Distinguished Service Award
Since 1968, it has been an AgriGrowth tradition to present an individual member, team or organization with a Distinguished Service Award. Recipients are selected for their unique service and significant contributions to strengthening food systems and agriculture.
Award recipients are announced during the Minnesota Ag & Food Summit each November, if a recipient is chosen.
2017 Distinguished Service Award Recipient: Dr. Mark Seeley, Climatologist at the University of Minnesota
Past recipients include:
2016 Distinguished Service Award Recipient: Dr. Bill Hartmann, retired Executive Director of the Board of Animal Health and State Veterinarian
2015 Marla Spivek, MacArthur Fellow and Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota
Entomologist Marla Spivak is passionate about developing practical applications to protect honey bee populations. Spivak’s fundamental contributions have enhanced our understanding of bee biology and been instrumental for finding ways to protect the bees’ decimation by disease. Affiliated with the University of Minnesota since 1993, Marla is a Distinguished McKnight Professor in the Department of Entomology. Spivak’s work toward breeding lines of honey bees that detect and quickly remove diseased larvae has put her on the map. In 2010 she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship Grant, “the genius grant,” for her work. Other primary contributions by Spivak include her study of the effects of surrounding landscapes on health and nutrition of native bees.
2014 Paul DeBriyn, Former CEO, AgStar Financial Services, ACA
One of Paul DeBriyn’s unique strengths is his gift for allowing people to try new things, knowing they will make mistakes in that process. His leadership style creates an environment for employees which facilitate new ideas and encourage risk-taking. DeBriyn is also a strategic thinker who sees the bigger global picture and believes that rural communities are a vital component of supporting agriculture. It is in the spirit of this unwavering passion that earned DeBriyn this years’ Distinguished Service Award.
2013 Rob Zeaske, CEO, Second Harvest Heartland
It is only fitting the agriculture and food industries would recognize the leadership and vision of the CEO of the upper midwest’s largest hunger relief organization. Second Harvest Heartland’s CEO, Rob Zeaske, is this year’s Distinguished Service Award winner. Under Zeaske’s leadership, the goals of Second Harvest Heartland go well beyond providing emergency food help. Zeaske has forged strong partnerships with farmers and agribusiness in order provide greater food relief in the future.
2012 Brad Fehr, Co-Owner & Board Chairman
Riverview, LLP, built their first dairy in 1995 just south of Morris, Minnesota. Since that time, they have expanded into a network of dairy farms and extended dairy families. The Riverview operation has been described as being in the top 1 percent of dairy operations in the U.S., but dairy farms are not their only specialty. Riverview also manages large-scale manure digesters, which lower odor potential and convert methane gas to renewable energy. Riverview’s owners have a reputation for being good stewards of all they have. That stewardship seems to permeate their organization. Riverview leadership believes their biggest assets are their people and location in Minnesota. As the area’s largest employer, Riverview exemplifies excellence and commitment to their employees, their families and their community.
2011 Minnesota Model for Food Safety
This year’s recipient of the Distinguished Service Award was given to the creators of the Minnesota Model for Food Safety. A partnership between the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health , the Minnesota Model for Food Safety has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to detect and resolve foodborne illness outbreaks. In 2008, 1500 people in 43 states fell ill after eating food contaminated with Salmonella. The outbreak was first blamed on tomatoes, but the information provided by the Minnesota Model for Food Safety team steered attention to the real culprit – hot peppers from Mexico. The food safety team’s model is unique and unusually effective. The emphasis is on aggressiveness, speed and accuracy. All reports of foodborne illness in the state of Minnesota come to this team for investigation.
2010 Gene Hugoson, former Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner
Commissioner Gene Hugoson and his wife Patricia operate a corn and soybean farm in southcentral Minnesota’s Martin County. Hugoson’s knowledge of Minnesota agriculture, public policy and the political process served him well in his role as state commissioner of agriculture. Known as the “voice of optimism for Minnesota farmers,” Hugoson has dedicated himself to helping agriculture thrive into the 21st century. Focused on boosting the health of the state’s livestock sector, Hugoson has helped the state establish a national reputation for food safety and quality, helped build the nation’s leading renewable fuel sector, and was responsible for opening new international markets for Minnesota agricultural products. First appointed as Minneosota Department of Agriculture Commissioner in 1995 by Governor Arne Carlson, Hugoson was then reappointed by Governor Ventura and Governor Pawlenty. He has served a longer continuous term than any of his predecessors.
2009 Don Helgeson, Cahir of the Board Gold’n Plump Poultry
Don Helgeson starting working on the farm at the ripe old age of 11. He worked along side his father, E.M. Helgeson, who founded Gold’n Plump. A downturn following World War II caused E. M. Helgeson liquidate the company, but Don saw this as an opportunity to get into the hatchery business, which later became Don’s entry into the broiler business. One of Don’s strengths is his eye for spotting opportunities and taking calculated risks. These two attributes have been a key to Don’s ability to keep the business always moving forward. Just as Don from a young age worked closely with his father, Don’s son Mike enjoyed the same and at the time of this video became the third generation to carry on the business.
Don felt very strongly about participating in his community. He believed if you are going to become successful in your community, you have an obligation to give back to that community. Don and his wife Arlene were responsible for starting United Way in St. Cloud and Gold N’Plump continues to give 5% of their pre-tax profits back to the community. Don believed that with privilege comes responsibility, and he never veered from that.
2008 Congressman Collin C. Peterson
Collin Peterson has truly dedicated himself to agriculture, conservation and the people of Minnesota. Since 1990 represented the Western part of Minnesota in Congressional District 7. He grew up on a farm in Baker, Minnesota, near Detroit Lakes. Many believe Peterson’s most notable contribution was for the role he played as the chairman of the U.S. House Agricultural Policy Committee. Congressman Peterson was instrumental in leading the effort for the reauthorization of programs in the farm bill, authorizing commodity support, agricultural trade, marketing, food assistance and rural development policies throughout the entire country. He approached this role with class and transparency; all the while looking out for his constituents and food and fiber industry. Prior to being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Peterson served in the Minnesota State Senate representing District 10. Peterson is a certified public accountant, was in the ND National Guard and is a supporter of Veterans and conservation efforts. Peterson is also an airplane pilot and plays in a band called The Second Amendment.
2007 Bob Christensen, Owner, Christensen Farms
Bob Christensen’s father, Larry Christensen, recalls that even as a child Bob was always interested in the animal part of their farming operation. Bob always seemed to be a step ahead of the industry. Back as far as 1991, Bob would share his visions for expanding his pork operation. Others thought he was crazy and just laughed at his ideas. They are not laughing now. The things he talked about in 1991 are now industry standards. Long before standardized disease prevention protocols like showering before entering the barns, Bob was doing that in all his barns. Bob is passionate about excellence in everything he does and everything about his operation. His committment to excellence and his passion are part of the appeal of working for Christensen Farms.