Tanner is latest at MCGA to take the MARL challenge


MARL–Minnesota Agricultural and Rural Leadership–provides the premier mid-career professional development seminar series for Minnesota’s agriculture leaders, and Elizabeth Tanner, director of advocacy and strategic partnerships for MCGA, has joined the distinguished company of grower leaders and staff who have signed up for the series over the past ten years.

Though the program is based at Southwest State University in Marshall, the 11 seminars over the two year course take place in locations around the state, to help develop the range of knowledge of these leaders, so they can see how the regions of Minnesota form one larger economy and political unit.  

“For my role at MCGA, the opportunity in the MARL program to network with not only participants but regional leaders that we meet is incredibly helpful,” said Tanner. “It’s a chance to get to know some of these people whom I would get to work with in the future. Being from Iowa, and having been in the state only a year and a half at this point, I’m looking forward to becoming more familiar with Minnesota. Another aspect which makes this a great leadership program is that we are certainly learning about other people’s backgrounds and beliefs. In my position at the corn growers I need to understand where people are coming from. These other MARL folks are not afraid to express their thoughts and beliefs, and I feel like it is giving me a lot of insight into how to find common ground and how to express what’s important to me.”

The first seminar for MARL VI took place in Saint Cloud in mid-November, the January meeting convenes in Saint Paul, and then in February they will spend a week in Washington, DC. Future meetings include Duluth in June and next year an international trip to a location yet to be disclosed to MARL participants.

A lot of the seminar activities focuses on real world events and developing the skill set to respond to such events.

“We had a crisis management component last time, and I found that to be a helpful session,” said Tanner. “We heard from a hog farmer who, about two years ago, had a radical animal rights organization videotape some poor handling of some hogs at his operation. He’s a relatively young guy. Hearing his experience, from a staff perspective it makes me want to urge preparedness for our organization, or for any organization. This farmer’s experience underlines the importance of our ability to communicate clearly, to know who we are and how to get our message across. It was helpful to hear from someone who has experienced this kind of event–it takes it beyond theory into the practical, real world issues and lets you talk about how you would respond.”

The outside work includes readings and preparation for presentations. The seminar doesn’t emphasize writing papers, though keeping a journal is encouraged as part of the larger process for the individual of determining what kind of leader they are or want to be and what skills they need  to work on to attain or maintain that leadership role. Tanner’s group is currently reading Minnesota: A History by William E. Lass and The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman–an examination of global economic and cultural trends.

Of the 32 participants, two-thirds are directly involved in production agriculture–many of those are volunteer leaders at commodity organizations. Many grower leaders in Minnesota’s corn organizations are past MARL graduates–Ron Obermoller, Gene Sandager, Lori Feltis, Greg Schwarz and DeVonna Zeug to name just a few. Tanner is not the first MCGA staffer to join this august company–former program director Warren Formo, now the executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition, is a MARL graduate.

One other participant of the current MARL class is staff at Farm Bureau, and another works for Representative Collin Peterson, while a handful of participants are agri-business representatives.

“I would recommend it to anyone who works in agriculture who cares about rural issues,” said Tanner. “Not only do we network and learn about other people, other regions, other aspects of agriculture–we also do a lot of the personal analyzing and self reflection. It’s very interesting and it’s something you just don’t take the time out to do so often. It’s a very rich experience.”


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