in leadership post MARL Program participation.

Friday-January 26th

On Friday, January 26, 2024 in Perham, MN the MARL Class XII met to introduce their Capstone projects to the MARL Shark Tank Executives.  All Capstone projects presented were impressive.  Helpful suggestions were shared with the presenters and many classmates had ideas and referrals to share.  Without spoiling the presentation at graduation, some of the topics included:

  • Working with the local FFA alumni program to expose FFA members to them many different jobs included ag.
  • Being on the board of a new Agricultural Children’s Museum
  • Expose students to the meat industry in order to maximize its growth.
  • Working with local corn and soybean grower’s associations to increase activities and membership.
  • Create a MARL mentorship program.
  • Bring tools to Employer Farmers to stay compliant with state employment laws and the Department of Labor.
  • Research and document resources for rural community’s EMS teams.
  • Create an elite fleet of driver’s in the workplace.
  • Restart/revamp the local FFA program.
  • Expand the largest sugar beet competition display at the State Fair.  Most importantly this will include educating the State Fair visitors.
  • Work to create a tax incentive for farm landowners to rent their last to a beginning farmer.
  • Work with youth to create excitement about ag opportunities.
  • Create a social media plan around a Day in the Life of a Turkey Farmer.
  • Work with family to create a value added product by using current buildings and farmland more efficiently.
  • Create access to right sized manufacturing for cottage industries in rural communities.


Ali Bouta, Glenwood                                Nancy Miller, Kerkhoven


Cody Suter, Murdock         Corey Cervin, Darwin       David Beyerl, Murdock

The first speaker was Darren Newville, District Manager of SWCD and is a member of MARL Class IX. Darren grew up in Fairmont, MN and spent as much time as possible outdoors.  His hobby is wildlife photography.  He moved his family to Perham 13 years ago.

Darren’s office of SWCD has 80 grants from federal, state and local resources.  One of their tasks is to work to manage water runoff with farmers that irrigate their farmland.  Dan’s team will also work with farmers to conserve and protect resources.  All SWCD programs are volunteer.  They are a local unit of government and are political subdivisions of the State.

The second speaker was Nick Leonard, Deputy Administrator of Ottertail County.  Nick grew up in NE Iowa where his parents were small business owners and his grandparents were rural leaders.  Nick shared his 7 points of leadership:

  1. Be invested in community projects.  Different people re invested in different ways.
  2. Rural leaders need to be generalists.  They help whomever shows up on the doorstep.
  3. Have 3 value systems:  personal, organizational and cultural.  Know what your values are for all 3, they may conflict.
  4. Focus on most, not a few.
  5. Take responsibility when you make a mistake.
  6. Influence others by focusing on their needs.
  7. Meet people where they are at.
  8. Create trust – do what you say you are going to do.

There was a lot of work put into the Perham session by Brad, Toby and their staffs.  All of that work lead to a successful session.  Next stop:  Panama!

Respectfully, Nancy Miller, Ali Bouta, Cody Suter, Corey Cervin, David Beyerl – Seminar Management Team



Please click on each hyperlink below to view the appropriate document:

For the policy geeks, the history buffs, and the 10,000 steps-a-day devotees, the first day of MARL Seminar 7 had something to offer everyone!

Class XII kicked off our week in Washington, D.C. at the American Farm Bureau Federation, where we learned about the “grassroots to grasstops” lobbying process from Ryan Yates, AFBF Managing Director of Government Affairs. Ryan and his colleagues discussed Farm Bureau’s work at the national level and emphasized the importance of being an effective ag advocate and educator. Ryan noted that since nearly half of current Congress members were not in office during the last Farm Bill, these efforts are critical to a favorable, bipartisan resolution.
Veronica Nigh, AFBF Economist, presented 2023 statistics on inflation, farm income, unemployment rates, and wages. She discussed how these figures might be interpreted at state and national levels when making ag and rural policy decisions.
Elise Cruce, Director of Leadership Development, talked through strategies for fostering better conversations about agriculture with individuals and organizations who have misunderstandings or opposing views. Research shows that about 70% of Americans trust “farmers,” but when asked if they trust “farming,” the number drops significantly. She emphasized the importance of not just “sharing our story,” but emphasizing common values rather than hard facts, and seeking to understand a point of view rather than prove or disprove it to foster greater curiosity and trust. Mark Rokala reiterated and agreed with everyone else who spoke before him. He emphasized focusing on policy and not politics and always ending with “thank you” and “what can I do to help you?”

