The name of the game was snow and the goal…getting to the Minneapolis Saint Paul Airport in the midst of yet another snow storm. After a few jolting moments of turbulence, we safely landed in DC. We were all excited to walk out into the sunshine and 60-degree weather.

After we all had a chance to settle into the hotel, our program leaders had a fun activity planned for us to explore DC, a MARL version of the Amazing Race. Split into teams of 3-4 people, the race was on! Our first envelope contained our first pit stop challenge: build a “MARL monument” using toothpicks, marshmallows, and playdough. We had fun creating our own masterpieces! Once our challenge was successfully completed and approved, we received our next clue. This clue led us to the nearest metro station where our challenge was to get and load our metro transit card for the week. Navigating the metro lines to a restaurant of our choice for dinner was the next task. My group went to a fun Spanish tapas restaurant where I had my first ever experience eating Rabbit (which I thought was quite tasty). Our fourth and final task was to make our way to a “sight” of choice from a specific list of options. This posed a challenge of its own as we tried to plan the most efficient route to the most convenient location on the list.

Overall, another long, tiring, but fun day full of unique MARL experiences! I know I am excited to see what the rest of the week will bring.

Submitted by Danielle Evers

Friday, January 18 was the final day of our Seminar 3 and we were very fortunate to be able to spend it on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus.

Our first speaker of the day was Dr. Brent Hales, Senior Associate Dean and CFO, U of MN Extension.  Dr. Hales gave us three important takeaways in his speech of the following; 1. Surround yourself with the best people possible. 2. Give people resources to enable them to be the most successful. 3. Don’t be a jerk – allow others to lead.  He also discussed how a previous mentor of his voiced to him that you want people to perceive you as their colleagues, his example spoke specifically to attire.

Climatologist Mark Seeley was our second speaker of the day. Mark is a retired Professor Emeritus of Agriculture and Natural Science at the U of MN, I do think what he is most proud of is his self-proclaimed title of “Weather Geek”.  Mark spoke to us about the Drivers of Observed Climate Behavior, which include natural variability, land use and landscape changes and greenhouse gases.  He stressed based on the information in the MN Weather Almanac from 2005 to 2015, there have been 17,000 new climate records and 165 daily statewide climate records set or tied after 2005.

Dr. Amy Kircher, Director of the Food Protection and Defense Institute, spoke to us about food fraud, defense and safety. Little did we know that 10% of all food is fraud, classics including olive oil and mozzarella cheese. Nor did we know there are 84 ingredients in a cheese burger sandwich! This huge sum of ingredients makes it hard to track where every ingredient is from and even harder to determine where a source of contamination may have come from. Some of the drivers of food system disruptions are human behavior, weather, changing food regulations, political instability, disasters and population trends. She also discussed that an intelligent adversary observes to find vulnerability, access and evade detection. It is estimated that 15 billion dollars is lost annually to food fraud. Unfortunately, no one is funding food safety, this point was difficult for I think a lot of us to understand why that would be so.

We then took a walk on campus to the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab to meet with Dr. Jerry Torrison, Dr. Jeremy Schefers, Dr. Alex Primus, and Dr. Sunil Mor.  Dr. Torrison explained the discussed the types of cases the lab receives to process each year and the roles the lab has in identifying and monitoring emerging diseases. Dr. Schefers spoke in depth about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in white tailed deer and the timelines for the disease in both North America and Minnesota. Dr. Primus talked about fish diagnostics and that there are two types of cases either necropsy or regulatory. Before a live fish can be moved, they must be tested for specific diseases, this is utilized to prevent the movement of infectious diseases with the transport of fish.  Dr. Mor discussed turkey arthritis and implications to the industry of the disease on birds and how it can impact the industry. He demonstrated where leg tissue is taken to test for the disease and what the diagnostic lab is doing to help determine a case and potential vaccine.

After the Vet Lab, we gathered together to wrap up our session by each of us giving our “Golden Nuggets”. As we reflected on our four days, a common theme began to surface, relationships. As we look ahead to our next session, which will take place in our Nation’s Capital, Washington D.C., I can say for each of us that we can’t wait for next time!

Submitted by Angelica Hopp, Class X

The morning started early as we loaded our bus to travel to the nation’s largest nurseries: Bailey’s Nurseries.  On our tour we were able to start from the basic seed and see the process all the way through to full grown plants.  In the grow room we got to hear from Head Grower Mike Hoffman how different light bulbs affect how even the plants emerge.  It was also interesting to hear how the difference between horizontal and vertical placement of the grow lights affects growth rates in the plants.  The use of temperature and humidity at the Bailey’s complex was amazing.  We toured rooms that were 75 degrees with 80 percent humidity and in the next room we were in a freezer at 28 degrees.   Inventory Manager Vickie Pondell joined Mike in hosting the tour through the greenhouse. The automation here was fascinating to see. Bailey’s has an interesting mix of automation and hand labor.

