Oklahoma – Farm Bureau Foundation, Women in Agriculture, Agritourism

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.

The group met with Holly Carroll from Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture. It was interesting to learn about their pork for packs program.  One of their goals is to make sure their local food pantry always has a protein source to provide for backpacks for kids that take meals home over the weekends. They do this by partnering with the largest youth livestock show in the world, called the Oklahoma Youth Expo. (This expo has over 15,000 animals registered for the show. Many animals from the show are donated to the project. Animals unable to be processed immediately are held and later sold with the proceeds being donated to help pay for the processing. One local processor donates his work; others are paid. A great example of how to keep meat in front of kids.

Next, we met with Dr. Tammy Gray-Steele, Founder of National Women in Ag Association, and her assistant, Valontay Lindzy. Dr Steele grew up in Oklahoma on a beef farm in eastern Oklahoma. She left for a time to obtain her law degree in New York state, worked there for several years but wanted to return home. When she did, she saw a need to provide ag education for minorities. She is currently working diligently to obtain a federal charter for her organization in order to be funded as a pilot program for minorities in 4-H. She currently has 56 chapters in the US and 10 internationally. Chapters are required to host at least four educational events per year. Dr. Steele herself is providing a community garden where local youth and adults can learn about growing vegetables, flowers  and fruits. She also provides a daycare for 90 community children. The beautifully painted rooms also boast a farm theme. Her goal is to train 12 adults/youth per year to grow their own food. She was a fascinating, articulate and ambitious woman.

Micaela Danker Halverson and Whitney Wilkinson, Agritourism Coordinators with Oklahoma Agritourism took us to the Oklahoma Stockyard to meet Kelli Payne, first female Oklahoma National Stockyard President. Kelli is truly a visionary, often seeing the long -term ramifications of decisions and having to articulate them to stakeholders in whatever position she’s in. Prior to her job at the stockyards, she was in rural economic development. A big leadership take-away dealt with coming into a toxic work environment with many disgruntled workers. She LISTENED, included everyone in the discussions and has been able to turn the environment around. She was very authentic and shared how hard the pandemic was in reference to the isolation and understanding how depression could happen. She had the unique ability to communicate leadership lessons through her storytelling. She has a grand vision for taking an area of the stockyards and making an ag education venue. We also appreciated her willingness to also be open to ideas from us.

Submitted by Kim Neumann


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