After 20 months of learning and growing together, the members of Class XI completed their journey on June 22 and 23 in St. Cloud. A celebratory seminar with many guests, reflections, looking forward, and paying it forward. A last time to be together with all.

Members, spouses and board directors started the 2-day event with introductions and lunch. The members then set up their capstone exhibits, and took turns throughout the afternoon to present on their projects. A booklet with a compilation of their capstone project reports was shared to take home. During the capstone exhibits, spouses were invited to join a tour of Munsinger Gardens in St. Cloud.

SMSU’s photographer Adam Henning captured a last official group photo of the cohort and staff.

An auction organized by Quyntin Brandt and Jesse Pabst was organized that evening, with a live auction in the room, and a silent auction available on-site and online. Banquet emcees and maple syrup tappers Roger Imdieke (Class V) and Doug Hoffbauer (Class VI) invited a select group of leaders to speak, and Mary Kay Delvo (Class IX) to sing her “MARL Invocation”. Retired directors of the MARL board over the last four years, were acknowledged and thanked for their service. Those who were present received a true Minnesota-shaped plaque. Alumni Leadership Fellows who mentored peer learning groups (formerly known as EQi groups) were acknowledged as well. Natasha Mortenson (Class IX), Chelsea Russell (Class VII), Shelly Schell (Class VI), Steve Olson (Class II), Ricky Sommers (Class I), Jill Resler (Class VI) and Mary Kay Delvo (Class IX) were all thanked for their service in this new enhancement of the MARL program. Finally, all members received their certificate of completion at the graduation ceremony.

Thanks to class members, alumni and friends, the auction was a great success. This will help pay it forward to the next cohort: Class XII.

After singing a double birthday song for members Steven Marsh and Brittany Ullrich, Mr. Greg Page, former CEO of Cargill, kicked off the next morning for Class XI. Mr. Page shared his personal story, growing up in Bottineau, ND and his career with Cargill starting in dairy and beef. The leadership lessons were plentiful, and even included some mathematical formulas. Nuggets about training curiosity, growing by asking for feedback from team members, influencing, and trust. Explanations are better than answers. Our gratitude to Mr. Page for volunteering his time, presenting and answering our questions.

The cohort split in their Peer Learning Circles and spent 30 minutes reflecting on their experience, and looking forward. After electing two liaisons to represent Class XII on the MARL Board: Chelsea Honnette and Roy Wookey, it was time for the final wrap-up. Written evaluations, a short discussion how to stay in touch, and a final “Golden Nugget” sharing circle. Song, poetry, words, laughs and tears expressed everyone’s individual message.

A special thanks to our spouses/significant others, for their support in the journey. Margo Wookey, Roy Wookey’s wife, shared a shout out during the Golden Nuggets. Thank you!

I have known all of you less than 24 hours now as a significant other of Roy’s MARL “family” here is humorous glance I composed of my albeit tiny glimpse of MARL class II…. I mean XI!

Marl XI Grad Reflections 2022
Margo Wookey

Katie is going overseas…
She wears a mask for risk to appease!

Shannon has a giant laugh!
Holly’s “fine”—so says her hat…

Cheryal brought engraved in glass…
A MARL whisky craft of class!

Austin is a brand new dad, and
I hear his airport stretching skills are pretty mad!

Banquet laughs with Rick were funny…
Sitting by his ‘hunny bunny’!

Charlie’s voice is very deep…
Erik bought all those things to keep!

Steven farms a wild rice moat,
Chelsea now has baby goats!

Celine dion is at the mic…
Nope that’s Olga with similar pipes!

‘DannaWhite’ and half a hog…
With empty promises of choices from top to bottom like a log!

Without glasses Roy says cheese!
Toby networks the room with ease…

Brad and LouAnn six second kiss…
Good wisdom younger couples should not miss!

Christy prepares certificates…
For Quyntin to makes his grand entrance!

Quito roads were very narrow…
Now QB’s in a wheel barrow!

Haley as a purple blazer while
Jesse emc’s the fundraiser…

Brittany’s birthday is today!
Jessica’s blindness did not stay…

Dylan likes to room with Roy…
And always trying me to employ!

Joel has a brand new purse…
Gift cards a plenty in that murse!

Elizabeth sure knows her cows..
Fernando ate so many Guinea pigs -we’ll never know how!

Deborah’s heart is for family dairy…
Sarah is right now having a baby!

Amy teaches girls and boys…
Kim had a bouncing bundle of joy!

Kaelyn has a marketing way!
Jana isn’t here today…

Nada knew Roy as a little guy…
and I spose it’s time to say goodbye!

All good things must come to an end,
Thanks to all for a memorable weekend…

Take all that you’ve learned wherever you roam..
And start by leading well, right in your home.

