Cold- and warm blooded friends joined for the start of Day 3. Several members showed their pets, before getting to work.

Pictured: Dylan Barth and his dog Kota, Erik Evans and his Chuckwalla (Sauromalus) lizard.

MARL Class XI concluded its Seminar Two with a workshop “Communicating with Emotional Intelligence.” This workshop explored our communicating brains and tools for emotional intelligent communication. Through the use of breakout rooms and Peer Learning Circles class members had a chance to experience some of the tools that were shared.

slide on areas of brain – presented by Christy Kallevig, Program Leader

Marsh, Stangler, Smith and Hatlewick enjoying the discussion in the break-out room


Sarah McConnell’s dog quietly attending the session.

The seminar concluded with information to prepare for Seminar Three. The traditional golden nugget activity shed light on the many things participants learned and took away from being together. Nuggets included: Trust, Positivity, WHY, Dr. Milligan’s session, Be part of the Solution, Positive Culture, Never Push-Presume-Pretend (quoted from Dr. Spronk), Life is about Relationships, Application, Passion with Purpose, Perseverance, Tell my Story, be Active in Community, Do what you’re good at AND what you enjoy.

Program Leaders Christy Kallevig and Toby Spanier

Submitted by Toby Spanier, Program Co-Leader

The morning started at 7:15 a.m. with an informal coffee shop, attended by many, including Pipestone Mayor Myron Koets. Koets, a seasoned ag-business professional, took the chance to share his insights in leadership, such as the importance to surround yourself with motivated leaders who enable you to grow. He briefly welcomed the class at 8:00 a.m., at the start of the formal program.

The class then shared a quick round of ways how they have been able to support others during the pandemic. The initiatives were impressive, and of great variety; even included an ice rink for the neighborhood! One can find itself lucky to be in Class XI’s communities.

MARL Program Co-Leader Toby Spanier facilitated a session around WDYDWYD and Story Telling. The first started with a fragment of Simon Sinek’s famous Ted Talk about “WHY”. Members had several discussions in break-out rooms about their personal examples of “Why You Do What You Do”, sharing their Why, the objective impact, and the Why of their leadership. Through a “Family Feud” game show, we transitioned into the art of Story Telling.

Patrice Bailey, Assistant Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, greeted the Class around noon. Bailey highlighted the Department’s efforts around emerging farmers and shared his excitement to work in depth with Class XI in the near future.

After the lunch break (in break-out rooms), we split in three groups for virtual farm tours in the Pipestone area.

Group 1 visited Buhl Ridge View swine farm near Tyler, co-owned by Don Buhl (Class V). A pre-recorded video was interjected by a live session, where Buhl and farm manager Kary Wihmann answered many questions by all. It was impressive to learn about the farm, renewable energy, leadership in the sector (at national and international levels!), community involvement, as well as transition of ownership and management.

Group 2 was hosted by Randy and Josh Lingen’s robotic Dairy Farm and ice cream makers near Balaton. Here too, a live session was mixed with a special MARL pre-recorded video to show the high-tech automated (Dutch!) milking equipment in action. Coincidentally I used to milk cows with the same system, but much older version, before coming to the U.S. It is fascinating to see how it keeps getting better, and cow-friendlier. Josh shared his focus on diversification in the dairy operation, to ensure mitigation of risk during low milk prices. That includes manufacturing ice cream. Did you know Josh even served ice cream at their coop – Land O’Lakes’ corporate headquarters?

Group 3 toured an innovative swine operation by PIPESTONE systems. Sylvia Wolters guided the group through an interactive medium, taking the group through the shower into the bio-secure facilities. The latest technologies to ensure health and well-being of the animals were implemented. The focus on company culture was clear in how employee spaces were designed. Did you know how PIPESTONE provides the farm employees with two meals a day, adjusted to ethnic preferences? The level of bio-security, according to Wolters, makes PIPESTONE better prepared to mitigate some of the swine industry’s highest risks, keeping the animals protected from outside viruses and such. Something to envy, during a pandemic.

The farm tours were followed by a break, after we split up in three groups for virtual Community Conversations.

Group 1 was welcomed by Chuck Sendelbach, former board member of the Pipestone Area Community Foundation. The Foundation’s mission: Established in 1999, the Pipestone Area Community Foundation (PACF) is dedicated to promoting a greater life for present and future generations by meeting needs and creating opportunities in the Pipestone Area. Highlights of Sendelbach’s story are the strong collaborations between community partners. In a community close to the South Dakota state line, and not far from Sioux Falls, the challenges can be unique.

Group 2 spent time with Kevin Paulsen, President of First Bank & Trust and leader of the SW CEO Program. Story submitted by Deborah Mills:

The SW CEO program is a program for High Students to learn real life business operations skills from the business owners which are the class instructors. Six communities are collaborating together to give the participating students real life business operations insight. Teaching all aspects of business operations including understanding the realities through the management of a name badge business project. The class acquires operational skills by developing a business model to implement. The proceeds are divided among the students for seed monies to start their own individual businesses after completing the program. The community support and commitment for the youth in SW MN is impressive.

