Ag Outlook Meetings

This week, more than 400 farmers in our region-and even more throughout the state-attended the Linder Farm Network’s Ag Outlook Meetings. These farmers were looking to learn about weather outlooks, market trends, ways to improve yields. They heard from speakers who stressed our global economy.

I’ve often shared one of the most exciting things about our region is that we have something the rest of the world needs–food. This creates so many opportunities for us.

SWIF was at the Alexandria, Marshall and Willmar meetings to introduce our foundation and our Keep It Growing farmland giving program to local farmers. I want to thank our board chair Rob Saunders and vice chair Bob Thurston for attending with us. It was great to be able to acknowledge this entire group of farmers for their leadership.

Economic development is a huge part of what we support at SWIF, and agriculture is the driving force to our region’s economy. That makes each farmer a true economic leader!

Farmers are the ultimate entrepreneurs. Just looking at the agenda from this week’s meeting, we see all of the things a farmer needs to watch and know. And, think about the constant changes these farmers face.

As just one example, Dr. Jim Orf noted that narrower rows are one reason for higher yield in corn. Rows used to be 42 inches–because that was the width of a horse. Now, rows are 30, 22, even 20 inches. This is a huge change many current farmers have watched during their own lifetimes.

Here are a few tools shared at the meeting that you, or perhaps a farmer you know, may find of interest.

From Tragedy to Inspiration – Bigler’s Way

We all face challenges—in our personal lives, business or work, communities. And, we all choose how we face those challenges.

This week, I learned about the Bigler family who has faced major tragedies in the past couple of years. Brad Bigler is the head men’s basketball coach at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall and was featured on ESPN’s E:60 show that aired in December. The video was posted online this week.

After watching, my heart goes out to this family for their great loss—but it also is lifted by how they’re taking one step at a time and treasuring life on their journey ahead.

It’s clear that Coach Bigler is an incredible role model to his players and this family is an inspiration to those around them. Now, they’re touching even more lives as more of us hear their story. I hope the Bigler family knows that they have MANY people in our southwest Minnesota regional community who continue sending them thoughts of support and encouragement.

Join me in thanking this special family for sharing a hard chapter in their lives to remind us that hope and perseverance are keys to “moving on” even when life is hard.

Please take 15 minutes to watch “Bigler’s Way.”

Photo by Sara Grasmon

Check Out a Regional Destination

We had a great group attend our Board Social. From left, Greg Raymo, former board chair Sandy Ludeman and wife Peggy, current chair Rob Saunders and wife Renae, Tim Connell and former board member Connie Connie, Sherry Ristau and husband Bruce, and Bob Thurston.

One of the goals I share with Board Chair Rob Saunders for the next year is to stay well-connected to both current and former board members. Despite the cold weather this week, we gathered in Marshall with a great group of our organization’s past and present leaders.

We were excited to visit Brau Brothers in Marshall. This is a great regional destination, serving not just their signature beer, but also now serving food in their taproom. What made this visit extra special is that SWIF’s Business Finance Program provided a loan for Brau Brothers to expand into this new location after outgrowing their space in Lucan.

Our loan helped them purchase equipment. As a food and beverage business, it’s providing regional impact as not just a great place to work and produce their products, but also for southwest Minnesotans to enjoy.

Bob Thurston checks out some hops during our tour.

Brau Brothers distributes 500 cases of beer every day, and their products are available throughout the Midwest in about a seven-state area. Their Hundred Yard Dash, a seasonal brew, is one of their most popular. The hops for this beer are grown right in Lucan—so it’s absolutely a southwest Minnesota product!

Check out the recent feature that aired on Keloland TV out of Sioux Falls for more about this business.

Our board is proud of the many projects we support. And, it’s always fun to learn new things about the region and businesses, like we did during our tour of Brau Brothers.

What’s one of your favorite places to go in southwest Minnesota?

Inspiration to Ring in 2014

As we ring in the New Year, I am excited about what 2014 has in store for Southwest Initiative Foundation and our entire southwest Minnesota community! Our work to build connections and grow and promote people, businesses, entrepreneurs and communities in our rural region will continue at full speed.

I’m also looking forward to continued work with our outstanding volunteer Board of Directors. We recently started a series of interviews with our board on our weekly Linder Farm Networkshows. Each Friday between 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. you can tune into your local LFN affiliate station and hear what inspires our board about Southwest Initiative Foundation and our region.

Vice Chair Bob Thurston was today’s featured board member. He’s also chair of our investment committee and chair of our farmland retention committee, which provides leadership specifically to our Keep It Growing farmland giving program. Listen to Bob’s interview.

And don’t worry if you missed past interviews—you can listen to them on our website!

How would you respond to our question, “What inspires you about Southwest Initiative Foundation?” 

Merry Christmas!

With the holiday season upon us, we want to thank each of you–our valued partners from throughout southwest Minnesota and beyond–for a wonderful year. We have so many blessings connected to our region, including the best people, families, businesses, organizations and communities!

