Hills man tours Morocco through MARL VI program
HILLS -- Rural Hills farmer Ian Sandager has seen quite a bit of the world during his four years in the U.S. Marines and a semester studying abroad in college, but Morocco was "never on his radar" as a place to visit.
Two weeks ago today, Sandager returned from a 10-day tour of the northwestern African country with the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (MARL) program.
It was the final excursion in the 18-month MARL VI program that took Sandager and 29 other Minnesota agriculture producers, ag professionals and rural leaders to nine in-state sessions and a week-long trip to Washington, D.C. Participants will graduate from the program next week.
There are multiple ties between Minnesota and Morocco, said Sandager, adding that the current Ambassador stationed in Morocco is a Minnesota native, and the University of Minnesota has several graduate students from Morocco attending class there.
Traveling through the country, visiting farms, research centers and schools was a "culture-broadening experience" for Sandager.
"It was an overall great experience," he said.
The group observed Muslim religious practices, toured historical sites and the national agriculture university, visited mosques, literacy centers, a women's shelter and non-profit organizations catering to human rights issues.
In addition, they visited a donkey veterinary hospital, the historic medina in Fez and dined at the home of U.S. Ambassador Sam and Sylvia Kaplan in the capital city of Rabat.
Several family-operated farms were on the tour, including orchards that produced peaches, pears, tangerines, plums and almonds.
The country's agriculture sector produces cereal grains, citrus crops, grapes and wine, vegetables and livestock, and is the world's second largest producer of olives.
While the differences between Minnesota and Moroccan farmers are vast, Sandager said they still face some of the same issues, including skyrocketing land prices.
"While touring a feedlot, we asked if they had special interest groups talk to them or protest confinement-type feeding," Sandager said. "He said no, they don't have a presence there. (People) think, in fact, the cattle have too much room and should be tied up on chains like they've done for centuries."
MARL program leader and University of Minnesota Extension educator Mike Liepold said Morocco has been considered a prime MARL destination for more than a decade.
"Class VI members were offered a rare opportunity to experience Morocco's rich differences in history, culture, food production and climate," he said. "This kind of in-country support provided a high degree of safety in a culture vastly different than our own." Liepold
"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," added 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."
Sandager is in partnership with his dad, Mark, in KarMar Farms, Ltd., west of Hills, where they grow corn and soybeans, custom finish hogs and feed beef cattle.
A fifth generation farmer, he earned a degree in ag studies/agronomy from Iowa State University, and transitioned into the farming operation after graduation.
"I love farming," he said. "I'm very proud to be from Minnesota and be a Minnesota farmer."
Sandager is a member of the Rock County and Minnesota corn and soybean grower associations, the Rock-Nobles Cattlemen's Association and the Southwest Minnesota Farm Business Management Association.
He is also a member of the Hills American Legion. He applied for the MARL program because of the educational opportunities it offers for Minnesota agriculture producers.
"In today's world, we need people to step up and have a voice for agriculture," he said. "We don't have the voice we had, just because of the numbers. (MARL) helps mold you into a more effective leader."
During the in-state sessions, Sandager and fellow MARL participants traveled to all regions of the state, learning about the varied agriculture industry while also taking part in numerous leadership programs and self-assessment tests.
Trips to St. Paul and Washington, D.C., focused on state and national government relations.
"Being in this program, I had an opportunity to experience another culture -- it's just another aspect of making you a more effective leader," Sandager said. "You're able to work on your intercultural confidence, and understand why they do the things they do."
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer can be reached at 376-7330.