Listening in Greater Minnesota

Farmfest, ‘Morning in Minnesota’ events anchor American Experiment’s efforts to reach out to Greater Minnesota.

American Experiment underscored its commitment to reaching Greater Minnesota by hosting its first-ever booth at Farmfest, the annual trade show that takes place for three days each August on a 50-acre site at the Gilfillan Estate southeast of Redwood Falls. The event attracted more than 20,000 attendees and more than 500 exhibitors.

Farmfest was one of several tactics Micah Olson, the Center’s Greater Minnesota outreach director, is using to connect American Experiment with conservative voices outside of the Twin Cities. “I look at this job as completely based on relationships,” Olson said. “The more relationships we can establish and maintain, the more effective the whole project will be.” He began by building his network of contacts, and so far has hosted meetings with more than 70 community leaders statewide, including government officials, community leaders, chamber representatives, business owners, and grassroots activists—all to expand the Center’s network.

With a steady stream of visitors, the Farmfest booth was a success, according to Olson. “I was able to talk to people who work in the agriculture industry and hear their stories and their challenges and learn how the Center might help.”

He stocked the booth with policy papers and copies of Thinking Minnesota, whose last cover story exposed the war on Greater Minnesota. “That issue struck a chord with so many people at Farmfest,” Olson said. And just as popular was the magazine’s previous cover story, “The Tale of Two Tims,” which described the stark differences between the political promises of candidate Tim Walz and the Tim Walz now in the Governor’s office.

The Greater Minnesota outreach idea took root a couple of years ago when Ron Eibensteiner, American Experiment’s chairman, hosted town meetings in Alexandria and Fergus Falls to get insights on how Greater Minnesota was preparing to cope with how a shortage of skilled labor would challenge their local economies.

The trip became a plot-point experience, Eibensteiner said. “On one hand, we collected real-world feedback about the potential impact of the impending worker shortage and what could be done to combat it. On the other hand, we learned how personal input from local leaders could enrich the applicability of our policy recommendations.”

Olson is also organizing a series of American Experiment chapter organizations around the state, which will promote their local events and be based on the Center’s work. The first chapter, located in Rochester, held its first board of directors meeting in August.

A third activity—the “Morning in Minnesota” breakfast series—connects local conservatives with the work of American Experiment policy fellows. In August, the first breakfast debuted in Willmar, where Policy Fellow Isaac Orr described his research paper, “Doubling Down on Failure: How a 50 Percent by 2030 Renewable Energy Standard Would Cost Minnesota $80.2 Billion.” The event included a panel of local government officials, including Senator Andrew Lang and Representatives Dave Baker and Tim Miller. “It was a great start to the series,” Olson said.

“Because people are looking for good conservative solutions, everywhere I go people are generally so glad that there’s a conservative organization holding events in their city.”