Washington D.C. views “Fostering Collaboration”

Foreign Ag Service, Wash. D.C. – visit with Administrator Daniel Whitley

Our next visit was at the Department of Agriculture, where we met with members of the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. After a warm welcome from program administrator Daniel Whitley, we heard from Julio Maldonado, Global Engagement Executive, and Chris Swenson from Legislative Affairs. They discussed the four pillars of FAS’s work, which include: Trade Policy (expanding and maintaining access for US ag products); Trade Promotion (marketing development and organizing trade shows); Capacity Building (help countries build trade capacity with US, develop non-emergency food programs); and Data Analysis (global market research, production forecasting, monitor changes in trade policies). Because agricultural commodities are so globalized, it is critical that the US positively engage with other countries to promote our products and practices. Conversely, it is also important to keep Congress informed about how national policy decisions could affect US ag and trade interests worldwide.

Congresswoman Tina Smith shares with MARL Class

Later in the afternoon, our group split off to meet with Tom Liepold and Adam Schiff, staffers for Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, respectively. Rather than talk politics, we picked their brains about policy development and leadership. Yet again, our hosts shared that agreeing on a Farm Bill that is favorable to both agriculture and nutrition programs is something that makes them lose sleep at night. They surmised that the middle 80% of Congress could likely achieve compromise, but the extreme 20% of the right and left make collaboration difficult. When asked about what makes a good leader, Tom said that the best Congressmen and women are often curious and willing to learn about issues they don’t understand and to meet with those who disagree with them.

Fostering Collaboration – Food and Agriculture

Tuesday: December 5, 2023

The MARL group started off Tuesday with a visit to the Longworth House Office Building where we met with the House Committee on Agriculture. We were able to discuss the current Farm Bill, along with the current extension and dive a little deeper into the multiple hurdles that will be faced in 2024. Passed every five years, the farm bill costs about a half-trillion dollars and funds farm subsidies, crop insurance, nutrition assistance, conservation programs, and more. Without the extension, some farm programs would have expired at the end of the year. This extension includes funding through next September for farm programs and food assistance. The U.S. Congress is working to draft a new, 5-year Farm bill with congressional hearings underway to determine public and private stakeholders’ priorities for the reauthorization.

The MARL class split up Tuesday afternoon and colleagues were able to meet with their local representatives and discuss pertinent information regarding local issues. Here, we were able to build and strengthen relationships and share our invitations of support for Minnesota agriculture.

That evening the MARL class travels to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is America’s national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history, and serves as this country’s memorial to the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims—six million were murdered; Roma, people with disabilities and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. The Museum’s primary mission is to advance and disseminate knowledge about this unprecedented tragedy; to preserve the memory of those who suffered; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the Holocaust as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.

Wednesday: December 6, 2023

Wednesday morning the MARL group traveled to The Climate Reality Project. Former Vice President Al Gore is the founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project. The Climate Reality Project is focused on climate change education and advocating for climate solutions available today. The organization is a consolidation of two environmental organizations, the Alliance for Climate Protection and the Climate Project, both founded in 2006 by the latter. The Climate Project is an educational, worldwide grassroots organization that trained selected members of the public to give public talks, similar to Gore’s presentation in the film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” These discussions focus on the harmful effects of climate change and ways to address climate change at the grassroots level.

Panamanian Embassy visit with diplomats from Panama prepare us for International Seminar.

