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RLND Class VII visits Minneapolis to learn about regional agriculture and community issues

RLND Class VII participants concluded their first year of their RLND experience with a final seminar held in Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN; June 21st-24th. Participants studied the cooperative business model, components of a healthy community, and financial resources available to rural areas for agriculture and communities. They also continued their program long study of food systems.

The evening of June 20th was spent dining in Fargo on a variety of Vietnamese dishes in preparation for next year’s international trip to Vietnam and Thailand. While the food was met with mixed reviews ranging from excitement to panic, all agreed our speaker, Earl Emerson, was informative and entertaining.  Mr. Emerson shared some of his many experiences in Vietnam concerning trading in the market, pricing for services, and general customs.

Tuesday morning’s bus ride to the Twin Cities was broken up by a visit to Great River Energy where we began our education on the cooperative business model over a lunch sponsored by them. We were also fortunate enough to have a guided tour of the buildings and grounds, being Great River Energy headquarters is Minnesota’s first LEED Certified building.

Following our arrival to the Minneapolis area, all were treated to an evening dinner cruise on Lake Minnetonka aboard Al & Alma’s Charter Cruises.

Day two’s education focused mostly on studying components of healthy communities. In pursuit of that endeavor, Class VII visited the Minneapolis American Indian Center learning about struggles and triumphs concerning the Native American segment of our society, and how those challenges and victories affect the entire state. We also learned of specific programs aimed towards preserving the traditional language and customs of the First Nations, to the benefit of all in the State. 

Our next stop was Belgarde Enterprises, where Kenneth Belgarde spoke to us of the need for housing, the challenges of providing that need, and the importance of succession planning for multi-generational businesses. We returned to the American Indian Center for Native-inspired and created cuisine, prepared by Chef Howasta Means and sponsored by Belgarde Enterprises.

The afternoon was spent meeting with ArtSpace USA, where Wendy Holmes and Kathleen Kvern spoke and answered questions surrounding the arts as economic and community development, and how to use it as a tool for both tangible community building as well as intangible social buildiClass VIIng within a community. The visit was followed by a tour of the Mills City Museum where we learned not only about how the history of North Dakota was shaped by the food industry, but also how that history can be used as a component of building our rural areas.  The day was capped by a tour of, and then dinner at, the Wedge Table, a local natural food co-op and restaurant in Minneapolis.

The third day began with a focus on financial resources for agriculture and communities with a visit to the Bush Foundation. Participants were presented with the goals and program areas of the organization and how to research and apply for funding from the Foundation.

We then travelled to Agri-Bank and spoke with CEO Bill York and other officers about the financial services available to the ag community, and the mechanisms of financial distribution and investment in the cooperative banking model. Agri-Bank was also kind enough to sponsor lunch for the day.  The participants’ day was rounded out by meeting with Katie Campbell with the Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op and a visit to Summit Brewing Company where all gained greater appreciation for end-product agriculture with regional flavor. Appropriately, as being the last night of year one, the entire class dined at the historic St. Paul Hotel. Dinner speaker Berni Xiong, founder and owner of Brave Bear Media, spoke to Class VII on the struggle and importance of finding one’s own voice.

Before heading back to North Dakota on the final day, the class had breakfast at CHS and thoroughly learned about the cooperative and why it is so prevalent throughout much of the state. We also learned about the international markets that much of the grain produced in North Dakota is destined for.

While we shared our insights from the seminar on the bus ride back to Fargo, I heard time and again that it is not just the information learned that is important, but also the relationships gained in this program. That many now have close friendships and support networks where only strangers stood ten months before should be no surprise to me as I can plainly see how the mix of speakers and tours and presenters and shared experience is perfectly punctuated by laughter, dinner and fellowship.

By Jason Lindell


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