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


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