A chat with Kim Guenther Minnestota Farmers' Market Association Communications Director

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Farm Market News: What is your professional affiliation?  How long have you served in this position?
Kim Guenther: I work full-time at Southwest Minnesota State University as the director of concurrent enrollment, and part-time as the communications director for the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association (MFMA) and coordinator of the Marshall Minnesota Farmers’ Market (MMFM). I have worked in higher education for 20 years at several Colleges and Universities across the Midwest in a number of capacities including communications and public relations. I’m quite new to the field of Agriculture. I’ve been with the MMFM for just over a year, and just started with MFMA in the past couple months.

FMN: What is the primary objective of your organization?
KG: The MFMA mission is to provide services, programs and leadership that support and promote farmers’ markets across Minnesota. MFMA envisions a community of vibrant profitable and professionally managed Minnesota Farmers’ Markets that:
•Cultivate, nourish and inspire vibrant local foods communities;
•Provide accessibility to local farm fresh foods; and
•Allow opportunities for local food producers to thrive and grow.

FMN: How does your organization benefit its members?
KG: MFMA offers a variety of services to our members. One main offering is a group insurance policy exclusively for MFMA member markets and vendors. We have many markets and vendors utilizing this service. We also equip vendors and market staff with tools and education necessary to run successful markets, collaborate with a variety of organizations including MDH (Minnesota Department of Health) and MDA (Minnesota Department of Agriculture) to help members navigate the complex world of food regulations, and provide a network of support for members to share ideas and best practices.

FMN: Where did you grow up?
KG: I’m originally from Marshalltown, Iowa. I graduated from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa with a degree in Corporate Communications. I then moved to Minnesota for graduate school at Minnesota State University, Mankato. After school, I moved to Missouri for nine years, and then back to Minnesota where we have been for the past nine years.

FMN: Do you farm currently? If so where?
KG: No, I have never farmed. My parents both grew up on farms in central Iowa, so I spent time a lot of time there as a child, but I do not have a background in agriculture. I have a passion for farmers’ markets, however, and for supporting local agriculture, and access to farm-fresh foods. I love raising my kids to be adventurous and nutritious eaters, and I love living and raising my kids in the Midwest.

FMN: Can you describe your business operation?
KG: The MFMA has a three-person staff located in different territories across the state. The Executive Director, Kathy Zeman, is a lifelong farmer and owner of Simple Harvest Farm Organics in Nerstrand in southcentral Minnesota. The Director of Member Services, Jesse Davis, farms the family business, Trout Lake Garlic, with his husband near Grand Rapids in northern Minnesota. They both have many agricultural connections in Minnesota and have done a great job building and growing MFMA. As the newest addition to the staff, I run the communications and public relations components of the association and I’m located in Marshall, in southwestern Minnesota. We also have a very active Advisory Board of farmers and market managers from across the state. I’m proud to work with all of them. Having staff in three distinct locations in the state will give MFMA the ability to offer better service and support to markets across the state, but especially in southwest Minnesota where there has not previously been an MFMA staff person. We hope markets like Pipestone, Luverne, Redwood Falls, Marshall and others will benefit.

FMN: Family?
KG:  My husband, Christian, and I have three very active sons, McCoy (11), Coby (9), Cade (5). They keep us on our toes!

FMN: Outside interests?
KG:  We are involved in a variety of sports with our boys including hockey, soccer and football. But my favorite thing to do is travel, which I hope to do a lot more of it in the upcoming years.

FMN: What advise would you give young people interested in pursuing a career in agriculture?
KG:  I’m new to work in agriculture as most of my career has been in higher education. But as for general career advice, I’d give a few tips:
1. Always look five years down the road. Ask yourself what you want to be doing at that time, then figure out your steps to make that happen. Have a career road map.
2. Be the hardest working person in the room. In my family, we regularly say, “the legs feed the wolf.” Be ready to work longer and harder than others. But also find ways to balance work and family as well.
3. Regardless of your career path, figure out who your customer is and what you can do to create genuine value for them.
4. Figure out how to think strategically as well as operationally. (Work ON your business as well as in it).
5. Develop yourself as a leader. Continue to seek out opportunities to increase your knowledge in the field. Ask lots of questions and then truly listen.
 

A Chat with Tracey Schley, Director of the Jackson Food Shelf

A chat with Tracey Schley, Director of the Jackson Food Shelf

Farm Market News: What is your professional affiliation? How long have you served in this position?
Tracey Schley: Director of the Jackson Food Shelf, Inc. I started as a volunteer for the food shelf in 2013 and became the co-coordinator in 2014. In 2018, I became the Director.

FMN: What are your organization’s primary objectives?
TS: The Food Shelf has several objectives, as we serve many different clients. Mainly, we want to provide a safe environment for anyone in need of food. We always strive to make it a happy healthy place with healthy food choices.

FMN: How does your organization benefit its members?
TS: Healthy and Nutritional Food is a benefit we provide. When you are faced with tough choices and wondering how you are going to feed your family, it is a huge benefit to have a place that will help with healthy food so you will be able to pay your heating bill or get the medicine you need for your child.

FMN: Where did you grow up?
TS: I grew up a farmer’s daughter, by Ceylon, Minn., the youngest of seven children.

FMN: Do you farm currently? If so where?
TS: Yes, I did not travel far from my home. All my life I have been a part of agriculture.

FMN: Can you describe your operation?
TS: We currently farm with our nephew, Kyle Schley, and his family. We grow both corn and soybeans. Between the combined acres of the two families and some custom work, we work roughly 1,800 acres of ground.