Wednesday afternoon the MARL group split up again into Leadership Groups and attended various Professional visits. One group was able to meet with The Embassy of Panama in anticipation of the MARL International Seminar that will be hosted in Panama in February! We were able to discuss our itinerary and learn some wonderful information about Panama that will help the group prepare.
After the Professional visits, Leadership groups were able to have some “free time” together and work on Leadership Search Activity. Different visits including, walking tours in the “Speak- Easy”, trolley tours throughout the town, a trip to the National Archives, as well as the Natural History Museum. After these activities, the MARL class traveled to Alexandria, Virginia, for our farewell dinner at the Historical, Gadsby’s Tavern. The leadership groups were focused on creating a “message in a bottle” where we were able to identify examples of leadership and how we can apply these in our professional and personal life.

Thursday: Final Day
No better way to end our week in DC then doing some community outreach. We had the opportunity to visit So Others Might Eat (SOME). What a humbling experience to learn what SOME truly is. They are so much more than the typical food pantry that we all think about. SOME has a business model of serving the Columbia District in DC for six decades. They started serving meals in April 1970 and have never missed a day since. Yes, that is 365 days a year for 53 years!

So Others Might Eat – SOME, Caring for the Whole Person in Washington D.C.

Class XII got to meet with President/CEO, Ralph Boyd, EVP Chief Strategy and Performance Officer, Stephanie Brown, VP Customer Relationship Management/CQI, Dirk Keaton, and SVP Community Outreach, Daryl Wright. We learned that SOME employs 400 team members plus has numerous volunteers that support their business. SOME has 9 service lines providing housing, food, health services, etc. for those in need. They have an almost $1B fair market value balance which includes 1,350 units of affordable housing. One key to SOME’s success is having a no barrier dining room. This means anyone can get a meal with no questions asked & no ID necessary. Daryl, also known as the “Mayor”, mentioned that DC has 8-12,000 invisible homeless people which they provide support for. He challenged us to show up & volunteer. Volunteer services provides hope for a better future for those in need. A piece of leadership advice that Ralph left us with was as a leader we don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. Rather we need to find smart team members and empower them to do their best. We ended our time at SOME helping move some hygiene care packages around for them to set up for a large delivery the next day.

After our visit at SOME we debriefed at the hotel. Everyone created a souvenir of their experience this week in DC. Each of us are challenged to think about what’s next. We will continue to take our experiences to learn from and take action.

Blue SMT Group- Sagan King, Dan Kuhns, Katie Covino, Courtney Duncanson, Sue Gorman

Class XII started off their splendid seminar in Duluth, Minnesota. On Thursday, June 22, an optional tour was offered to start the day. An opportunity to get to understand a local farm and aspects of agritourism.

Farmer Doug (aka – Doug Hoffbauer, MARL Class VI, he, wife Louise and son-Derek shared about their operation and the opportunities that the farm has capitalized on. Such a different business than a row crop farmer from the typical Midwest farm would operate. In such differences “bloom the flowers of leadership,” and on the Hoffbauer Farm – Peonies bloom. Besides running a farm, Doug Hoffbauer a MARL class VI alumni and leader in many Minnesota organizations [MN Grown, MN Christmas Tree Assn, Farmer’s Markets and UofMN Extension Committee.]  I am very grateful for Doug giving back to the current MARL class. Jakob Hicks – reflections


After touring a local farm, we shifted gears and investigated a portion of agriculture that doesn’t look a whole lot like corn or soybeans, instead the focus was on trees. The class gathered in time to meet a bus headed for a Louisiana Pacific (LP) Mill. When I think Mill, I imagine grain turned into flour, however this mill turned wood (Aspen species) into industry leading wood siding products. Brian Gulseth shared his story on how he navigated the lumber industry to his current position within Louisiana Pacific.  He is currently the LP Plant Manager, timber procurement specialist and leader in the forest industry in Northern Minnesota.

Once on site at the LP Mill, we put on personal protective safety gear and learned how trees are turned into siding. A key nugget that learned was about the quaking aspen tree regenerates. Once the treetops are removed the root system will sprout many new saplings improving the ground cover for birds and other wildlife.


