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


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

MARL Seminar #4 Blog – Feb 15-17, 2023

In-person in Regional Seminar Management Teams (SMT)- Blue

SMT Blue (Dan Kuhns, Cortney Duncanson, Sue Gorman, Katie Covino, and Sagan King) met in Owatonna, Minnesota. We were able to come together and work on our strengths-based leadership skills.

Our SMT began our day touring Gandy Company, where we met with Gary Sanford, who is Gandy Company’s Sales and Marketing Manager. Gandy Company began in 1936 with two pairs of pliers and a coil of hay wire fashioned in the hands of a Minnesota county agent which would help solve an urgent need of the federal government’s new land measuring program under the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. The resulting wire model of the land measuring wheel created by E.S. (Gandy) Gandrud progressed to a rod measuring wheel for acreage measurement. It enabled one person to accomplish what had previously taken two. Borrowing $100 from a local bank, Gandy financed the initial production of the measuring wheel and founded the E.S. Gandrud Company, later renamed Gandy Company. Gandy Company’s custom manufacturing division provides products and services to customers in a variety of markets. Their metal fabrication, machining, welding, powder coat painting and turn-key assembly capabilities give their customers a competitive edge. Today, Gandy Company continues to be family owned and operated and a trusted manufacturer and supplier of agricultural equipment and professional turf care products. Gandy markets and services these products globally.

Original Gandy measuring wheel – 1 rod = 16 1/2 feet

Following our morning tour, the SMT met at Torey’s for lunch where we were able to work on our Seminar 4 team exercises. Here, we identified our individual strengths and were delegated our leadership search roles within our group. We were able to discuss our talents and strengths within our group and then were able to complete option identification and came up with some excellent ideas. During our meeting we discussed decision making and were able to prioritize these as well as taking action and we created an “action plan” for the rest of the day to complete our planned activities.

After lunch and great conversation, our group headed over to Bushel Boy, also located in Owatonna, Minnesota. Here, we met with Chuck Tyron, who currently stands as President of Bushel Boy. We were not able to tour the greenhouses today due to time allotted with following biosecurity steps that are in place but were able to get a year-round visual of operations from Chuck.  Bushel Boys raises their fruits and vegetables in their sustainable Iowa and Minnesota greenhouse farms. Their produce is hand-picked at peak ripeness for that garden-fresh flavor year ‘round. Their products are rushed to stores, so consumers can enjoy fresh and delicious flavor with that just-picked freshness. Bushel Boy Farm’s specialties include vine-on tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries. Bushel Boy’s simple desire to grow their crops carefully, pick them at peak ripeness, and deliver summer-fresh, perfect crops year-round.

Bushel Boy – producing tomatoes and strawberries – Owatonna site visit

Their Midwest, high-tech greenhouse farms allow them to create ideal growing conditions even when the outside weather is at its worst! Innovative technology enables Bushel Boy to ensure ideal growing conditions all year long. Environmental systems monitor and adjust light, temperature, nutrient levels, and CO2. Bushel Boy strives to be environmentally responsible by capturing rainwater with a 96% utilization rate. No CO2 is released into the atmosphere from their boiler systems-the CO2 is filtered and redirected into the greenhouses for plant utilization.

Once we finished at Bushel Boy, our group headed over to Central Farm Service to finish our group exercises of taking action and reflect on our day. We had a wonderful group discussion and were able to create our group presentation to present to the rest of the MARL groups! We had a great day with great dialogues where we can all become more proficient at our strengths.

SMT – Yellow – Maria Kalyvaki, Kristy Mach, Scott Schoper, Kevin Kruize and Nathan Hanel

We started the day by meeting our cohort member Maria in her world at MSU, Mankato within the College of Business.  Our day began with our group of five meeting in a conference room for a couple hours and opening up the big envelope that we were provided at the end of our previous seminar, but were told not to open.  Some of us were anxious to learn more details and wanted to make sure that we didn’t let our team down under the pressure of figuring things out as we went along.  Yet others were ready to go with the flow and see how things work out.  We progressed step-by-step and things fell into place as we went along.

Yellow SMT visits Minnesota State University – Mankato, prepare to “Go to Class”

Maria teaches a marketing class and they are working on a project for GreenSeam.  We were able to join her class for 75 minutes and get the opportunity to interact with them.  After Maria had a chance to check in with her students, we did five minute introductions of ourselves and shared our backgrounds as well as our current roles.  Students resonated the most with Scott’s story as a couple students asked him specific follow up questions.  After the introductions, students got into groups according to their roles on which aspect they are working with GreenSeam (e.g. branding, social media, etc.) and we met with two different groups.  We had a chance to ask the students questions about the pieces they are working on and the students also were able to ask us questions.  It was mutually beneficial and they enjoyed having us come in as much as we enjoyed being there.



