Water quality is a top-of-mind issue for residents in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Concerns about conservation, usage and sustainability are just a few of the topics that have made it into the conversations of citizens. Agriculture has received most of the blame for water quality concerns, but is this a fair assessment?

This event was geared toward young professionals in the Twin Cities offers a unique opportunity to engage future decision makers and influencers, and find an answer that benefits us all.

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance® and the Farm and Food Alliance of Minnesota joined together to host a panel discussion on water quality and the issues surrounding it. Together, we can together identify solutions to improve this important, finite resource. 



  • Valerie Earley, National FFA Officer Candidate - Minnesota View Full Bio

    Valerie Earley is a senior at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities studying Agricultural Communications and Marketing. Valerie served as the 2014-2015 Minnesota State FFA Secretary and is currently the Minnesota candidate for National FFA Office. She is originally from Wykoff, Minnesota and has a passion for sharing the story of agriculture. This passion led to her organizing the annual Rochester Urban Agriculture in the Classroom event held by local FFA chapters in elementary schools in Rochester. She has also interned for Minnesota Pork Board and Minnesota Pork Producers Association, CFANS Admissions, Minnesota Farmers Union and Christensen Farms.


  • Nathan Collins , Murdoch, Minnesota farmer View Full Bio

    Nathan Collins and his brother, Sean, own and manage Collins Family Farms near Murdock where they grow corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and own a feedlot of Black Angus cattle. They also own and manage JNS Trucking and co-own & manage CY Harvesting,  a forage harvesting business. The Collins family has been involved in farming for more than four generations.

    Nathan is committed to continuing the family farming tradition for the next generation and is passionate about sharing his story and being a resource for those who are not connected to agriculture.

    Nathan is active in his community. He is a board member for the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation and has participated in a regional Farm Bureau Leadership program and TEPAP (The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers). Nathan is a member of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and U.S. Custom Harvesters, Inc. He has been recognized as an Outstanding Young Farmer by the Minnesota Jaycees.  He also serves on the board for the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program.

    Nathan earned a degree in business with a focus in finance from St. Johns University in Collegeville. Before returning to the family farm, he spent two years managing feed mills for Cargill, Inc. and one year with Bridgestone Tires managing a retail center.

    Nathan and his wife, Jessica, have three children and all are very involved in their community and church.

  • Vanessa Perry, Ph.D Student at the University of Minnesota View Full Bio

    Vanessa is currently pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Science and Management in the Department of Forest Resources at the University of Minnesota. Her course work focuses on policy, water management and behavior/decision making. Her current research focuses on community capacity to respond to natural resource challenges, in particular water management. Previous research included rural landowner conservation decision making, local agency outreach, and increasing diversity and equity in natural resource management. 

    Vanessa has a wide range of experience in natural resources management and sustainable land use. Prior to returning to grad school she was a program director with Envision Minnesota and lead a technical assistance program for communities throughout the state. Before coming to Minnesota she worked as a rural and natural resources planner in Montana where she lead a successful conservation easement bond program to preserve working lands and wildlife habitat. Vanessa has a passion for inclusive public participation, a skill initially developed during her service as a Peace Corps Volunteer In Macedonia. Facilitation and public process design runs as a theme through her work. 

    Other experience includes youth environmental education, wetlands research, watershed management, multi-use trail planning, and project planning and design.

  • Rebecca Kenow, Sustainability Officer View Full Bio

    Rebecca (Becky) Kenow is the first full-time Director of Sustainability at Land O’Lakes, Inc. In this role, she leads company-wide sustainability strategy; collaborates and leads cross functional business teams to develop and implement initiatives capturing economic, environmental and social benefits; builds external relationships and private – public partnerships.

    Under her leadership, the $13 billion cooperative has encouraged individual farmer members to embrace sustainable business practices within their own organizations. She is engaged at a national level with the development of sustainability platforms and tools to assist farmers measure and continuously improve their environmental footprint. Most recently she led the private-public partnership effort for Land O’Lakes, Inc. with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, to engage growers in the cooperative network in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, a voluntary program which provides funding and technical assistance to help farmers implement best management and conservation practices that protect soil and water quality, while optimizing yields.

    Prior to coming to Land O’Lakes, Inc., she spent two decades managing public sector environmental programs with the State of Minnesota, followed by five years working for Flint Hills Resources. Becky is a member of the Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy Sustainability Operating Committee, a Sustainability Working Group member of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC), Education and Outreach Committee Field to Market: Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, a Dairy Working Group member of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform and part of the GreenBiz Executive Network. 

  • Jeff Merriman, Dakota County Technical College instructor of Brewing and Beer Steward Technology, Regional Retail Manager - Northern Brewer View Full Bio

    Jeff joins the DCTC as the instructor of their newest program, Brewing and Beer Steward Technology. He has a diploma in Brewing Science and Engineering from the American Brewers Guild in Middlebury, Vermont. Jeff is also a Certified Cicerone®, the beer equivalent of a wine Sommelier.

    Jeff has 15 years of experience in home brewing, wine making, mead making and cider making.

    He is currently the regional retail manager for Northern Brewer, the largest home brewing and wine making company in America. He oversees two highly successful retail stores and supervises a staff of 25 retail team members. Jeff has a track record of implementing strategies for training, customer service and salesmanship.

    In his free time, Jeff likes to frequent some of his favorite tap rooms with friends. He enjoys cooking and pairing food with beer and wine and is always dreaming about his next trip to Europe to continue his search for the world's greatest lagers.

  • Rebecca Flood, Assistant Commissioner, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency View Full Bio

    Rebecca Flood joined the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in 2008 as the assistant commissioner for water policy matters. In this role she oversees the agency's programs and activities to maintain and improve the quality of Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and wetlands.

    Rebecca serves as the liaison to the agricultural sector. In addition, she assisted the Minnesota Department of Agriculture with the development of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, which is a voluntary program designed to expedite adoption of agricultural best management practices specifically designed to protect water quality. Nationally, Rebecca is Minnesota's representative on the U.S. EPA’s Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force.

    Prior to joining the MPCA, Rebecca was employed by the Metropolitan Council for 30 years in a variety of clean water programs, most recently serving as the Environmental Compliance Manager for the Council’s seven municipal wastewater treatment facilities in the seven-county St. Paul/Minneapolis metropolitan area. In this role, she also represented the Council on a wide variety of statewide water policy committees, and led the development of both the Council’s phosphorus and mercury reduction strategies.

    Rebecca received a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Biology from Michigan State University.