After touring the green house complex, we loaded the bus and went over to one of the main warehouses.  Warehouse manager Brian Garrick took us on a chilly walking tour. In this warehouse employees were sorting and bundling young tree saplings.  Water misters were used to keep the saplings from drying out.  This task was done using a mix of automation with some trial and error.  Every corridor or hallway changed the air flow of the building.  What I took away was how Bailey’s tried to keep as many employees as they could full-time in such a seasonal business.

After our Bailey’s tour we went to the headquarters of the nation’s largest farmer-owned cooperative: CHS Inc..  We were welcomed by Stacy Tietjen, Director of Compliance and Integrity, with lunch and warm welcoming words. We got to learn about many of CHS’s endeavors as well as the complexity of the global trading system from several directors, managers and merchandisers: Michael Johnson, Rick Romer, Kevin Doyle, Tyler Ledyard, Scott Svacina, John Engelen and Darrin Carlson.  Jay Debertin, President and CEO of CHS, was able to spend a whole hour with us in a question and answer forum.  Jay asked our group how companies and boards can work on developing new leaders as well as bring more diversity in people and perspectives. He spent a significant amount of time listening to Class X’s thoughts and stories.  As our time with Jay was ending, he left us all with a challenge, “Don’t just aspire to greatness, bring some with you on the journey”.

We finished our afternoon with Kevin Paap (Class I), President of Minnesota Farm Bureau.  Kevin was able to give us tips and insights on how to respond on short notice for interview requests or press conferences.  One of the many highlights was taking a plain sheet of paper and fold it in half three times.  It will give you eight boxes.  Place your priorities that you would like to talk about or your highlights in the top four.  Place questions you would rather not be asked in the lower four, by having some prepared statements you can help control the direction of the interview and keep you on task.  I have personally already used this method in the last week.

Afterwards, Class X was able to spend an evening together to debrief on the last three days and prepare for the fourth and last day of the St. Paul seminar.

Submitted by Aaron Vadnais, Class X

On the second day of our St. Paul seminar, we started the day listening to Bruce Miller from Minnesota Farmer’s Union discuss his roles with the union, MN farmers, and State & Federal governments. Mr. Miller made sure to elude to the fact that our representatives would much rather hear from us, their constituents, over lobbyists and other special interest groups in the capital. Hearing this was a sign to relief to myself and the rest of our MARL class because it made us feel like we had a voice as local leaders and our inputs and opinions had some pull in conversation with our elected officials.

After Bruce’s program we headed for the State Capitol where we had the opportunity to meet our State Senators and Representatives. I was able to block off a chunk of time to sit down with my State Senator, Sen. Dave Senjem, and discuss my local community of Rochester, MN. I listened to Sen. Senjem discuss his ideas on how to improve the life of his constituents and how he thought leadership programs like MARL could impact at the local, state, and national levels. Our conversation concluded with me following Sen. Senjem down to a transportation committee meeting and walking in with him through the back entrance. It was pretty cool walking in to a committee meeting with a former Senate minority AND majority leader.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon I popped in and out of committee meetings. During lunch, together with a group of classmates we discussed each of our different experiences at the capitol and what we learned, realized, or were surprised by. We all came away learning different things from our representatives and each other, both of which I consider huge wins.

When everyone returned to the hotel we shifted gears to our next adventure, the Washington D.C. seminar. We went over our tentative agenda, what to pack, took a quiz on what we knew about D.C., and got our ducks in a row regarding congressional meetings and professional organization appointments. My first two MARL seminars I was overwhelmed by the amount of information we were being presented, but at this point I’m used to it and almost look at it as if it were a challenge. Our 4th seminar to Washington D.C. will be a test and I’m looking forward to every minute of it.

Afterward, program leader Christy Kallevig lead a session on Ethical Leadership. In this segment we learned about the six core ethical principles that are the foundation of ethical cultures: Respect/Autonomy, Beneficence, Non-Malice, Justice, Fidelity, and Law Abiding. We also discussed the differences between Moral Temptations and Ethical Dilemmas and the three ways of resolving ethical dilemmas.

Right before the evening’s banquet we went over our Letter to the Editor comments by Paula Mohr (Class VI) from the previous seminar in Marshall. Everyone was very pleased with their feedback and we look forward to seeing if any of them go to print in their respected publications. MARL Board Chairwoman Cheryl Glaeser (Class VII) greeted the class immediately after Paula Mohr’s session, encouraging everyone to continue being engaged members. Cheryl briefly shared how MARL impacted her life, and through that, agriculture and rural Minnesota.