Thanks to Maria, she also hosted us for lunch and we walked to the student union and ate in the faculty/staff area, which was a little less crowded than the main eating area.  One of Maria’s College of Business colleagues, Kyle, joined us and we had some good conversations and learned about him and his background.  He teaches MIS and has an interest and has done research in sustainability.  We learned more about the College of Business and the formation of a School of Agriculture at MSU, Mankato to help provide more training for people going into agriculture related careers.

After a very relaxing and fulfilling lunch, we went back to the conference room to finish up our leadership activity and then proceeded to Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery in Kasota.  It was very quiet there when we arrived and we met with the manager and he took us in the basement of the building to get a tour. We saw the behind the scenes of where the wine is barreled and bottled and we also were able to see the distillery equipment that is used for the spirits.


After the tour, Brad was in the area and joined us while we indulged in a beverage and further got to know each other.  Maria has some secret talents and was sharing with us her experiences with vineyards and olive trees in her home country of Greece.  In fact, for our international trip, if we go to Greece, Maria could be a great resource for us and help share her knowledge of agriculture in that country.  Let’s start putting a bug in Toby’s ear to go to Greece 🙂  As the sunlight was dwindling, we ended our time at Chankaska and all headed back home.  We had a fantastic day with each other including the students at MSU, Mankato.  Thanks again to Maria and MSU, Mankato for hosting us!

SMT Green Group: Ali Bouta, Nancy Miller, David Beyerl, Corey Cervin, and Cody Suter

We visited RELCO on Thursday, February 16th. RELCO is a nationwide, engineering and manufacturing company with its office headquarters in Willmar, MN.


During this seminar we were focused on not only our personal strengths, but finding those strengths in each other and ultimately in companies within our geographical region. While at RELCO we were able to dive into the 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership and seek out examples of each. Following our tour and in-depth discussions with upper management personal of RELCO, we enjoyed a lunch together at the Green Mill in Willmar. While there we reflected some on our tour and enjoyed quality time together. After lunch we moved to Kerkhoven where we utilized the board room within Financial Security Bank to assemble our presentation for the following day. We were all given the opportunity to not only exercise our personal strengths at different points throughout the day, but also provide a space to grow and learn from each other.

Leadership Search Activity – SMT Red:  Renee Brod, Kate Ferguson, Jason Robinson, Rick Swenson

One aspect of being a good leader is the ability to suss out how your team meshes together.  During this seminar, we learned the results of our StrengthsFinders assessment.  Upon collation and analysis of our collective Top 10 strength themes, we made what was to us a shocking discovery – this group of four individuals assigned by geography to Seminar Management Team Red was incredibly well-balanced across the Domains of Relationship Building, Strategic Thinking, Influencing, and Executing.  This explained our ability to, without any pre-defined structure, quickly align upon a shared vision for our Leadership Search Activity and break down the planning into the necessary executable tasks according to our skills, talents, and expertise.


The day itself was planned to a “T,” though we discovered that the best laid plans don’t always lead to flawless execution.  The team’s commitment to achieve our vision, combined with a healthy respect for equitable division of labor, led us to select a central location where we could be together while searching for examples of positive and effective leadership in the community.  We began the day by meeting in Brainerd at 10 am, coming from Duluth, Underwood, and the Twin Cities, for a tour of Lexington Manufacturing, specializing in customized solutions for the building industry.  The day continued with a short hop down MN State Highway 371 to visit Sprout MN, a mission-based, nonprofit Growers and Makers Marketplace focused on connecting and strengthening the local food system as a regional asset, with food, art, and culture at the core.  Finally, it was back up to the Brainerd area for reflection at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes, where we would be staying for the evening – though we had to pull upon our Adaptability strength theme to deal with unexpected room cancellations.  Unfortunately, due to a medical challenge, one team member was unable to attend the in-person events but was at least able to follow along via WhatsApp posts and pictures, while also volunteering to author the blog and SMT findings presentation for the next day to allow the in-person team time to focus on learning.

