MARL CLASS IX AND TRIP TO CROATIA
ASHLEY SCHMELING, CFS PRECISION AG TERRITORY LEAD- EAST
Two years ago, in the Spring of 2016, I submitted an application and hoped to be selected for the next class of the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (MARL) program. Class IX was set to start that following Fall. I had been interested in the program for some time, as customers that I work with and other folks that I have crossed paths with in the ag industry had gone through it and not one of them had a bad thing to say about their experience. MARL is a two-year, intensive leadership program centered around MN agriculture and personal development. Summer of 2016, I was honored to be chosen for Class IX. I knew exactly what I was getting into, but I had no idea just how much I would get out of it.
Each MARL class is made up of 30 people, majority of whom are farmers. The rest are Ag Professionals in some capacity. Several of my classmates were like myself, people that work somewhere in the chain that makes up Agriculture and farm. MARL is structured so that you are basically touring the state of MN and learning about ag within the different regions, as well as learning more about yourself through assessments and workshops. There are nine different three day in-state seminars, one week long national trip to Washington D.C., and one 10 to 14 day international trip- destination unknown- until they decide that, almost a year through the program. We met once a month from November 2016- March 2017, took a break to get the crop in the ground, met in June of 2017, took a break to get the crop out, and then again once a month from November 2017- March 2018. Within MN, we traveled to Wilmar, Marshall, St. Paul, Crookston, Duluth, Itasca, Austin, Perham, and finished up with a graduation ceremony in Bloomington. It was in June at the Duluth seminar that we learned our international trip would take us to Croatia in February 2018.
If that seems like a lot to take in, it is. One of my biggest motivations going in was to learn about the other ag products that MN has to offer, beyond my corn and soybean part of the world. We learned about turkeys, forestry, logging, taconite, wild rice, potatoes, hogs, sugar beets, shrimp (yes, shrimp- if you haven’t heard about TruShrimp yet, look it up, it’s based in Balaton, MN), and some excellent rye whiskey, about as Far North as you can go in MN (also look up Far North Spirits). On top of that we were learning more about what makes us tick. I’ll be 30 in May and I can’t say I discovered anything I didn’t already know about myself as a person but that was the point- I should already know who I am. What I learned was the Why behind that and how that can play out in leadership or in groups working with other people who are not built like I am. This has been huge for me, professionally at CFS, personally at home and on our family farm. I won’t bore you with the details of how I scored on assessments or what my personality type is, but just know that I am using those lessons repeatedly in situations that I come across.
The trip to Croatia was life-changing for me. I had never left the USA before and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have massive anxiety leading up to it. But that trip was one memorable moment after another. We left February 17th and returned on March 1st. I could go on for hours about Croatia but I will sum it up with four main points:
- Croatia is beautiful and its’ people are exceptionally kind. “Radical Hospitality” is how one of my classmates described it.
- Life is slow there.I used to think it didn’t get much slower-paced than the way of life in Northern MN where we like to go fish every year, but this was beyond that.Meals on our trip probably averaged 2 to 2.5 hours, lunch and dinner.They take time to enjoy things, enjoy people around them and what they are experiencing.There is a lesson there and something to be said for taking the time to do that now and then, but my classmates and I agree- not EVERY meal.
- It is perfectly acceptable to greet guests with shots of Brandy.It seemed like everywhere we went, we were offered Brandy.Yes, even at 8:30 AM.
- We are incredibly blessed to work in American Agriculture.I know we have our problems and struggles.Prices are not where they should be at, public misconception about ag practices are everywhere, there are less and less of us every year.But despite all of this, we are truly blessed with good land, the newest technology, products that help us increase our profitability, just so many things, and most importantly- access to all of it.
I am so grateful I had the opportunity to be in MARL. The biggest benefit I got out of the program was the relationships I built with so many of my classmates. I really didn’t consider those connections when I applied for the program but they were the most meaningful part for me. We learned together how to better our family’s, our farm’s, company’s, community’s, and ourselves.
I encourage anyone who is interested to learn more about the program and apply some time. Doesn’t have to be the next class, I waited three years before I decided the time was right. If you have questions about MARL or want to learn more about my time in Croatia, just reach out to me and we will talk.