The last tour stop of the alternative Oklahoma Tour was Yarrowhead Farms at Carney, Oklahoma. Mike and Amanda Wilson, owners of Yarrowhead, claim to be the first and only certified biodynamic farm in Oklahoma. This means the view of the farm organism extends beyond the fence line and includes the tangible and intangible forces that work through it. Examples include climate, inherent wildlife (above and below ground), the light and warmth of the sun, and even the more distant astronomical influences. Biodynamic agriculture attempts to harmonize all of these forces within a holistic, living farm system. Day-to-day practices of biodiversity is not just minimizing the farms’ dependency on imported materials, but striving to become regenerative rather than degenerative. The farm becomes organized so that the waste of one part of the farm becomes the energy of another part — increasing the farms’ ability to self-renew and acquire sustainability. While the practices at this farm are above reproach, we are cognizant that implementing such practices on a large scale would be both unrealistic and prohibitive.

Submitted by Nada Carter and Deborah Mills

We journeyed north out of Oklahoma City for Day 4. We started at Collier’s Custom Leatherworks in Ed-mond, OK. Bret is a third generation leather worker. His grandfather handed down the tools to his father and now he has them. He makes a relatively small variety of products, which was a suggestion for anyone wishing to start out. Find something you like to do; go to some classes and watch those that are really good at it and then pick a niche for yourself. His niche is mostly gun holsters and he markets them through a number of shows a year. He also makes check book covers and Bible covers (which he can make to order!) Nada is looking into that for adding a brand to her Bible cover; she’s pretty excited about the possibility! Bret demonstrated how to cut leather strips for belts and showed us how a number of his tools work. He also explained that leather hide is often split into several layers; the top of which is smooth. The remainder of the layers are the underside of the hide—which makes suede! Learned something we’d always wondered about! When wanting to “shape” leather, Bret will oil it and then clamp it for awhile to sort of “mold it” into a new shape. One of Bret’s specialties is a full leather notebook cover. He can usually get a dozen or so out of one hide.

Following our time with Bret, we ventured to Guthrie, OK where we met Edmond Bonjour, Director of the Oklahoma Ag Leadership Program. Edmond met us at WanderFolks Spirits, a distillery specializing in gin, whiskey, vodka and liqueur. Did you know that all bourbons are whiskey—but not all whiskeys are bourbon?? We didn’t! WanderFolks gets its name from all the folks that have “wandered in” from other ag industries. Distillery manager, Daryl Vencl, formerly with Winfield United, currently oversees a small staff that does small batch distilling using mostly corn, wheat, rye and barley. They currently have three labels that they’re selling under: Garden Club, Same Old Moses and Prairie Wolf. They have used a chef flavor database to help determine some of their botanical ingredients. They must be on the right track since they just re-turned from a major Spirits competition in San Francisco where they medaled with six of their products! Taste testing went very well and a few bottles returned to Minnesota!

Next we ventured to Stillwater where we had lunch and fine conversation with Bill and Shonna Richardson, co-owners of Persimmon Hill Farm and Bakery. We had 27 layer croissants filled with chicken salad that was incredible! Persimmon Hill grows much of their own produce on their farm and then produces end products in their commercial kitchen. They determined that people were not as willing to travel out of town to find their products, so last year they bought a building and are bringing the products into town instead. They are trellising blackberries, growing a number of fruit trees and harvesting honey as well.

Next we traveled to Oklahoma State University’s Food and Agricuture Products Center. There Chuck Willoughby gave us a great tour of the facility. Similar to Minnesota’s Agriculture Utilization and Research Institute, FAAPC helps fledgling ag businesses get a grounded start. They have put on a number of workshops detailing what all is entailed in starting an ag business. From 1500 people they’ve spoken to, approximately 10% have started a business with about a 60% success rate. Given that 50% of conventional start-ups fail in year one and 93% by year two, 60% looks great! When things were slower due to Covid, they got creative and helped back-fill for processors unable to keep up. They also worked with the Department of Corrections to make food that was consistently sized for the inmates so that fights didn’t break out over differences.

They work with companies to develop a business plan, research trademarks, explore good management practices and more. When asked what skills are in most need (other than money), Mr. Willoughby stated that people need tenacity to go the distance and to be open-minded enough to be able change direction quickly.
We rounded out the very busy day with a social with Oklahoma Ag Leaders at a nice Mexican restaurant in Stillwater. It was really nice to be able to connect with other leaders. Kim even got to visit with a previous co-worker! It’s a small world.