Central location for the Red Seminar Management Team

So, what did we take away from our day together?  From Lexington, a for profit manufacturing organization, we learned that the goal of the leadership team is to encourage and support employees in reaching their full potential, by creating a three year, transparent strategic focus by emphasizing the top activities it will take to win in the marketplace backed by a quarterly awards system that celebrates “winning by adhering to the company’s core principles.”  This approach drove their success through the COVID-19 pandemic.  From Sprout, a nonprofit community organization, we heard a similar philosophy focused on putting people in positions they love.  However, the community-based mission is one that requires discipline and focus to stay on message, beyond “meeting the numbers.”  In this sector, community and staff relationships are keys to success, demonstrated by a commitment to staff professional development, acting on and not just listening to feedback, and never asking someone to do something the leader isn’t willing to do herself.

Onsite Team at Sprout – MN

Onsite Team @Lexington Door Manufacturing

Upon reflection, our team took away the following five “A-HA’s” (while having some fun along the way):

  1. A leader must sometimes be OK “rolling with the punches”
  2. Mission-forward leadership requires clarity of vision and relentless focus, especially through challenging times
  3. Organizational culture must be nourished to minimize turnover (awards to demonstrate adherence to values, commitment to professional development)
  4. We observed two wonderful examples of top-down leadership, where the leader models the behavior they want to see.  BUT, bottoms-up leadership is also effective – we just didn’t see that in our activity
  5. A leader should not only create a psychologically safe space for staff to voice feedback, but then also act on it

Black SMT – SMSBC – visit with 5 Board Members of the Southern MN Sugar Beet Cooperative.

Black SMT Team: Kelly Heather, Megan Horsager, Jakob Hicks & Jacob Vlaminck

The adventures of the Black SMT team in Southwest Minnesota

For the first meeting of the Black SMT group in southwest Minnesota we planned two visits. Megan used her connections at the Southern Beet Sugar Cooperative located in Renville, MN to gather five members of the Coop board in the morning and Jakob scheduled a visit with Dr. Todd Frank plant breeder with Beck Seeds in Olivia for our afternoon.

The morning visit with the SBSC board was a unique look at how leadership as a cooperative board functions. We met with five current board members ranging in experience from a couple of months to over 10 years.

Southern MN Sugar Beet Cooperative, Mission, Vision and Core Values

Kelly, Jake, Jakob and Megan (L to R) visit the USDA/NRCS Office in Olivia

Beck’s Seeds and visit with Dr. Todd Frank, corn geneticist    For lunch we traveled east to Olivia to visit the famous Max’s and finally open our leadership packet. Jacob was especially excited since he’d been in possession of the packet since our last meeting in January. While discussing the mornings visit and reviewing the packet, we also touched on how our leadership assessments effect how we function as employees and how we lead others.

After lunch we buzzed over to Beck’s Seed in Olivia to meet with Dr. Todd Frank who is Corn Breeder. Dr. Frank has worked for several different companies throughout his career, and he described the differences in working for a corporation versus the family founded Beck’s Seed.

We then gathered at the Conservation Office in Olivia to review the day and finish our packet assignments. During our visit we managed to connect with Holly Hattlewick, MARL Class XI alumni and Joe Serbus who is the chairman of Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. This organization supports MARL and it was great to meet those that support rural leadership in Minnesota.

SMT Black meets Joe Serbus while searching for leadership, Joe serves as Chairperson of the MN Soybean Research and Promotion Council – MARL appreciates MN Soybean support of leadership.


Class XII, Seminar 3, Day 1 – Mankato, MN – Communicating Effectively

Minnesota weather can be quite disruptive BUT not this time!   MARL Class XII was able to meet with full class attendance in Mankato, MN in collaboration with the 2023 MN AG EXPO.  The class was able to take advantage of meeting many MARL alumni as well as networking with other industry leaders across the state.   The Expo also provided the opportunity to hear from great keynote speakers and the ability to put our networking skills to use!

Seminar 3 started off getting to know each other by sharing something people may not know about you.  Facilitation of MARL Seminars is accommodated by Toby Spanier, U of MN Extension Educator. We learned Class XII has people with many interests such as college athletes in basketball and hockey, wood workers and crafters, winter sports enthusiasts, and many others from faith, farming, and horses!    After the fun we leaped right into the reason of what Seminar 3 was all about “Communicating Effectively” by exploring the Art of Asking Questions and Listening.   Asking questions is a powerful tool for leading people in a facilitative manner.  We discussed several methods and techniques to be cognizant of when asking questions and took the time to practice in small groups.   However, asking questions also comes with being a great listener.  We practiced our listening skills in a few different exercises that really opened our eyes to how easy a listener dictates the outcome of a conversation.  Becoming an active, compassionate and reflective listener is important and will be a key skill to hone when leading effectively.   After gaining a deeper understanding of these concepts we took our new skills to the Trade Show floor to network with a new connection at the MN AG EXPO.  These skills helped us take the pressure off of meeting new people and help focus on what we wanted to learn and how we could use questioning and listening skills to create a better connection.

