Episode 13 | The Future of Rural Leadership

Feb. 8, 2018

Show Notes:

In this episode, Chuck is joined by two Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program students Matthew and Joseph Brugger who plan to bring their commitment, mentorship and business back to their rural hometown of Albion, Nebraska.

Their business, Upstream Farms and Enterprises, is a fourth generation farm that provides integrated solutions for producers and healthy food options for families, while building rural communities.

They talk about mindfulness and presence; the need for the education system to give students space and tools, not rules; how adults in rural communities can empower youth, because you can; and so much more.

Quick Links:

Full Transcript:

[0:02] Good morning. [0:02] Welcome back to Catch Up With Chuck [0:04] from the Rural Futures Institute [0:06] at the University of Nebraska. [0:08] I’m Chuck Schroeder. [0:09] I’m the founding executive director [0:10] of the Rural Futures Institute. [0:13] You know, there’s a prevailing myth [0:15] around rural that the brightest and best young people, [0:20] once they graduate from high school, [0:22] wanna find the best paved road and get out of town [0:24] and never come back. [0:26] We have the opportunity at the Rural Futures Institute [0:29] to work with students who are myth busters [0:33] and who are glaring and glowing exceptions [0:37] to that silly myth. [0:38] Well joining me today are two guys [0:41] from rural Albion, Nebraska. [0:43] Don’t adjust your screen. [0:44] Yes, they are twins. [0:46] We can tell them apart, but we’re delighted [0:49] to have ’em with us today. [0:51] And they are not only fans of the community [0:54] that they come from, but they are making plans [0:57] to go back and build that community [1:00] into something even greater. [1:02] They have a big idea for a hopeful future for Albion [1:06] and that whole region.

[1:08] So, Joseph and Matthew Brugger, Albion natives [1:13] are high energy, very high achieving students [1:16] here at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. [1:18] They’re involved in all kinds of activities, [1:20] but in particular our acquaintance comes through [1:24] the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program [1:27] that we’ve talked about on this show before. [1:29] So, Joe and Matt, welcome to Catch Up With Chuck. [1:33] Thank you. [1:34] That was a heck of an introduction. [1:36] You’re making me feel really good. [1:38] Maybe pull that down. [1:40] Yes, exactly. [1:41] Well listen, you two caught the attention [1:44] of those of us at the Rural Futures Institute [1:46] when you walked onto campus. [1:48] You clearly came here with a plan, you’re on a mission [1:53] and you’re happy to tell anybody that will listen to you [1:56] about your belief and your hometown’s future [2:00] and your willingness to invest in it. [2:02] So as we start here this morning, [2:04] I want you to talk a little bit about [2:07] your upbringing and your relationship with your community. [2:11] What drove you two guys to feel so passionately [2:14] about your hometown?

[2:16] Well I’d say honestly, you know, [2:18] small towns that come from agriculture, [2:20] so we grew up farm cattle, raised cattle, [2:23] corn and soybeans, alfalfa, kind of had [2:26] that whole experience growing up [2:27] and it really focused us from the time, [2:31] I can’t remember not being in a tractor with dad [2:34] from the time I was little to being able [2:37] to go out and check cattle. [2:39] That just carried on throughout our entire education. [2:43] When we started high school or started school, [2:46] you know, you have people that are like minded, [2:48] different from you and you really get to share things [2:53] with each other that I feel like in a small town [2:55] that you don’t really get that opportunity [2:57] in larger communities and so like I said, [3:00] agriculture has been kind of obviously [3:02] the focal point of what we do [3:04] and who made us who we are right now. [3:06] Yeah, and I would say that that instilled [3:08] a work ethic. [3:09] So when we started out in high school, [3:11] we definitely were not the most talented individuals, [3:13] but we were able to work very hard [3:17] at whatever we were involved in [3:19] and I think that got some community support [3:21] behind just us as individuals [3:23] and so we were able to have a little bit of success, [3:26] but that really drove us to say, you know, [3:27] they kind of took ownership on us and stuff like that. [3:31] They were able to put things back into us [3:33] that we wanna be able to give back now [3:35] that we’ve been able to take the skills [3:36] that we’ve gained from our community [3:38] and growing up in that environment [3:40] and we wanna return that back to our community.

[3:42] Listen, I want you to talk just a little bit more [3:45] about your parents, and you’ve talked about your mother [3:47] as an educator and how that’s driven the way you think [3:52] about your role in the world. [3:53] So say a word or two about that [3:55] and then we’ll go on to some other things. [3:57] I think it’s an important story.

