Minnesota takes over Washington, D.C.

Last week, MARL Class 8 took over Washington, D.C.! 28 of us plus Mike and Stacy (our fantastic coordinators), traveled as a large group to D.C. for our national seminar. We had an early morning flight, arriving at the airport around 4:30am, but Washington greeted us with sunny, 40 degree weather on our first day, fooling us into thinking we escaped Minnesota winter!

Day 1 in Washington D.C.

Our first day included an introduction to D.C., as well as an “Amazing Race” throughout D.C. We got to learn about D.C. a bit more, and enjoy a stop at the Dubliner for supper.

Our group at the Dubliner, a restaurant featuring many Irish dishes!  Photo by Lona Rookaird

Our group at the Dubliner, a restaurant featuring many Irish dishes! Photo by Lona Rookaird

Day 2 in Washington, D.C.

We were able to choose between 2 different embassy visits. I chose to visit the Australian Embassy. Traveling to Australia has been on my bucket list since about 6th grade, and their landscape, population and ag industry fascinates me. I found out some very interesting facts – that Australia is roughly the same size as the U.S., however it has a much smaller population and around 80% of their population is concentrated around the coast line.

The U.S. is the number one importer of Australian wine, which I never knew either, and overall for the last year, we rank about 4th in terms of trade dollars with Australia.

Visiting with the Minister-Counselor of Agriculture at the Australian Embassy.

Visiting with the Minister-Counselor of Agriculture at the Australian Embassy.

I found it interesting that Australia really doesn’t have any kind of beginning farmer programs. They don’t consider smaller farmers like we do, beginning farmer or farmers at all really. In the U.S. we count small acreage,  vegetable farmers, CSA type farms, etc. all in as farming operations. Australia does not. In order to count in their data, you must have a large number of cattle, sheep, acreage, etc.

I also found it interesting that Australia does not like the U.S. Farm Bill due to their belief of the impact is has on trade and the global market. They also have a very interesting program called the “Farm Management Deposit Account” which allows farmers to deposit funds on good years, tax-free, to use during the difficult times to pay bills and keep the farm operation running. This allows farmers in essence, to take care of themselves, rather than on a good year purchase equipment to find a tax write-off like we often do here in the U.S. We suggested this program to both of our senators and our representatives as something to consider.

A group of us chose to visit the Holocaust museum. I will be completely honest – my history classes growing up glossed over the Holocaust, so this was a very eye-opening experience for me. I had tears the entire way through. I honestly couldn’t believe that the U.S. did absolutely nothing to stop these horrors, and frankly, in certain situations around the world, we are letting it happen again. I have family that is Jewish, and I walked away with an entire different outlook for their religious beliefs, the persecution they went through and the history they now possess.

The entrance to the Holocaust museum.

The entrance to the Holocaust museum.

Denmark was one of the only countries to help their Jewish communities escape.

Denmark was one of the only countries to help their Jewish communities escape.

 I took 2 photos throughout the museum – one of the entrance where “holocaust” was illuminated as to me, it just set the mood for the entire museum, and one of how Denmark was one of the only countries to come to the aid of the Jewish communities. Wanda Patsche at Minnesota Farm Living and I both ended up taking the photo for the same reasons – we are of Danish decent, so this was an interesting part of our own history as well. I second her thoughts on feeling guilty just for taking the two photos I did. I sat in the Hall of Remembrance for about 30 minutes with tears just streaming down my face as I thought of the 1 million children who died, the women, the elderly…. Those who were worked to death. The humiliation and shame they were put through all because someone had so much hatred in their heart. It is just hard to fathom – all of it. I am still struggling with processing all I learned. An image that sticks with me from the museum was a strappy gold sandal in the shoe pile area. I think of the woman who dressed up for her departure in her fanciest shoes, not knowing the fate that awaited her, and how today that strappy gold sandal now sits in among a pile of shoes in the museum, never knowing whether the owner survived or was killed.

Day 3 in Washington, D.C.

We started off Day 3 with a visit to the United States Department of Agriculture. Here I found out that Baby Girl Hewitt really loves ag statistics! I think she might have a future career with the USDA at the rate she was moving around during the meeting!

I found some of the information about the new Climate Hubs the most interesting as I worked on some of the regional Climate Hub establishment for one of my classes for my Master’s. I’m glad they are learning to work with farmers in order to find out what issues they are dealing with and how they can help during climate change and adverse weather events, rather than preaching a “doomsday” approach to it.

The entrance to the USDA, where we met with folks working on ag statistics, veterans affairs, and climate hubs.

The entrance to the USDA, where we met with folks working on ag statistics, veterans affairs, and climate hubs. Photo by Lona Rookaird.

We met with Congressman Collin Peterson, who is the minority (DFL) ranking member of the House Agricultural Committee. Congressman Peterson was first elected in 1990, so he knows Minnesota and he knows agriculture. Anyone who knows him, knows that he truly votes for what is best for Minnesota, and he tells it like it is. He doesn’t shy away from anything in politics, and frankly, isn’t afraid to tell you when something is nonsense in terms of what is happening in agriculture. He is one of my favorites to meet with when I can.

Meeting with Congressman Peterson in the Ag Committee Hearing Room. Photo by Lona Rookaird.

Meeting with Congressman Peterson in the Ag Committee Hearing Room. Photo by Lona Rookaird.

I also met with Representative Tim Walz, who is my district representative. I have met with Congressman Walz before, and I enjoy listening to him and what he is passionate about every time I meet with him. Mark and I met with him in September of 2014 while in D.C., and have an interesting story of him catching us again while he was going for his daily run on the Mall. He later mentioned us during another meeting he was speaking at in Minnesota. Young and beginning farmers really matter to Walz, as does veterans affairs – two topics he is very passionate and vocal about.