The MN AG EXPO provided us the opportunity to hear from to a panel of Dairy, Pork, Turkey, and Beef leaders across the state.   The group discussed many topics and you could feel the passion for their species and the ag industry in their respected leadership roles.   Here are a few interesting points the group had made as they addressed the factors of Climate/Environmental – Public – Animal health that have impacts on their businesses.

  • Maintaining a positive image and striving in outreach to the public and learning new ways to address disease pressure
  • “Active Environmentalists” is the mindset they take to gear their farm towards sustainability and promoting what they stand for
  • Keeping the consumers interests in mind as they make decisions to work towards similar goals and success
  • Keeping their animals safe and healthy as they would themselves as they live and work with them and providing a healthy living environment for the animals
  • Passing down something to the next generation that they are proud of and improved, compared to what they received, it promotes sustainability and positive economic benefits for the future of the industry
  • Utilizing and implementing new technology improves sustainability and productivity
  • Economic outlook looks positive but will have to navigate higher input pricing
  • Coming together and being on the same page helps our message as a whole as it comes to promoting all agriculture across the state

One of the panelists Shelly DePestal – MARL Class V – Minnesota Milk Producers Association President had noticed many of the MARL Class XII at the show and audience where she graciously gave a huge shout out to the MARL program and its impact it has had for her career.   She said that her skills in leadership and confidence she built from the MARL program helped her become the leader she is today.  She mentioned that there had been many MARL Alumni that she has met in her career and encouraged everyone to utilize great network of MARL leaders!   Thank you Shelly!

During dinner this evening we were had the opportunity to listen to the Keynote Speaker – Tom Sell – founder and manager of Combest, Sell & Associates where he provides the firm steady guidance and management, fosters strong relationships with influential leaders in Congress and the Administration, and leads client development efforts.

Tom reminded us that agriculture is an essential part of the culture of not only MN, but the entire country.  As agriculture advocates we need to continue to focus on the security of how produce food and fiber as well as the Environmental Security by promoting strong sustainable practices.  Navigating this can be difficult but staying grounded and utilizing your resources will help us all be successful.   Tom briefly touched on the Farm Bill where he discussed that he anticipates more dollars being added as “Climate Smart” which could lead to better resources to help understand sustainability and how we can continue to be sustainable producers.  Tom also mentioned we need to maintain a unified voice to continue to move agriculture forward.

After a long day of meetings, speakers, and learning the MARL class was able to unwind a bit at the MN Soybean Growers Association Carnival night.  This gave everyone a chance to get to know each other a bit, talk to some old friends, and participate in some games and auction to support programs.  The MARL Class XII represented actively as some of us purchased some great items at the auction as well as winning one of the prizes in the give away!   It was a wonderful first day!


Submitted by Kevin Kruize, Premier Crop Systems, MARL Class XII

Day 2 – Mankato Seminar

While today was an unexpected snow day for most schools in the area, MARL Class XII had a full day of learning, visiting local businesses, listening to panels/keynote speakers at the MN Ag Expo as well as had some time at the end of the day for social and networking time.

After breakfast at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center, half of our class went to the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota and met with its CEO and the other half of the class went to Ardent Mills and met with its Plant Manager.  In both places, we were able to learn more about the business and its culture AND take a fun tour!  Did you know that the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota has numerous ag related exhibits and has more than 100,000 visitors a year?  Did you know that Ardent Mills produces flour blends for pizza dough for some of the most popular pizza chains in the nation?


Back at the MN Ag Expo, during lunch, we listened to keynote speaker, Marissa Nehlsen, who offered a number of tips and suggestions on how to ease your tax burden.  That might sound like a dull topic, but Marissa delivered it with animation and humor which added a fun twist.  We then listened to a panel on the 2023 Farm Bill and learned perspectives and priorities the panelists would like to see in the next farm bill.


It was then time to squeeze in one more tour in our seminar at Jack Links, which makes the refrigerated meat snacks.  Its Mankato facility is the only one in the company that makes the well-known refrigerated meat and cheese combo snack.  We observed the behind the scenes from beginning to end of where the raw product comes on site, to how it’s mixed together to how it’s smoked to how it’s packaged (thanks also for the product samples!).  We also got a better idea of the leadership and culture.

We ended the day with food and beverages at the MSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation where MARL Class X member Dr. Shane Bowyer met us and told us about the Ag Food and Innovation major and minor at MSU, Mankato.