[3:58] So our parents were like, again, [4:01] it’s funny ’cause I feel like we have a very good [4:04] dynamic of both sides of the spectrum in our family. [4:06] Our dad’s a down to earth guy, he’s funny. [4:08] He wakes up in the morning and he just [4:11] lights up every morning like, you’ll, [4:13] and then my mom is more of this, you know, [4:15] she is the tactics, strategic person [4:19] who puts everything in place. [4:21] We grew up through that entire experience [4:24] and our mom was a stay at home mom [4:27] and a farm wife for a long time. [4:29] Until we got into high school, [4:31] she decided that she wanted to go back to school [4:33] and do what her passion was, which is honestly, [4:36] like you said, in educating, more specifically [4:39] in mental health. [4:40] And she went back to school. [4:42] She went to Doane. [4:44] We graduated the exact same time, which is really cool. [4:47] But she has played a huge role in, I feel like, [4:50] our mindsets as people, as being able to really come down [4:55] and live in the moment, in what we’re doing [4:57] and love what we’re doing and ask us the hard questions. [5:00] Makes us ask the hard questions. [5:01] Makes us question things that are uncomfortable [5:06] for most people to answer, [5:07] but once you really start thinking about it, you know, [5:09] both of our parents have been big motivators [5:12] in helping us be innovative and think differently [5:14] than other people and asking [5:16] why are things done this way and why. [5:18] I think that’s the biggest thing for us anyway. [5:20] Even asking like why do we do things a certain way. [5:23] And that goes back to the mindfulness piece [5:25] that I think our mom really tried to instill in us. [5:27] I mean, even I remember at a young age, [5:28] our mom asking us to when we washed our hands, [5:32] she’d say just feel how that feels. [5:35] Feel the soap between your hands. [5:36] Feel the water running over you hands [5:38] and when she did that, that was teaching us [5:40] subconsciously how to just be in that moment. [5:43] Not look in the future, not look in the past, [5:45] but just be in that moment. [5:46] And that enabled us to be more successful, I think, [5:51] in the things that we do because we enjoyed where we were, [5:54] not looking being so futuristic or so living in the past, [5:59] that we were able just to be in the moment. [6:01] It’s allowed us to take ownership in our community [6:04] in a better way because we saw something [6:06] for what it was at the time. [6:08] What it could be, what it was, [6:10] but at that time, we see the people [6:13] for who they are and what they had given us at that time. [6:15] I don’t think we would have been as half as successful [6:18] as we were in high school in what we were doing [6:20] if it wasn’t for the people at that time [6:21] that had given us the encouragement [6:24] and empowered us to do the things that we were [6:27] really passionate about. [6:28] That’s just so important.

[6:30] So listen, okay, you guys come from rural Nebraska. [6:33] You’ve driven up and down rural highways, [6:35] you’ve gone through lots of communities. [6:37] You know that two communities 20 miles apart [6:41] can have a very different feel about their vitality, [6:45] their promise for the future. [6:48] You have seen something in Albion [6:51] that says this is a place we wanna be, [6:54] we believe it does have promise. [6:55] Talk a little bit about what you think are the unique assets [6:59] of Albion that can be built upon.

[7:02] Yeah, I think what makes Albion unique [7:05] is well one, I mean, if you wanna talk [7:07] just infrastructure wise, there’s a great school system, [7:09] very progressive minded. [7:10] They take a lot of things that Joe and I believe in. [7:13] They take it seriously. [7:14] We were taken seriously in any idea [7:16] that we expressed, even as high schoolers [7:19] and that makes it a place that makes it feel like, [7:21] okay my ideas matter here. [7:24] So why would I not wanna go back? [7:25] Why would I wanna leave the place [7:27] that I can travel everywhere I want, [7:30] but this is home. [7:30] And so that was a big portion of it. [7:33] There’s a great healthcare system. [7:35] Great place for elderly care. [7:36] It’s a safe community. [7:37] So you could talk structurally wise, [7:39] but I think what really made us want to invest [7:42] in Albion is the attitude of the people. [7:46] I mean, I think it goes back to if you wanna be successful [7:49] as a rural community, you have to be able to [7:52] kind of pass on the torch, in a way, [7:54] to the younger generation, believe in them, [7:56] take a risk in them. [7:57] Because I don’t wanna go back to a place [7:59] that doesn’t believe in me. [8:00] I don’t wanna go back into a place [8:01] that doesn’t feel that I can add value. [8:03] And I think that goes back to our current education system [8:06] is they were accepting and letting us choose [8:09] kind of our path that they believed. [8:10] They say okay you understand how to get [8:16] to where you wanna go, that’s up to you, [8:18] we’ll give you the tools. [8:20] And when they did that, that allowed us to say [8:22] okay we have the opportunity to build our future [8:26] how we want to and that makes it not seem [8:28] like we have to leave the community to be successful [8:31] or to accomplish our goals. [8:34] I think it’s a whole empowering piece.

