I love that phrase ‘The home place’—it really does call to mind for me ‘home.’ The big white farm house and the big red barn and watching the corn grow in the July summer heat. And, dirt roads and knowing your neighbors and having Sunday morning coffee at Grandma’s kitchen table with your relatives—being interconnected with all the people around you.
When I was younger, I thought that I would travel the world. I really had no plans of being so immersed in an industry like I am or to really have a need for that connection to my roots. That caught me by surprise.
I have done some traveling—with favorites like Prague, Florence, Italy, the Rocky Mountains, London. Those experiences have helped me understand and appreciate that much more what I already had growing up and value it all over again.
I grew up on a hobby farm right on the edge of town in a community in south central Minnesota with roughly 550 people. My parents—for as long as I can remember—have always been really hardworking, very involved. They ran this hobby farm together and they both worked outside of the farm on top of that. They would always grow soybeans or corn—and they would always have some sort of animals around. Today that extends to my own love of animals. There was always a connection to the land and to the community and to hard work and perseverance—all those values that a person should learn to appreciate.
My class in high school had 23 people—I knew them all the way from kindergarten through graduation. It was really small and intimate and very community-oriented. Everybody knows everybody. It was a good place to grow up. You maybe didn’t think so all the time but, looking back on it, that’s exactly what I would want for my kids.
I have a bachelor’s in Spanish with a minor in sociology. I also have an additional bachelor’s degree in accounting and an associate degree in liberal arts. I had a professor who cautioned me against entering the ethanol industry. I think her intentions were good—I think she saw me as this bright-eyed kid who was probably well-suited for graduate school and she thought it would be a good opportunity to steer me in that direction. She tried to suggest that ethanol wasn’t as good as the proponents were saying and how it wasn’t everything I was thinking it was going to be.
I listened to what she had to say, but in the back of mind I was already thinking ‘You don’t understand—people live this work. We’re talking about people’s livelihoods here. We aren’t just talking about the performance of this fuel in a car engine. You don’t understand the connection this has with the people and the impact it has on their livelihoods and communities where these fuels are produced.’ It dawned on me that I already had a basic understanding of the connection between communities and the industry, and I thought it was a good direction for my life.
I started working at Renewable Products Marketing Group (RPMG) in Shakopee, MN, roughly eight years ago. I’m so fortunate to come to work every day and to work with people who are just as invested and work just as hard and expect the same quality and effort from one another as I do. We understand the value in investing in our communities and investing our time and effort into one another.
I started at the entry level right out of college—they needed some help in their billing and accounting department. Then, I was approached about the RIN program. That really started out with handling the day-to-day interactions and, through that introduction, I found that I like the regulations and the application and research that goes along with understanding them. It requires a lot of reading, and it takes somebody with a fair amount of curiosity and patience and just initiative to dig into it.
The models that are in use today to measure fuels are ever-evolving and the people designing those models are becoming more intimately familiar with the fuels and the lifecycles that they are studying. I see ethanol, in general, not only complying with LCFS, but actually being the innovative drive to provide low carbon intensity fuels. The ethanol industry as a whole has surprised some of the critics of the program and transportation fuels with a lot of the strides that have been made in the past eight years.
The people involved in the industry are very innovative and resilient. There are diverse perspectives—with the older generations and the younger generations, the men and women and various backgrounds and cultures—that coalesce in this industry. They have the common thread of being highly motivated and bouncing back from some hardships and some setbacks.
That diversity and adversity make the group as a whole stronger, and I think each of those groups has a lot to offer. There are many, many people throughout the industry that wear all sorts of hats and sometimes they wear them all at the same time.
There is a lot of interest from general consumers and industry alike to see more sustainable practices and conservation efforts and farmers and producers are at the forefront of those innovations. I think that consumers and individuals want the opportunities to make better choices both economically and from a sustainable and clean, green choice standpoint and I think that arena is going to have a very large impact for the industry.
The spirit that this industry brings to the table is unmatched and unrivaled by a lot of other alternatives. The future holds a lot of possibilities and I’m very optimistic for where ethanol can go and what it can aspire to be.
Like my parents, the people that have invested in the ethanol industry or have jobs in the industry have wanted to build their lives in the communities where they grew up—close to their family and friends and doing the things that they knew. I think that the people who make those choices in life—to build those communities—really reinforce the vitality of those areas and the relationships that are fostered.
I would love for my children to have that familiarity with the land and the community and the people. I want them to have a great base to get out and explore the world while understanding ‘I will always have this home place to come back to.’