Gwenn Wolters, also from MSU, Mankato, shared  an MBFFA grant opportunity for entrepreneurs in ag and food in the Region 9 area.  It was then time for food and fellowship for our class as well as members from previous MARL classes and that’s how we ended our day.

Submitted by Nathan Hanel, MN State Southern Agricultural Center of Excellence, MARL Class XII

Day #3 – Mankato Seminar

The morning of day three started off much quieter, as the long days packed with education, networking and tours took its toll. Class XII’s “Communicating Effectively” seminar began the morning with looking ahead to our next hybrid meeting in February and our March seminar in St. Paul.

The class departed for Dotson Iron Castings in Mankato. Upon arrival, we were ushered into their new, state-of-the-art conference and training room where the group learned about Dotson’s history and what we could expect as we entered the foundry floor. Dotson began in 1876 as a blacksmith company and turned into a foundry in 1943. The company currently has 1000 patterns, servicing 100 customers and produces 120-tons daily. Agricultural make up 25% of Dotson’s customer base, with well-known clients like John Deere, Agco, Kuhn and Toro. After a safety briefing and the donning of PPE, the class broke off into groups of four for a staggered tour of the Dotson facility. On this particular day, the foundry was actually shut down for maintenance, so while our group was not able to see 2700-degree iron being poured into casting molds, we were able to learn more about each station and get a more “behind the scenes” that we would have otherwise.

Matt Knutson, sales manager, told Class XII member Kristy Mach that most of Dotson’s clients come from referrals. With the ability to provide between 2- and 50-pound casts, Dotson refers clients to other foundries if they aren’t able to meet the client needs, and vice versa. Integrity is one of Dotson’s four major pillars, and you can tell everyone we encountered stands firmly behind their integrity. The other pillars are People, Innovation and Results.

Liz Ulman, vice president, shared leadership and communication strategies with us after the plant tour. Ulman is proud of Dotson’s investment in their people, promoting from within and providing a mentorship program to newly promoted supervisors.


After saying goodbye to our new friends at Dotson with a new appreciation for the difficult and demanding work they do day-in and day-out, we returned to the Hubbard Building for final reflections.


What dawned on me while each classmate provided their “nugget” and “skill,” is how each of us had the same three-day experience but had very different takeaways. Those different perspectives are what will make this MARL Class XII the BEST EVER!!! Not kidding. But seriously, those perspectives will truly provide lasting connections that will help each of us take a step back and consider a different viewpoint. And that is what will help us continue to hone our leadership skills moving forward.

Submitted by Kristy Mach, Corner Window Communications, MARL Class XII

Edited and assembled by Brad J. Schloesser, MARL Executive Director

How nice would it be if you would not have to wait half a year before starting the MARL journey, after selection? Class XII is the first cohort of MARL to start right away. In conjunction with a tradeshow (Farmfest) and large picnic with friends and alumni, the participants of Class XII had their very first leadership seminar on August 3rd. Beginning the journey in a celebratory way.

And fun it was! Executive Director Olga Brouwer (SMSU) and Program Leader Toby Spanier (UMN Extension) welcomed the group at the Redwood Area Community Center at 11:30 a.m., with the traditional MARL materials: name tag, personalized padfolio and – binder. The day started off with introductions in a playful way to get to know each other. A puzzle activity in small groups quickly lead us to think about leadership. As each group completed their puzzle, the shared an analogy to leading in agricultural and rural communities.

After lunch and interactive activities, Toby shared networking tips that could be applied at a short meet & greet with the MARL board, as well as the next segment of the day: a Leadership Hunt Activity at the Farmfest trade show. Some helpful tips are found at To make sure we could recognize each other at the busy trade show, all received a t-shirt with MARL logo print. Which actually helped for many visitors to recognize the new participants with smiles and words of encouragement. Including Minnesota Commissioner Petersen and Governor Walz! The excitement increased by the hour.

Commissioner of Agriculture Petersen and Governor Tim Walz visiting the MARL booth at Farmfest, with Rob Sip (Class V) and Darrell Ingvaldson (Class VI)

The short seminar concluded with a reflection on the Leadership Hunt and a picnic together with MARL alumni and friends at the beautiful farm of Bruce (Class V) and Ann Tiffany.

A big Thank You to Class XII for their dedicated participation, to friends and alumni for their support and encouragement. It was wonderful to meet all of you, and feel the excitement. The journey has started!

A short online prep-session for Class XII will be held on September 19. The first 3-day seminar is scheduled for December 13-15, 2022. Follow more news via Facebook and Twitter: @marlprogram.

Submitted by Olga Brouwer, Executive Director MARL