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.



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