 Day 4 in Washington, D.C.

 Day 4 started off with a tour of the White House. We went through quite a bit of security – 4 check points in fact, just to get in, and we had to have a ticket/invitation ahead of time at that! I’m not quite sure what I expected from the White House, but I was a little disappointed by the tour. I expected something larger, grander, more intricate. I also was not impressed with the President and First Lady’s choice of artwork for the dining room. The tour was self-guided and only lasted maybe 20 minutes, if that. I did find it interesting that the rooms were named by color and everything in them reflected that – red room, blue room and the green room.

Next, many of my MARL  classmates headed out to professional appointments with various organizations such as the National Biodiesel Board, The Association for Land Grant Universities, Sierra Club and Feeding America. However, Being 8 months pregnant, decided to take an afternoon of rest where I grabbed a sandwich and fruit from a local cafe in one of the John’s Hopkins buildings, caught up on homework and work emails, and took a nap! Even with comfortable shoes, walking up to 8 miles a day some times was a bit much for this lady!

We ended the day with a fun evening at American Farm Bureau where we met up with similar cohort groups from Illinois, Washington and South Dakota. Our group of various state members, chose to go eat at the Hamilton in D.C. It was a very large restaurant with a delicious menu. As everyone else ordered drinks – I got a toasted marshmallow milkshake! :)

Day 5 in Washington, D.C.

Day 5 started off with a snow storm in D.C., making our government run 2 hours behind. However, being the troopers we are from Minnesota, it didn’t stop us or our Senators! We met with both Klobuchar and Franken to discuss ag issues and things like the Keystone Pipeline and rail lines.

Meeting with Senator Klobuchar - She has been amazing for ag in office!

Meeting with Senator Klobuchar – She has been amazing for ag in office! Photo by Lona Rookaird.


Meeting with Senator Franken to discuss rail and pipeline issues. Photo by Lona Rookaird.

 Next, we were able to take a tour of the Capitol. This was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip! Although we didn’t get quite the full tour, I found out lots of interesting information. The architecture, paintings and sculptures in the Capitol are simply amazing. It was such a fun history lesson about Minnesota too! Minnesota was the last state to have their statehood debated in the Senate Chambers which I thought was pretty neat! I also thought how they marked where certain key representative’s desks were on the former House floor was pretty cool too. It was a little inspiring to be standing in the same place that Abe Lincoln and John Quincy Adams stood.

The old Senate Chambers. They will still hold meetings here if they need to have something discussed "off the record" Photo by Lona Rookaird

The old Senate Chambers. They will still hold meetings here if they need to have something discussed “off the record” Photo by Lona Rookaird


Plaque marking where Abe Lincoln’s desk was during his time as a representative on the old House Floor. Honestly, I loved these – so cool to be standing where so many history shaping figures stood at one point!

Day 6 in Washington, D.C.

Day 6 was our last day in the area. We loaded up on a tour bus a 7am and headed out to see Gettysburg and Eisenhower’s farm. I was looking forward to this part of the trip tremendously. We have the original land deed document signed by Abe Lincoln that has to do with giving land to those who lost spouses in the Civil War from the woman my family purchased our farm site from. So this was kind of connecting a piece of my farm’s history to an event miles and miles away that altered the history of our country forever.

The video we watched was very moving and a quote that stuck out to me as we discussed leadership and displays of leadership throughout this trip was

“Freedom, like power, will always be contested.”

Those words just resonated with me – freedom is not free. Freedom in America will always be hated by some and it will always need to be fought for, because oppression is forever a part of the world we live in. It is unfortunate, but I am thankful for the leaders from our military, in politics, and every day people who choose to stand up or what they believe in and exercise their right for freedom.

Just a portion of the cyclorama at Gettysburg.

Just a portion of the cyclorama at Gettysburg.

The cyclorama at Gettysburg is a very interesting piece of art that makes the battle come alive as you watch and listen to the presentation. It is an original oil canvas that spans 42 feet high and 377 feet in circumference and was fully restored to depict the Gettysburg battle scene and Pickett’s Charge. It really is something to see in person that you can’t quite describe in a photo or on a blog.

Next we went on a guided tour of the battlefield grounds. It was interesting to see which buildings were standing during the war, and some had plenty of bullet holes still visible in them! The sheer number of monuments at Gettysburg is just as interesting as the history of the battle! Many, many lives were lost in the Battle of Gettysburg, but perhaps most interesting was essentially, the suicide mission of the single brigade from Minnesota. Minnesota lost a significant number of their troops as their job was to buy time for the other Union soldiers. Minnesota has not one, but two monuments at Gettysburg due to their act of bravery.

We also visited Eisenhower’s farm. Eisenhower entertained many different guests at his farm, and his wife kept a very detailed guest book you were required to sign if you visited – even the grandchildren had to sign in! I actually enjoyed the pink bathrooms and monogrammed towels and linens that Mamie had in the house – very posh for the time frame of their presidency and home. I loved the built-in closets and cabinetry that were constructed as part of the farm-house.

Eisenhower farm still has a black Angus herd that is owned and operated by a local farmer on the property. He has to have black Angus because this was the breed of cattle that President Eisenhower had originally on the farm. However, Eisenhower’s cattle were show cattle, winning many ribbons at various shows and fairs.

It was back on the bus to head to the airport for a late flight home! I think we were all pretty exhausted by this point after such a busy week – both mentally and physically. However, I am always in awe at our Nation’s Capitol, and I always discover new information, history and relationships while I am out there. I am so thankful for being able to share these opportunities and experiences with my MARL classmates, and learn from them and with them!

MARL Class 8 in D.C.

MARL Class 8 in D.C.



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