As a note, our office will be closed Dec. 23-25. We’ll have regular office hours Dec. 26-31.

From our entire Southwest Initiative Foundation Board of Directors and staff, Merry Christmas!

A Brand New Board Meeting Location


Board Chair Rob Saunders led SWIF’s first virtual board meeting this week with President/CEO Sherry Ristau.

As many of you know, our SWIF Board of Directors holds meetings in different communities throughout our region. It’s one of the things our board has always enjoyed because it gives them the chance to meet community leaders, tour unique businesses and speak directly to the people impacted by our work.I always look forward to our meetings as a chance to connect with our board—they represent an amazing group of regional leaders who care deeply about our rural region. I leave them energized to continue raising the bar on our work.

This week, we held our December meeting in a brand new location—online. Some may be surprised we’ve never held a virtual SWIF board meeting, especially since our board members and staff cover such a large area. We’ve felt that the benefits of face-to-face conversations outweigh the reduced travel and time required for a meeting.

But, hosting a virtual meeting is something we as an organization have to be prepared to do. An obvious reason is weather. We were reminded this week that winter doesn’t work around our schedule. We also want to know we can use technology to help us work better, faster and on short notice, if needed.

Even without the in-person connecting, our board accomplished important work and had great discussions. A big thanks goes to Board Chair Rob Saunders and our entire board for making this new experience a success!

What new technology or ideas are you using to help better your business or organization?

Remembering Former Board Member Mary Page

A few weeks ago, many gathered to celebrate the life of an amazing southwest Minnesota woman, Mary Page. She was one of our earliest members to serve on the Southwest Initiative Foundation Board of Directors in 1986.

Mary’s leadership helped shape SWIF’s work right from the beginning, as she challenged the board and staff to think differently. She also served two more terms on our board in the ’80s-’90s, a time that saw the foundation continue to grow and evolve to meet the region’s changing needs.

Mary was committed to promoting rural communities and the role women played as leaders. She served in so many in her own community of Olivia and beyond, including Olivia mayor, Renville County commissioner, University of Minnesota regent, and countless volunteer roles. Her strong, thoughtful presence was felt by many organizations, businesses and people she worked with.

In our most recent SWIF video, Mary made a cameo appearance as she volunteered at the Christian Community Outreach Center in Olivia, where she touched the lives of many local children.

Being at Mary’s funeral, seeing and hearing her children, grandchildren, friends and remembering ALL Mary did totally INSPIRED me for all the work and opportunities ahead in my own leadership work and with my family. I am grateful for Mary’s contributions to our regional community. She will be greatly missed, but her legacy of leadership will continue in our rural communities.

Thank you, southwest Minnesota veterans!

October 2010 Honor Flight Southwest Minnesota

Many people have heard me describe my experience with Honor Flight as truly life-changing. In October 2010, I traveled with Honor Flight Southwest Minnesota as a guardian, assisting 100 veterans as they traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials dedicated to their service to our country.

I find it humbling to share my Honor Flight story, which I call, “What am I doing on this flight?” It’s an experience that changed everything for me, but it’s really all about the veterans.

This opportunity and others before have led to me meeting so many people who have family that were in WWII and all other wars since. We need to remember all veterans and families who served and continue to serve our country and communities. We must never forget.

Now, through my role on the national Council on Foundations board of directors, I see efforts throughout the country to support our youngest veterans and military families.

With Veterans Day upon us Nov. 11, please recognize and honor at least one veteran and their family. Our southwest Minnesota regional community is filled with incredible vets who deserve our heartfelt thanks.

Our Food Shelf Project

Our winning team collected 260.3 pounds of food to donate to food shelves in the region!

If you walked into our office this week, you’d see a HUGE collection of food in our lobby. Since 2008, we as staff have personally collected food and cash to donate to food shelves throughout our region. Each month, we deliver about 50 pounds of food and about $100 to a different food shelf.

This fall, however, staff were in competition with each other to collect even more. Accounting Specialist Deb Berggren, Community Resource Assistant Marsha Frauendienst and Loan Servicing Specialist Janet Menton are the amazing leaders of this effort. They divided us staff into teams and coordinated the challenge.

During Monday’s board and staff lunch, the winning team was announced. It was a big surprise, since one of the other teams showed up that morning with a shopping cart full of food!

Here’s a note from Deb, Janet and Marsha:

The results exceeded by far anything our committee envisioned when we began the journey. I can’t think of a more worthy project that we all can participate in and what a meaningful time of the year to support others in our communities.

The total of all food collected and ready to distribute = 803.59 pounds and $300!

The next seven food shelves on our list to receive donations will include: Lac qui Parle (Madison), Lincoln (Lake Benton-Ivanhoe), Lyon (Marshall), Meeker (Litchfield), Murray (Slayton), Rock (Luverne) and Yellow Medicine (Granite Falls).

I am so proud of our food shelf committee and all staff. This was a fun way to work together, but even more importantly, it’s a way for us to directly support people and families in our southwest Minnesota communities who need our help.