The Great Mississippi Tea Company is out to prove high-quality tea can be produced in America. ProFILE participants toured the operation and learned about the specialized harvesting equipment the company uses to pluck the topmost leaves from established tea plants.

The 2020-21 ProFILE class found better luck with its capstone trip than its kickoff junket in March of last year, which wrapped right as the world slipped headlong into a global pandemic. As the latest cohort of MFB’s elite leadership program wraps up on schedule after its 15-month agenda, COVID is still with us but it didn’t dampen the experience for Michigan’s best and brightest young farmers.

In a decidedly unfamiliar corner of the Deep South bearing little in common with Michigan’s commodity lineup, our ProFILErs did what they always do: dial in on the common denominators that tie all farm sectors together — and do it so seamlessly you’d scarcely notice where the northerners end and their southern kin begin.

ProFILE coordinator Alex Schnabelrauch, director of MFB’s Center of Education and Leadership Development, said the logistical and environmental challenges this trip posed may’ve made its payoff all the sweeter for those taking part.

“Michigan’s county Farm Bureaus — and the industry as a whole — have some truly exceptional young leaders and we’re excited to see how they use what they’ve gained to improve their farms and communities.”

This year’s class includes Emily Boeve (Ottawa County), Casey Bozung (Van Buren), Sara Bronkema (Ottawa), Alisha Gibson (Kalamazoo), Brandon Hotchkin (Jackson), Charles Loveland (Jackson), Matt Marston (Livingston), Mike Mathis (Oakland), MaryAnne Murawski (Huron), Dirk Okkema (Mecosta), Terry Page (Ionia), Mike Sell (Wayne), Brenda Sisung (Clinton), Amanda Sollman (Saginaw) and Cody Tyrrell (Huron).

Altogether the group made nearly a dozen stops around the Mississippi Delta region, seeing firsthand the production of such key regional commodities as rice, cotton, tea and catfish. More familiar than the commodities were the challenges their producers face: labor, processing, logistics, water management and at least one wildlife pest —bears! — nobody saw coming.

“Our Michigan members put all their skills and knowledge to use, serving as tour-stop emcees, engaged learners and savvy reporters providing coverage along the way,” Schnabelrauch said. “Our hosts in Mississippi and Louisiana remarked how impressed they were with the depth and breadth of our group’s questions.”

MFB Digital Editor Tony Hansen was along for the ride and filed his coverage straight from the sweltering south; follow these links to read his detailed accounts: Day 1Day 2Day 3 and Day 4.

More than 70 young farmers have been nominated by their county Farm Bureaus to be part of the 2022-23 ProFILE class.