Group 3 completed a session with MN West Community & Technical College’s leaders and instructors. Story submitted by Nada Carter:

I was able to attend the MN West Community and Technical College presentation this afternoon. It was fascinating to learn about the collaboration among the Pipestone Economic Development Association, MN West and the Pipestone Area schools for the Blighted House Project. The Development Association raised community funds to purchase blighted property (forfeitures, etc) who they then turned over to MN West to renovate. Using high school and collegiate students, they completely gut the property and make it new. Not only does it give the students an exceptional “hands on” learning experience, it removes an eyesore from the community and puts a property back on the tax base  contributing in a positive way to the local economy. Full circle; what an awesome idea!

A round table about the tours and conversations concluded the jam-packed schedule of the day. Thankful for the incredible opportunities and warm welcoming hosts and speakers! MARL is made by many.

Submitted by Olga Brouwer, Executive Director MARL

SMSU President Dr. Jayasuriya welcoming Class XI to Southwest Minnesota

Show & Tell Collage

As you make the drive to Pipestone you are able to see the beauty of southwest Minnesota.  The rolling hills dotted with cattle and wind generators.  You can feel the history of the area as you see the red rock and the sacred land that is home to the Pipestone monument.  Instead of driving into town Class XI Zoomed into town.  Waiting for us in our Pipestone Zoom was Dr. Kumara Jayasuriya, Southwest Minnesota State University President, who welcomed the class.  We were treated to the sites of the city through a video and conversation with Erica Volkir, Executive Director of the Pipestone Chamber of Commerce.  Erica’s energy and passion for the community of Pipestone made us all the more excited to meet others from the community during our three days together.

Pipestone is home to the Pipestone Monument.  The pipestone material that is found here is considered sacred and is quarried to make pipes used in prayer by American Indians.  Park Superintendent, Lauren Blacik, shared the history of the monument as well as the work that is done today to protect the area and its legacy.  Lauren shared the complexities that exist in working with the American Indian tribes to ensure the legacy of the area and protecting its resources. MARL program leaders Toby and Christy facilitated the conversations in a playful manner, including using a virtual “wheel of fortune”.

Dr. Robert Milligan (MARL Board of Directors) was our guest presenter for day one.  Dr. Milligan helped us to explore the concepts of customer attributes and how to better understand our consumers.  Through a variety of exercises we were able to develop an understanding of the things that we ourselves value as well as the emotions that are at play in making purchasing decisions.

Our afternoon included a panel discussion with leadership from PIPESTONE Vet and Pipestone Systems.  Dr. Gordon Spronk, Dr. Luke Minion, and Sylvia Wolters shared information about their organization, took time to share more about their personal views on leadership and their experiences, and answered endless questions by the Class.  PIPESTONE was founded in 1942 and has continued to innovate in its work within the industry.  They are an international corporation with holdings in China and South America.  They are also very committed to service both their own employees as well as the communities in which they live.  The vulnerability that was shared by all three members of the panel was inspiring.  These three leaders exemplified PIPESTONES core values of integrity, caring, commitment, growth, and teamwork.

After doing a MARL Show and Tell where we discovered the hidden art talents of Class XI, we closed for the day.  We left day one feeling excitement for the people we would meet tomorrow and a deeper appreciation for this hidden gem of southwestern Minnesota.

Submitted by Christy Kallevig, MARL Co-Program Leader

MARL Class XI started the second day of the first seminar in the same way as many classes have before them; with a cup of coffee and breakfast.  Granted we were all in a Zoom meeting room instead of a hotel breakfast area but this casual opportunity allowed us to gather and learn a little more about each other and become energized for another full day of learning.

Olga Brouwer, Executive Director, started the day by welcoming the group back together and bringing in special guest, Thom Petersen, Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture (MDA).  Thom shared his excitement about the program and referenced the need for leadership during these challenging times.  We look forward to connecting more with Commissioner Petersen and others from the MDA in upcoming seminars.

After spending the evening reviewing their personal EQ-i Assessment Reports participants had the opportunity to do a deeper exploration of emotional intelligence.  Working to develop one’s emotional intelligence can help them to move up within their organization, have improved mental and physical well-being , and even lead to healthier animals and crops on their farms.  Participants were introduced to the Peer Learning Circles and met within those groups to learn about each other and their opportunities and challenges with emotional intelligence.  In their Peer Learning Circles they also connected with the Alumni Leadership Fellows.  The Fellows are alumni who have been selected to serve as mentors to the Peer Learning Circles as they move through their MARL journey.

Program Leader Toby Spanier then worked with the group to enhance their understanding of the power of questions.  Using good questions can help us to be better leaders and move us towards action.  The group learned about the ORID method which can be used with a focused conversation; how to use questions that enable action and keep others on track: and probing questions that invite participation.  In small groups the class explored each of these question types and discussed the benefits and challenges with each question type.

