By Janet Kubat Willette

AUSTIN, Minn. — Cheers erupted as Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership participants, dressed in their business best, rooted for their colleagues as they packaged SPAM during a tour of Austin’s SPAM Museum Dec. 13.

Kristie Ploehn, of St. Paul, a human resources representative for Land O’ Lakes, said the packaging game is a great way to give museum visitors an understanding of how SPAM is packaged.

Tim Waibel of Courtland, owner of Waibel Pork, tried his hand at packaging SPAM, but had little success. He got the outside wrapping on the can the wrong way and didn’t even finish.


"I had her in the 20s and I wasn’t done," Waibel said.

Jerry Svoboda, on the other hand, was able to package SPAM in 13 seconds. Svoboda, of Jackson, a feed division manager for Watonwan Farm Service, said he would like to return to the museum and spend more time reading about the history of Hormel.

"I would take my family back there," Waibel said. "No matter what age you are, there’s something that would intrigue you."

The group toured the museum after being served lunch that included the star of the museum — SPAM.

The group toured the museum after being served lunch that included the star of the museum — SPAM.

Ploehn had eaten classic SPAM before, but tried turkey SPAM for the first time.

"It wasn’t bad," she said.

Likewise, Svoboda said SPAM tastes good.


"I’ll probably buy some this week," he said. "I’m not a big SPAM eater, but it sounds like the rest of the world must be."

Their tour, led by a ‘SPAMbassador,’ included stops at the museum’s Wall of SPAM, which features 3,390 cans of SPAM on the wall, a walk through the museum’s World War II display and a presentation by Bruce Schweitzer, Hormel’s vice president of operations.

George A. Hormel started the company in 1891. Hormel’s emphasis on developing new products and food safety have remained with the company through its 116 years, Schweitzer said.

MARL participants asked Schweitzer about a variety of topics, including emerging markets and livestock site permits.

Schweitzer said a wholesome, shelf-stable heat and eat product that people can keep in their desk until lunchtime and microwave in 90 seconds is a growth product. Natural Choice lunch meats are another growing product line.

The permitting process is challenging, said Schweitzer, who spent 10 years at Jennie-O.

"They (permits) have gotten exceedingly hard to get," he said.

Schweitzer said there’s a tremendous disconnect between the end users and producers. Consumers don’t know where bacon comes from and don’t want to know, he said.


Waibel said he’s learned a lot through MARL. He’s been exposed to the diversity of Minnesota agriculture through tours, classroom sessions and conversations with his classmates.

"We put so much into one day that unless you actually take notes or take a lot of pictures, you can’t remember everything you saw," he said.

The program is not only leadership, it’s also personal and professional development, said Cam Fanfulik. Fanfulik is the loan fund manager and economic development planner for the Northwest Regional Development Commission. He has been able to see what’s happening and experience different farm cultures across the state. He’s also networked and made contacts with folks involved in agriculture and rural economies across the state. He’s seen similarities that he never guessed existed.

"It’s such a great program," Fanfulik said. This has been a spectacular opportunity for me."

"I would recommend this to anybody who has an interest in the future of agriculture," Waibel said.

Svoboda issued a thank you to all the sponsors and individuals who make MARL possible.

"It’s been a great experience for me," he said.

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