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‘Driving Change’ panel: Farm-to-table entrepreneurs influence others by living their mission

MinnPost has assembled a panel of leadership experts and scholars, who are rotating in commenting on each of the examples of leadership profiled in our series, “Driving Change: A Lens on Leadership.” Today, Mary Angela Baker, director of St. Catherine University’s Leadership Institute, comments on aspects of leadership presented in Going local: Dean Engelmann, Scott Endres and the craft of small-scale farming.”

Mary Angela Baker
Mary Angela Baker

Mary Angela Baker grew up in Glencoe, just seven miles down the road from Plato, where Dean Engelmann grows plants and vegetables and raises livestock for the business venture he runs with his friend and partner Scott Endres.

So she knows the value of agriculture to small towns and the need for farmers to have a broad market for their goods.

Moreover, Baker – the director of the Leadership Institute at St. Catherine University – understands the role Engelmann and Endres are playing in stretching the imagination of growers across Minnesota. The two have formed a unique venture – a garden center and a restaurant in Minneapolis that are both supported primarily with what they can grow and raise on their 100-acre farm.

Their garden center, Tangletown Gardens, opened in 2002 and has become a destination for Twin Cities gardeners and landscapers; Wise Acre Eatery, meanwhile, opened about two years ago across the street from the garden center.

No middlemen

Engelmann and Endres grow plants and vegetables and raise livestock that are tailored to meet the needs of their business outlets; they don’t sell to middlemen or other retailers and they follow their own whims. It’s a self-sustaining model that has proven to be successful for them.

MinnPost photo by Gregg Aamot
Engelmann and Endres grow plants and vegetables and raise livestock that are tailored to meet the needs of their business outlets, like these Scottish Highland cattle.

“Leadership and role modeling doesn’t have to be loud and noisy,” said Baker, who responded to a profile of Engelmann and Endres for MinnPost. “Often, the most effective ones are those who are quietly doing the right things.”

Such a farm-to-consumer venture, Baker said, brings to mind the mission statement of the university, which is, in part, “to lead and influence.”

“That’s exactly what they seem to be doing,” she said. “What I take away from this (article) is that they are living their vocation and they are living their mission, so to speak. And by doing so they can influence others.”

Support for locally grown food is growing in Minnesota. State agriculture officials report that nearly 1,000 Minnesota growers now sell their produce directly to consumers through nearby farmers  markets and other local businesses. Engelmann and Endres get their goods to consumers through their own markets – the garden center and restaurant. (Engelmann calls it “vertical integration taken to a whole new level.”) 

Commitment to customers and to the land

Baker said that what sticks out most to her about the venture is its social entrepreneurship – in particular the men’s commitment to both their customers and their land. They are filling a demand for locally grown food and plants, for instance – often traveling the country in search of unusual plants that they can grow for the garden center – while adhering to a sustainable form of agriculture that includes rotating sections of land.

The Leadership Institute was created about two years ago at the university, a Catholic women’s school in St. Paul with an enrollment of about 5,000 students. Besides heading the institute, Baker also works as an adjunct instructor and recently taught a course that emphasizes emerging leadership.

The leadership canon at St. Catherine includes a book called “The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations,” which focuses on five areas of leadership, broadly categorized as: inspiring a shared vision; enabling others to act; challenging the process; modeling the way; and encouraging the heart.

Support for locally grown food is growing in Minnesota.
MinnPost photo by Gregg Aamot
Support for locally grown food is growing in Minnesota.

Baker said she sees many of those elements at work in the Tangletown-Wise Acre enterprise, which, if nothing else, challenges the conventional wisdom about what growers can do.

Interests outside of farming

Engelmann and Endres have always had an outsiders’ feel for agriculture. Though both grew up on farms – Engelmann on the Plato farm that now forms the heart of their business and Endres on a farm near Hampton – neither was much interested in traditional farming.   

That shows in their interests outside of work. Engelmann, for instance, currently serves on boards for both the Minneapolis Parks Foundation and the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association Foundation. Endres, meanwhile, has taught and has written for the magazine Fine Gardening and other publications.

“By serving on boards and doing other things they are expanding their network and their social capital and enhancing their leadership skills in ways that they might not be able to do in their day job,” Baker said. “They are spreading their message.”

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