Returning to the Peer Learning Circles the groups then put their new knowledge about asking good questions to use.  They worked as groups to develop questions that would be asked of our tour hosts and conversation guides.  Each group prepared questions that spoke to the learning goals around emotional intelligence, growth mindset, and understanding the context for leadership.

Sarah Anderson along with Lynnette and Samantha Gessell made MARL history by conducting our first virtual tour. Sarah, Executive Director for Minnesota Turkey Growers, helped us understand the turkey industry and the economic impact it has for our state as we lead the nation in turkey production.  We were thankful to the Gessell Family for showing us around their farm near Swanville on a busy day when they welcomed new poults into their barns.  The excitement and pride that this legacy farm family has for their work could be seen, heard, and felt through our virtual tour.

After leaving the Gessell farm we moved, virtually of course, to St. Cloud where we were joined by Tracy Hodel, Public Services Director, Lisa Vollbrecht, Public Utilities Director, and Emma Larson, Asst. Public Utilities Director to learn about St. Cloud’s Wastewater Treatment Facility.  We learned that this innovative facility is now fully powered by renewable energy sources.  The facility is the definition of innovation as they have found new ways to use solids to create new products and even help farmers meet their nutrient needs through direct application.  The team also shared their own leadership stories as some of the first women in the wastewater sector.  Who knew that learning about wastewater could be so interesting!

We got on the virtual bus again and moved over to Clearwater where we were joined by Matt Maier, owner and operator of Thousand Hills Beef.  Thousand Hills Beef with family farms across the United States to raise grass fed beef using regenerative agriculture practices.  Matt showed us a group of cattle grazing on land that has been built up through these practices due to the introduction of a diverse mix of grasses and the benefits that the animals themselves bring.  We learned about the use of pasture grazed hogs and chickens within his operation as well.


Matt helped us to see the work ahead of us and the leadership needed to ensure that consumers understand the value of the product on the shelves and in making sure that we have sustainable pricing for the products being produced.

Dr. Bev Durgan, Dean of University Minnesota Extension briefly hopped on to welcome and encourage Class XI on their journey. Dean Durgan emphasized the importance of leadership development, and highlighted the unique partnership MARL is, between UMN Extension and SMSU.

We returned to St. Cloud and virtually met Extension educator Serdar Mamedov who is working with ethnic communities in St. Cloud to expand access to halal meats.  Serdar educated our group on the requirements that must be met to define meat as halal and that the process is more than how the meat is butchered; the process begins with how the animal is raised.  Currently, halal meats are being imported from New Zealand.  This means that the halal meat, typically goat and camel, are not fresh and the quality cannot be guaranteed.  Serdar shared that he is working with community leaders to create a supply chain within central Minnesota that will hopefully include a processing facility.  This project has been significantly impacted by the gathering restrictions of Covid but he is optimistic that it will continue to move forward.  We hope that we will be able to reconnect with Serdar and the community leaders at another time during our program to hear that the project has reached some of its goals.

Throughout our seminar we had the opportunity to hear and read notes of welcome from members of the MARL community.  Thank you to everyone who took time to send a note of welcome to Class XI or record a message, and for the visits from Mike Yost, MARL Board Chair, Commissioner Petersen, and Dean Bev Durgan, University of Minnesota Extension.  The class was able to see that they are valued and already connected to our MARL community.

Submitted by Christy Kallevig, Program Leader/Extension Educator

Class XI showing their artifacts

MARL Class XI launched with a Zoom virtual seminar on Monday, November 23.  Executive Director, Olga Brouwer welcomed the class and then introduced MARL Board President Mike Yost. Mike shared some of his distinguished leadership experiences and offered encouraging words of wisdom to the class.

After a few additional words from Olga on program changes and updates, the class began to get to know each other in breakout rooms by completing Minnesota trivia. Following the trivia, participants worked in small groups to complete a virtual puzzle together and analyze their leadership contexts. All the groups were successful in completing the puzzles and identified some of the following ways we are experiencing life and leadership:

  • Lots of distractions in life and work
  • important to continuously monitor unintended and intended outcomes
  • diverse people looking at the issue – bringing diverse world views
  • Balancing act, personalities, age, sense of humor, viewpoint, leader or following, change is always taking place
  • Lots of meetings, less time to get the work done
  • Leaders need to be prepared to work with group members of different ages/levels of experience
  • Finding optimism in the challenging times
  • Keep open-mind and remain flexible
  • Important to continuously monitor unintended and intended outcomes
  • Two-way communication is critical

Program leaders shared the purpose and intent of MARL and how to approach this as a leadership journey.

Welcome notes for Class XI sent by alumni 

During lunch, small groups were able to chat and get to know each other better. Following lunch, participants engaged in an artifact activity, where each member of the class was asked to share a bit more about themselves and an object that has meaning for them.

Bring your pet to MARL!

Submitted by Toby Spanier, Program Leader/Extension Educator