To wrap up the night we were joined by a very nice group at the banquet emceed by Class IX graduate, Mary Kay Delvo. There were MARL graduates, State Representatives, and many others that were able to make it. Our Keynote speaker was Lori Sturdevant, Author and retired Star Tribune editorial writer, who spoke about history of Minnesota and emphasized the important role of the press. Jay Schmidt and Stephanie Loch shared their Class X reflections with the audience.

Overall our St. Paul Seminar was a very educational experience for me. I’m looking forward to our trip to Washington D.C. and the rest of our journey the next 15 months.

Submitted by Scott Schwartz, Class X

Tuesday, January 15th was the start of MARL Class X’s third session in St. Paul, MN. The session agenda promised a full docket of ag literacy, urban agriculture, capital tour, appointments with legislators and so much more. We started out the day with Sue Knott and Keri Sidle talking about the Minnesota Ag in the Classroom program. Sue and Keri talked about the importance of ag literacy in classrooms around the state, not just in urban areas, but rural areas too. More and more families are two or three generations removed from agriculture so it’s important to be sure agriculture is a part of every classroom’s lesson plan. The Minnesota Ag in the Classroom website (https://minnesota.agclassroom.org/) provides resources to conduct your own ag in the classroom sessions. Sue and Keri brought some of the activities with them and split us into small groups to try them out. One of the activities included using yarn to show the difference ingredients in a locally grown salad travel compared to the ingredients in a non-locally grown salad. Another activity included observing and tasting different varieties of apples and showing how seeds can germinate with a little water, sunlight, time and patience. After conducing these activities, I would say class X is armed with loads of ideas to take to the classroom. Sue and Keri ended the session with a challenge for all of us; conduct at least one ag in the classroom session before the end of the school year.

Following the Ag in the Classroom session, Class X had the honor of participating a sit-down discussion with Minnesota’s new Commissioner of Agriculture, Thom Petersen and Assistant Commissioner Whitney Place (Class VIII). Having a week on the job under his belt, Commissioner Petersen talked about Minnesota’s ag industry, how it is interconnected and how we need to help the next generation of farmers succeed. Ultimately, Petersen and Place’s goal for the next four years centers around enhancing Minnesotans’ quality of life by ensuring the integrity of our food supply, the health of our environment, and the strength of our agricultural economy.

Lunch, provided by East African themed Afro-Deli, got us all out of our comfort zone and trying new things. From chicken fantastic to sambusas, all the choices were amazing! Kahin Abdirahman, owner of Afro-Deli, talked to us about how he started the business in St. Paul in 2010 and had so much success, they were able to open a second location in Minneapolis shortly after. Afro-Deli takes pride in freshly made food that is prepared Halal.

After a short break, we were was broken into three groups and traveled to three different organizations around St. Paul to learn about urban agriculture. Group one visited Frogtown Farm, a certified-organic urban demonstration farm that practices a permaculture approach, creating a regenerative system that builds soil rather than degrading it. Group two visited The Good Acre, a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the local food system for diverse, independent farmers and to increase access to healthy produce for all consumers regardless of income. Group three traveled to Hmong American Farmer Association, where we learned that Hmong American farmers make up over half of all producers at farmers markets located in the Twin Cities’ metropolitan area. The HAFA helps farmers get access to numerous bi-cultural and bi-lingual trainings so that they can be better land stewards. All three locations gave us a unique look into the many ways’ organizations within the metro area helping urban agriculture.

Our dinner was sponsored by Agriculture Utilization Research, at the Peking Garden, a locally owned and operated full service Chinese restaurant. Before enjoying a full cuisine of a wide variety of authentic dishes, we learned about the feedforward process. Feedback is a significant part of our lives and the feedforward process helped us thinking differently about it. Instead of looking back at errors or things that cannot be changed, we learned to instead focuses on how to adapt behaviors or actions to better the future. We tested this form of feedback on each other as we talked about our media interviews from session 2 and how we would like to improve our public speaking skills.

And if that wasn’t enough, we had one more stop. To finish up the day, we were treated to a late-night tour of the capital. Brian Pease from the Minnesota Historical Society showed us around the capital, talked about how influential architect Cass Gilbert focused on the details of every room within the building, especially the unsupported marble dome, which is the second largest in the world. The capital underwent a major four-year, $310 million restoration which was completed in 2017. The project helped restore 150 years of aging from the capital’s architecture, paintings and statues. Following the tour, Representatives Paul Torkelson, Jeanne Poppe and Paul Anderson as well as MN Farm Bureau’s Public Policy associate director Josie Lonetti, spent some time with us, talking about the life of a representative, expectations of the job and how to manage the work-life balance. They gave us insights into how strenuous the job can be, why they chose to be a representative and how rewarding it can be.

Even though it was a long day, it was well worth it, and I think every member of Class X would agree. The days that followed were just as jam packed and fulfilling. As the week went on, our bond became stronger and deeper and we are all looking forward to spending even more time together in Washington D.C. in February!

Submitted by Stephanie Loch, Class X