FMN: Family?
TS: My husband is Dan Schley. I have two daughters, Stephanie Moore and Mackenzie Schley; stepson Ryan Schley; stepdaughter Kelly Schley and seven grandchildren.

FMN: Outside interests?
TS: I enjoy gardening, crocheting and reading.

FMN: What advice would you give young people looking at a career in agriculture?
TS:  The future looks bright for young people looking to get involved in agriculture as there is less than 2 percent involved in production agriculture, whether it be in a business side of ag or farming. My advice to young people would be to work hard, do your best and don’t be afraid to think outside the box or try something new.
 

A chat with Jason Freking
Mayor of Heron Lake
 

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Farm Market News: What is your professional affiliation? How long have you served in this position?
Jason Freking: I am mayor of Heron Lake, and have been for seven years. I am in my fourth term as mayor.

FMN: What are your organization’s primary objectives?
JF: The primary objectives of the mayor and the Heron Lake City Council are to run the city as effectively as possible at the lowest cost to our community members while still keeping our basic services operating efficiently, along with anything else they might need.

FMN: How does your organization benefit its members?
JF: Our community members benefit from the services we offer including law enforcement, city utilities, a city park, good roads and snow removal, emergency services, fire protection and any other services they might need, such as our community center, as well as providing a good atmosphere for our local businesses to operate within our town.

FMN: Where did you grow up?
JF: I grew up on a farm northwest of Heron Lake raising corn and soybeans and running a farrow-to-finish swine operation.

FMN: Do you farm currently? If so where?
JF: I am currently raising corn and soybeans along with my dad, Ed, and brother, Ryan, at that same location.

FMN: Can you describe your operation?
JF: We primarily strip till our corn and no till our soybeans.

FMN: Family?
JF: I am married to my wife, Tracy, and we have two daughters, Brooke and Samantha.

FMN: Outside interests?
JF: When we aren’t working and chasing after our daughters, we like to take vacations.

FMN: What advice would you give young people looking at a career in agriculture?
JF: My advice to young people would be to work hard, do your best and don’t be afraid to think outside the box or try something new.

 

A chat with Lucas Sjostrom, Minnesota Milk Executive Director

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Farm Market News: What is your professional affiliation?  How long have you served in this position?
Lucas Sjostrom: I’ve been working for Minnesota Milk since February 2016, and as executive director since January 2017.

FMN: What is the primary objective of your organization?
LS: We aim to advance the success of Minnesota dairy farms.

FMN: How does your organization benefit its members?
LS: Minnesota Milk has some pretty visible explicit benefits, and many more unseen and hard-to-measure benefits. We work in three areas: Education, Membership and Policy. We put on educational seminars for dairy farmers in partnership with many other organizations throughout the state, fun events and tours and other sessions that will benefit dairy farmers, their employees, and the industry as a whole.
Our members have access to 12, $1,000 scholarships for their children and employees; we provide Ridgewater College’s dairy students with matches in their mentorship program; and we work to bring together our members and legislators/regulators to solve problems with common sense, outside of regulation or legislation first.
However, our bread-and-butter is policy, and everything we do with membership and education leads to a cycle of continued policy work, which in turn influences the other two areas. We have a contract lobbyist in St. Paul who helps direct our staff and dairy farmers in often playing defense at times so dairy is part of the discussion, and occasionally playing offense to get more benefits to dairy farmers. We also maintain relationships with state and federal officials, creating instant lines of communication when the need arises.

FMN: Where did you grow up?
LS: I grew up on a dairy and crop farm with my parents, Steve and Deb, and grandparents, Lowell and Adrianne, in Nicollet County, near Lafayette. My grandparents, parents, and brother, Jacob and his fiancée, Lindsay, are still operating the farm, in addition to several custom businesses.

FMN: Do you farm currently? If so where?
LS: My job is full-time, but I occasionally help out family at Jer-Lindy Farms LLC and Redhead Creamery LLC near Brooten. My wife, Alise (Jennissen) Sjostrom had a dream to keep it going with a cheese plant, and we farm and operate the cheese plant with her parents, Jerry and Linda Jennissen.

FMN: Can you describe your business operation?
LS: My parents-in-law, Jerry and Linda, are the primary managers of our dairy farm, which has 200 cows and all youngstock, in addition to acreage to nearly fulfill our feed needs. Alise and Linda are primary managers of the creamery, which processes about 9 percent of our milk to artisan farmstead cheeses, and includes agritourism and restaurant aspects as well. We’re open year-round for tours of the farm and tastings/dinners in the cheese plant.

FMN: Family?
LS: Alise and I have two young children, Lucy and Henry.

FMN: Outside interests?
LS: I serve on the Stearns County Parks Board, we are active within the River of Life Church in Sauk Centre, and I volunteer for Junior Achievement at Sauk Centre Schools. We also love all things University of Minnesota. Go Gophers!

FMN: What advice would you give young people interested in pursuing a career in agriculture?
LS: Get a variety of experiences during your high school years in activities, job shadows and employment. Looking back, some of my best experiences were things I did not enjoy, so I could cross them off the list of future potential jobs or careers. Also, something I’ve really come to realize is how much I don’t know. No doubt, at age 18, 22, or even 30, you feel like you’re a well-informed adult who can make good decisions. Generally that is true, but I’m continuing to realize the other generation’s wisdom is so much more valuable than I could previously comprehend. The world moves so much faster and so much slower in different aspects than we understand as young adults.