After learning how wood can be manufactured into siding, facia and other building products, we got the chance to witness an active logging operation. Not only did we learn about the logging process we were able to see the machines operate, felling & bunching trees and removing all branches through processing. The cost of the equipment rivaled that of grain combines. Jeremy Stecker , 2022 MN and National Logger of the Year, a third generation logger, shared how he operates his business in turbulence economic times amidst the lumber industry.  Jeremy is sharing with MARL Class XII alongside the highway where the opportunity to view actual harvesting – cutting, bunching and prepping trees for transport to the mill was in progress on Minnesota State lands.

We finished the day by going to the Sappi paper mill in Cloquet. At the mill Tom Radovich, the Plant Manager, shared a presentation with us on “Leadership in Forest Products”. He emphasized the importance of always be innovating. Sappi drives a culture of innovation and by thinking outside the box. Sappi is more then just paper, by innovating Sappi has partnered global with multiple companies to bring many products to consumers. Overall, it was an amazing “first day” of a great seminar.  MARL Class XII was provided a special meal of seared salmon and stuffed pork chops with all the sides and a healthy dessert to finish it off – sponsored by the Sappi Mill.  Thanks Tom for the invite, message and hosting our group.


Friday was a busy day for MARL Class XII. We started the day with a bus ride to MinnTac mine in Mountian Iron, MN. MinnTac is a taconite mine run by US Steel and is the largest iron mine in the United States producing over 13 million tons of ore in 2022. James Jarvi, Director of Logistics, Pellet Movement, Technology & Sustainability, hosted us and started us off with an iron mining 101 lesson. We then headed out into the mine where we marveled at the great expanse of the pits and the scale at which the miners work. We even got up close and personal with one of the huge dump trucks used to haul raw ore out of the mine. Next, we visited the concentrator where they crush and purify the raw ore to about 65% iron. The tour’s highlight came at the end when we returned to the mine to witness a blast that turned roughly an acre of bedrock into crushed rock ready for the processing facility. One of our own pushed the plunger (or button, as it was) that sent rock flying high in the sky and rumbled the ground beneath our feet.  It was a “moving experience!”


In the afternoon, several significant others joined our group to spend the rest of the day learning about the Port of Duluth/Superior. First, one of our classmates, Kate Ferguson, who works for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, gave us an overview of the port including its history and modern operation. We then got to head out on the water on a cruise where Kate continued to share her depth of knowledge with a tour of the port’s terminals. We also got to learn the destination of our international trip next year. During the “MARL on the Water” experience it was announced that  We are going to Panama for our International Seminar in February of 2024!!


After a long day, we retired to the Black Woods Grille to relax, commune, and reflect on the day’s activities. It was a great way to end the day as we deepened our relationships with our classmates and enjoyed each other’s company.  (Reflections from Megan Horsager. MARL Class XII)


Saturday morning was the last day of our Duluth seminar, and it was a tired group of MARL students and significant others that assembled for breakfast. We quickly got the blood flowing by jumping into our “Navigation Conflict with Success” workshop. We learned about different modes of handling conflict using Tomas-Kilmann’s conflict mode instrument. We identified what modes we were most comfortable using and got to hear from others who used different modes of handling conflict. Several class members had small “ah-ha” moments as they learned more about the conflict management style of other class members, or sometimes even spouses. The seminar challenged us to work on developing style flexibility, recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each mode, and using them appropriately based on the situation.


As we wrap up our last seminar of year 1 and prepare to head into our gap, we have a lot to think about. We have spent a lot of time the past year learning about ourselves and getting to know our classmates. Many have shared how MARL has already deeply affected them and how they see their life moving forward. We also have much to look forward to such as brainstorming capstone projects and preparing for our International Seminar to Panama. I think it is safe to say we all are looking forward to the next year.  Lots of loading and moving within the MARL Program.

Acknowledging the contributions of the pictured foursome below that accommodated the Duluth Seminar and provided material – summaries and photos for the MARL blog during this seminar.

Seminar Management Team: [LtoR] Kelly Heather, Megan Horsager, Jake Vlaminck, Jakob Hicks