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Mississippi magic

Sep 21, 2017

Aaron Doering and Jeni Henrickson stood atop a grain freighter preparing to set sail from New Orleans, reflecting on their time traveling down the Mississippi River. Doering, Henrickson and videographer Matthew Whalen began their voyage in St. Paul, Minn., to learn about the Mighty Mississippi and the role it plays in production and flow of major grains.

The project, AgCultures, is funded with a portion of the $3.44 million grant the CHS Foundation awarded to the University of Minnesota in late 2016. During the four-year AgCultures expedition, the team will travel the world on six to eight National Geographic–style excursions. Their goal is to explore and describe the many facets of agriculture and ag-related careers.

“Agriculture is a diverse industry with many people involved and there really is a career for anyone,” says Doering, director of the Learning Technologies (LT) Media Lab at the University of Minnesota. “Opportunities exist for bright leaders with diverse backgrounds. The AgCultures project will introduce some of the people involved in the ag industry today.”

Finding a Theme

The AgCultures team has already met Leslie Handzus, a young beef nutritionist, and Marcus Hall, a young professional who tests precision technology for John Deere. They have paddled in a canoe with John Ruskey to learn more about the levee system and floated along with Brandon Riddle as he navigated a tugboat towing four barges of grain down the river near New Orleans. Along the way, a common theme emerged.

“People in agriculture are dedicated,” says Henrickson, creative director of LT Media Lab. “They are passionate about agriculture.”

Doering and Henrickson themselves represent the range of audiences the project hopes to reach. Doering was raised on a farm in southern Minnesota, where he developed a passion for agriculture and learning. Henrickson hails from a more urban area, has always loved the outdoors and is curious about how food is grown and processed. Together, they work to tell compelling stories and showcase lesser-known facets of agriculture.

“I hope that by watching our videos, audiences gain a better understanding of the number of people and amount of technology involved in feeding the world,” says Henrickson.

The team has explored ancient agriculture and cotton gin technology, says Doering, plus looked into current technologies in use on farms. “We talked to a farmer who was using four iPads in his tractor. It shows how far agriculture has come and how intelligent and sophisticated ag professionals are.”

Captivating Stories

What is intriguing about the AgCultures project lies as much in how the information is delivered as in the captivating stories. The team is sharing photos and videos real-time with classrooms across the country.

Teachers and students can follow along with the team as they capture stories from farmers and scientists. Each video segment matches one of 10 themes geared toward middle school classrooms. Teachers can select free standards-based curriculum to integrate in their lessons. Viewers are invited to take it local by sharing their own stories about ag, science and global issues.

“The AgCultures project showcases careers in a really fun, unique way that anyone can relate to,” says Nanci Lilja, president, CHS Foundation. “The CHS Foundation is proud to partner with the University of Minnesota on such an exciting project. We hope people continue to follow along over the next four years.”

The next leg of the expedition kicks off this fall. To follow the action and share your own story, visit

Check out the full C Magazine with this article and more.

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