[8:35] We were never forced to go one way or the other [8:38] or it was never an expectation that we had to come back. [8:40] It was always an empowering thing. [8:42] The people in our lives always made it easy for us [8:45] to want to come back because they never told us [8:47] what we had to do. [8:48] They acted as resources to show us [8:50] that we could be successful in our small town. [8:53] Yeah, it’s interesting, we had the opportunity [8:54] to work with a group here at the university [8:58] on developing Capstone. [9:00] And while we were going through this [9:01] and we were sorting out the details [9:02] of how this Capstone was gonna work, [9:04] we got into the point where we were trying to come up [9:06] with ways to grade. [9:07] And a couple of students who, they’re awesome, [9:10] we love working with, like the people of this group [9:12] is just great and some of them suggested, you know, [9:16] maybe you need to do this interview [9:18] and get this scholarly article and have these things in line [9:21] and I think that kind of struck a cord with Joe and I [9:24] ’cause we kind of both kind of jumped up [9:25] and all of the sudden we we’re like no, no, no, no [9:26] we can’t do that because for us [9:28] we wanna say here’s your opportunities, [9:30] here’s the things, here’s our resources, [9:33] now you get to decide how to execute this project [9:36] or this goal that you’re trying to get to. [9:40] Even if it’s not the right answer, [9:41] their ability to think of it, [9:43] to come up with the answer themselves [9:44] is more empowering than it ever has been [9:45] and we had that ability. [9:47] Lifelong (mumbles). [9:47] Yes, exactly, Absolutely.

[9:49] And that’s Engler. [9:51] Honestly, that’s Engler. [9:52] It puts us the tools in our toolbox [9:54] to be able to control our own destiny. [9:56] It doesn’t push us into one category or another. [9:59] It doesn’t turn out commodity students. [10:01] It makes you a unique individual [10:03] and that’s what– [10:04] A very different approach to education. [10:06] And Engler really represents our hometown [10:09] and that’s what we loved about Engler [10:10] and that’s what we love about our hometown. [10:12] Well listen, okay, you two guys look alike, [10:15] but I happen to know that you really have [10:18] different talents, different strengths, [10:20] some different interests that you clearly love [10:24] working together. [10:25] Talk a little bit about your differences, if you will, [10:29] and what you believe you bring to the table [10:30] when you start talking about going back to Albion.

[10:34] Well I think when we came, well I guess, [10:38] when we came to the Engler Entrepreneurship Program [10:39] we knew we wanted to work in rural communities, [10:41] but we really didn’t know what we were gonna do. [10:43] Throughout our time here, we started a business [10:46] called Upstream. [10:48] We started off with kind of it focuses [10:51] on our two different areas of influences. [10:52] My influence or where I’m working here at the university [10:55] is animal science, I’m really interested in that. [10:57] So through that, we were able [10:59] to open up an account with the University of Nebraska [11:01] Athletic Department and do a valued added product [11:03] with our beef. [11:04] We have a booth down at the farmers’ market. [11:07] We supply beef to probably 100 different customers [11:10] through the Lincoln and Omaha area [11:11] and that has been a very learning experience. [11:14] It’s a logistics in marketing business [11:16] more than it is a beef business, [11:17] but it’s the way that I think that I can add value [11:19] to what we’re doing in Albion to kind of [11:25] have a place there, I guess, that allow us [11:27] to actually live there and work there and stuff like that. [11:30] Yeah, my area obviously is agronomy. [11:32] It’s kind of a full closed loop system [11:35] where I’m really focused on the feed [11:37] that we feed our cattle [11:38] to produce quality beef. [11:42] And I’ve really taken that into account [11:46] when it comes to our customers. [11:48] They wanna know where their food is coming from. [11:51] There’s a passion for that. [11:52] There’s a demand for that. [11:53] And so one of the great parts about our story [11:56] is that we can tell the entire story of that [11:58] because Matthew is really focused on the animal [12:01] and I’m really focused on the feed of that animal [12:02] and the nutrition that animal gets.

[12:04] But on a bigger scale even, I feel like [12:06] with economic development, when you talk about [12:08] any sort of development of a rural community, [12:10] I would say that you’re more focused on economic development [12:13] and business, creating business and stimulating [12:17] a good economy in a rural community, [12:20] and my area is more focused on social development, [12:22] so the education system. [12:24] You know, how every aspect of that [12:26] because you talk about two parts of a rural community [12:29] and you look at it, you know, [12:30] yeah you have to have these businesses [12:32] that are providing the people for their town [12:35] and people have to go to those businesses [12:36] for the town to be successful. [12:38] But when it comes down to it, it’s a mindset. [12:40] You know, it’s this mindset that we kind of need to [12:42] get over it and that doesn’t start by just saying, [12:45] you’re right, I’m wrong.