Submitted by Nada Carter, Deborah Mills, Kim Neumann

Servant Leadership, Southern hospitality, Farm to Table, Sugar Cane Aphids and other Lingo

Day 3 began by traveling to The Yellow Farmhouse outside Waxahatchie, TX, where we were treated to a fabulous breakfast by John Paul and Heather Dineen. John Paul and Heather run a farm to table operation where they raise beef cattle and process it into retail cuts to sell at their local farmer’s market. They partner with local farmers to also provide farm fresh eggs and milk. They have been instrumental in ag education for a number of years starting with corn mazes, pumpkin patches and hayrides. They grew into milling their own grain into flours and meals and subsequently developed baking and brownie mixes. They were also marketing their own branded beef. Once their daughters graduated, they chose to concentrate on the less labor-intensive beef retailing. They have grown that to sell a number of retail cuts out of their own refrigerated trucks. As a result of a farm accident that took their son’s life, John Paul founded the Texas Agriculture Memorial Foundation that designates a day to honor the lives and sacrifices of famers and ranches in their efforts to raise food and fiber.

We found the Dineens very forward thinking and willing to change/grow/adapt and try new things. They were very servant minded, humble and extremely passionate about their profession as they shared a personal farm tour and their story with us.

Next, we traveled to Sanger, Texas where we met Garrett Spigner, a first-generation row crop farmer who was mentored by Lewis Trietsch. It was inspiring to see the mutual admiration and respect between the younger and older generation. Garrett raises corn, milo and wheat as well as a few beef cattle. It was interesting to note that we grow the same crops but in vastly different conditions. Sugar cane aphids and feral hogs are not in Minnesota vocabulary! Garrett also travels around the state doing custom harvesting of wheat, milo, corn and cotton when his own crops don’t need attention. Engaging conversations were had among all of us throughout the day. We continued our conversation around a mid-afternoon meal at the Trail Dust Steak House in Sanger.

Texas Farm Bureau truly rolled out the red carpet for us with their amazing southern hospitality and generosity. We have gained friendships to last a lifetime. On our return trip to Oklahoma City, we spent time practicing our introductory stories and reflecting on our MARL experiences. We also got to know one another a lot better!

Submitted by Kim Neumann

While grateful that the Ecuador study tour could happen despite the uncertainties due to the pandemic, it did make it impossible for a few to travel along. As leaders do: this small group developed an alternative plan with a domestic destination, with similar goals and leadership competencies. Due to the highly unusual circumstances, the alternative trip was approved and supported by the MARL administration and Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU). Read here how a few MARL Class XI participants traveled to Oklahoma City, on this special self-study tour.

Healing by Giving, Food sustainability, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Cowboy and Western community.

The Oklahoma National Memorial and Museum is a living tribute to the those that perished and those that survived or were involved in any way in the collapse of the federal Murrah building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. 168 individuals including 19 children perished in the collapse. Over 200 children lost one parent. Eight families lost more than one family member: truly a tragedy of epic proportions. While the pictures and narratives were difficult to see and hear, the unity that came out of the community, regardless of ethnicity, age or religion was inspiring. They have taken the event and have developed STEM education around engineering with different structures. We released our inner children, engaging in the interactive tables to see whether concrete, steel or wood stand up the best in different natural disasters or explosions. The have developed another lab to learn forensic science and are working on another for environmental sciences. We were also privileged to hear from Derrick Smithy, a survivor of the incident. It took him 10 years to share his powerful story. His greatest take-away; life is more satisfying and healing being a giver; do it early and often.

Our next stop was Commonwealth Urban Farms which gave us an entirely new perspective on farming and agriculture. We met with Lia, co-founder of the organization. Her goal was all about giving anyone who wanted to learn about growing food sustainably, the tools and the knowledge to do it successfully. Much of the produce grown by the farmer partners is shared with the community and most of it for free.  They use composting of area wood chips, waste from local tree farmers, and juice pulp to use as the base for their vegetable and flower beds and as the base to keep seedlings from freezing when the Oklahoma nights get cold. They are doing educational programs twice a month and are implementing “fests” this year to bring more awareness to the community. Average attendance has been good with 40-50 people per educational event. The perspective that was so different is that these urban farmers might have totaled five acres collectively and do everything by hand.

Third stop of the day was the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. We viewed beautiful paintings, sculptures and artifacts reminiscent of the burgeoning west in the late 1800s. Bailee, our knowledgeable guide shared stories of the artists like they were his best friends; truly engaging and entertaining. Impressively, they have adopted the diversity, equity and inclusion movement solidly and had displays of Hispanic cowboys, Black cowboys, Native American cowboys and cowgirls too. They have partnered with a nearby largely African American school to help facilitate more inclusion.

Submitted by Kim Neumann

While grateful that the Ecuador study tour could happen despite the uncertainties due to the pandemic, it did make it impossible for a few to travel along. As leaders do: this small group developed an alternative plan with a domestic destination, with similar goals and leadership competencies. Due to the highly unusual circumstances, the alternative trip was approved and supported by the MARL administration and Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU). Read here how a few MARL Class XI participants traveled to Oklahoma City, on this special self-study tour.