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Local trio travels to Morocco with MARL

March 16, 2012
The Journal

NEW ULM - Mark Berle, Gibbon, Reuben Bode, Courtland, and Steve Sorenson, Madelia, recently completed their final seminar with the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership program and traveled to Morocco with 27 classmates from across the state. Berle, Bode, and Sorenson are involved with Class VI of MARL. MARL's mission is to develop the skills of state agriculture and rural leaders to enhance their effectiveness and impact in local, state, national and international arenas.

"Our 10-day educational trip opened our eyes to a culture very different than ours," says Bode. "We observed Muslim religious practices, toured historical sites, ag research centers and farms, and dined on deliciously spiced food. The U.S. and Morocco have a great relationship dating back to George Washington so we were graciously welcomed everywhere we went and encouraged to return," Berle added.

Sorenson added, "In Morocco, Class VI visited a donkey veterinary hospital and the historic medina in Fez; learned about ag research (olive trees and oil) and visited farms near Meknes; enjoyed dinner at the home of U.S. Ambassador Sam and Sylvia Kaplan, also from Minnesota, in the city of Rabat; visited the U.S. Embassy in Rabat; toured a poverty-stricken area of Kenitra and visited an after-school enrichment program for students and mothers; and toured a feedlot/dairy cooperative and dairy farm near Taroudant."

Article Photos

Submitted photo
Members of the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership program, Class VI, recently traveled to Morocco for an educational tour.

"The eye-opening study, tours and cultural immersion that MARL Class VI experienced while in Morocco will help class members be better leaders in their home communities, in agriculture and in Minnesota," says Dan Hoffman, MARL executive director. "They learned the importance of diplomacy, trade relations and trade agreements to Minnesota farmers by visiting the U.S. Embassy and visiting a feedlot that purchases and uses corn and soybeans from the United States"

"Morocco has been considered a prime MARL destination for more than a decade," says Mike Liepold, University of Minnesota Extension educator and MARL program leader. "Class VI members were offered a rare opportunity to experience Morocco's rich differences in history, culture, food production and climate," he adds.

Liepold, other U-M professionals and various agency personnel helped pave the way for the trip. They include Hassan Ahmed with the USDA Foreign Ag Service, and U-M graduates Mohammed Boulif, professor of horticulture, and Hakima Bahri, professor of agronomy. Bahri studied in Minnesota as part of a state department-funded program that trained more than 400 of Morocco's agriculture professionals in the 1970's and 1980's. MARL also received support from Houcine Rhazoui, business attach at the Moroccan Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Embassy staff in Morocco.

"This kind of in-country support provided a high degree of safety in a culture vastly different than our own," Liepold adds.

Class VI is comprised of 32 professionals from across the state. Two-thirds of the participants are active in farming and one-third work in ag-related industries, rural businesses and rural communities. Class VI began its 18-month program in November 2010 with an orientation seminar in St. Cloud. Since then, it has met in Marshall, St. Paul, Washington, D.C., Itasca, Duluth, Moorhead, Rochester and Windom. Each location features leadership and regional studies.

The MARL program is led by a board of directors that represent interests of the agricultural sectors and rural communities in Minnesota. The board partners with the U-M Extension and Southwest Minnesota State University to deliver the program.

Applications are currently being accepted for Class VII and interviews will be scheduled in April. For more information, please visit



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