[12:46] It starts at a very young age [12:48] when a kid is starting to progress [12:51] through these ideas. [12:52] About sixth grade is when a kid really starts [12:55] to decide what do I want to do for the rest of my life [12:59] or at least that’s when it was for me. [13:01] And I started looking to the future [13:03] and starting thinking, okay what is it that I want to do? [13:04] Do I want to move away? [13:05] Do I want to do all of these things [13:07] or do I want to stay here? [13:08] Is there where my home is at? [13:11] Those were very influential times [13:13] where I feel like there are things [13:16] and things in our education systems [13:18] that set us up for people to leave. [13:20] Where kids want to leave. [13:22] They feel like that’s their only option to be successful. [13:25] And so I feel like that is just as important [13:27] as being able to create businesses in a rural community. [13:30] And with that, that’s kind of where [13:31] our motivation stems from, from creating business. [13:33] Yes, we love selling beef. [13:35] We love working with producers and consulting [13:38] and stuff like that. [13:38] That’s a big part of what we do. [13:40] But I think the goal behind that is to grow something [13:44] that is the backbone for younger children [13:46] and younger kids in schools to say, [13:47] okay you’re being told you can’t do it this way, [13:49] but we’re doing it this way. [13:51] So you can do it this way. [13:52] We wanna be that backbone. [13:54] And like I said, just to reflect what Joe says, [13:56] I think at the end of the day, [13:57] it comes down to build a really good rural community, [14:01] you have to be able to say, you can do this [14:04] and you can do it here and empowering those kids [14:07] and not laying out their education for them, [14:09] but let them take ownership. [14:10] Let them choose that. [14:11] Because once they do that, [14:13] then they’re able to feel like they have a home here. [14:18] They don’t have to leave their community [14:19] to be successful. [14:20] So that’s really what we wanna do long-term goal, [14:22] is be that backbone and allow kids to have, [14:25] give them permission to say, no go for it. [14:27] You can.

[14:29] Well here’s one of the reasons I ask this question [14:32] because I watch you two guys and I’ve enjoyed [14:34] the engagement with you, so often when we think [14:38] of entrepreneurship and you’re in [14:39] a very unique entrepreneurship program here at Nebraska, [14:43] we always think about that as being [14:45] business entrepreneurship, but the truth is, [14:49] there are business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs [14:53] that have to work together to make a great community [14:57] that’s prepared for the future. [14:59] Well listen, we’re running out of time. [15:01] One of the things that we preach [15:04] here at the Rural Futures Institute [15:06] is that for a rural community to thrive, [15:09] it has to have leadership that matters, number one, [15:13] and number two, it has to have a hopeful vision [15:16] backed by grit. [15:18] You two, I believe, are classic examples [15:22] of the kind of leadership that’s preparing [15:24] to go to rural communities and provide that difference [15:28] making impact. [15:29] We’re so proud of you. [15:30] Anything you’d like to add before we wrap up?

[15:33] To any young viewers out there [15:35] that are watching right now, [15:37] make sure that you know that you can make an impact [15:40] where you’re at right now. [15:41] It doesn’t matter how old you are. [15:43] I’ve seen six year olds that are making mailboxes [15:47] and painting mailboxes for people [15:48] and that was their business because they cared [15:50] about the people around and they cared [15:51] about their neighbors. [15:52] You can make a difference and you can do that [15:54] anyway that you see fit and it can align [15:56] with your goals in your life right now. [15:59] I would say the older people in the community, [16:02] understand that you were a younger child once too [16:06] and that you know how much just a little bit of time [16:11] and empowerment to a younger child, [16:14] what that can do for them and what they could turn into [16:17] or what they can blossom into [16:19] and we’ve had people do that for us [16:22] and I think you have a lot more people [16:24] wanting to come back to your community [16:25] if you allow them to do that.

[16:26] So I guess that’s it. [16:28] We think the world is gonna be a better place tomorrow [16:31] than today with leaders like these going back [16:33] to rural communities. [16:34] Well listen, stay in touch with the Rural Futures Institute [16:37] through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, [16:40] LinkedIn, as well as our website [16:43] and know that we’re gonna be back in weeks to come [16:46] talking to real people about real places [16:49] that demonstrate thriving rural communities [16:52] are a legitimate best choice for worthwhile living. [16:54] Thanks for joining us.



Previous Episode

Episode 12 | Diversity in Rural Communities

Next Episode

Episode 14 | NU Leadership Focuses on Rural