The MARL Experience – Changing the Face of Leadership

Rural areas in Minnesota require 1 in every 34 people to take on a leadership role. In metropolitan areas, that number is 1 in every 143.

MARL (Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership) is a 2 year leadership development program. Participants go through an application process and then an interview process. Classes are typically 75% production agriculture and 25% business, civic and government, and organization leaders in agriculture and rural Minnesota.

This past spring I went through the application and interview process. Being younger, I figured I probably wouldn’t make this round, but might apply again in the future. They only let 30 people in every class, and I knew there were some amazing people working in agriculture that had applied as well. I got a phone call not long after that, saying I was accepted into MARL! I was excited and nervous for this new experience that involved 9 three-day instate seminars scattered throughout Minnesota, a national seminar in Washington, D.C., and a 2 week international seminar.

Needless to say, I walked in on the first day and looked around at my 29 classmates and wondered what the heck I was doing there. What did I have to offer this group? Many of my classmates are doing amazing things, have traveled the world, lived in different countries, started their own businesses, raised families, done mission work and so much more. I feel intimidated every time I walk in the door, but also blessed to be learning from all of them. In examining my own life, I’m not really sure what I have done yet that got me into this group, but part of MARL is growing as a leader and having all of these travel and educational experiences. I have learned so much from my classmates already, from the program, and I have learned more about myself.

At the first MARL session in Willmar, we met with the owner of NovaTech

At the first MARL session in Willmar, we met with the owner of Nova-Tech

This last session was in St. Paul and focused on leadership in politics. We were able to meet with many of our elected officials, sit on the floor of the House of Representatives, learn about some of the activities and functions of the MN Dept. of Agriculture, meet with Sue Knott from MN Ag in the Classroom, learn from Kevin Paap, president of MN Farm Bureau, and attend a committee hearing where MARL alumni and some of my current classmates testified about MARL and the benefits the program has. It really was amazing to see some of the politics in action. I have been up to the Capitol before and sat in on a committee hearing, but seeing my classmates testify on something they were passionate about and believed in really helped me drive home why it is important to talk to your legislators, connect with them and share your concerns. I have always thought maybe one day I might consider a role in politics whether a local or state position, but seeing it all in action, made me realize that yes, I could really do this some day.

Testifying for MARL in front of a joint House Ag Committee.

Testifying for MARL in front of a joint House Ag Committee.

We were also able to see the U of MN St. Paul campus and learn more about their genomics and genetics work, as well as tour the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. Being pregnant, I only made it through about 1/2 of the diagnostic lab before realizing I probably shouldn’t be in there with some of the chemicals that are being used. It was pretty cool though to see the research being done there. There was even a hive of deceased bees that was having a necropsy done with a researcher trying to find out more about diseases that affect bees and their hives.

Learning from Dr. Brian Stupar who works primarily in soybean genomics and genetics.

Learning from Dr. Brian Stupar who works primarily in soybean genomics and genetics.

I was also able to tour the Midtown Global Market as part of the session I chose to go on. It was absolutely amazing to see so many different cultures, people, food and items all in one place and learn about the story behind the market which is in a former Sear’s building, as well as a lot of the merchants, some of who now are in their 2nd generation of ownership and operation. My classmate, Yolanda, was so passionate about the market and her enthusiasm made the tour that much better. I really hope that Mark and I can get up there again to visit and do some more shopping. I only had time to bring home a honey sampler and try a honeydew/strawberry smoothie while I was there. The global market features specialty grocery stores and restaurants focusing on local food, Latino food, Halal food and Hmong food. There is also Italian, 1950’s style dining, Indian, French pastries and so much more. It really was like traveling the world right in one stop in Minneapolis. I wanted to try everything and next time, I am going to come hungry!

This session of MARL has really taught me to keep an open mind and to be mindful of what I am doing. It is easy to start each day with a bad attitude when you think about the news or what we see on our social media channels. But despite all of that, we need to be informed. Make our own decisions. We need to really be mindful of what we are hearing, reading and thinking, and take the time to examine our values going forward too. I also think that this MARL session taught me that I can do more. I can do more for my community, more for others around me and more in my job. I was listening to some of the issues that the metro area was talking about, and really a lot of the same issues are facing rural areas in Minnesota too. Kevin Paap said it can’t be a “rural versus metro” anymore, it has to be together, because we are dealing with the same things from education, work force issues, immigration, aging populations, economic growth and so much more. It just takes a few people to really step up to the plate to make a difference. So many of my classmates are doing that already, and I know that the experiences and lessons I gain from MARL will help me do the same.




  1. Congrats on your fellowship! I also was accepted this past August into the Virginia VALOR (adult ag leadership program) for the next 2 years. Thanks for posting about MARL, I’ll be following along!

    1. Congratulations Lauren! It is such an exciting time and I think we will both learn a lot! It would be interesting to see what you all do for the Virginia program. Do you do a D.C. trip too? I know some of the other programs are out there the same time we are and we get to meet up with them for dinner.

      1. We will be in DC in May (it’s counted as one of our “local” trips since it’s so close to VA).

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