On a Hastings, Minn., dairy farm, new commissioners leading departments that have major impact on Minnesota agriculture and natural resources were introduced Jan. 3 by Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. In choosing a farm as the site for this announcement and not St. Paul, Minnesota Walz noted that this group of commissioners was committed to the “One Minnesota” value that he and Flanagan promoted through their campaign.
Appointed as commissioner for the Department of Agriculture was Thom Petersen; commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources, Sarah Strommen; and commissioner for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Laura Bishop.
NEW AG COMMISSIONER: Thom Petersen, former lobbyist for Minnesota Farmers Union, is the state’s new agricultural commissioner. (Office of Gov. Tim Walz)
Also introduced were Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Department of Health; Tony Lourey, commissioner of the Department of Human Services; Janet Johnson, commissioner of the Bureau of Mediation Services; and Rebecca Lucero as commissioner of the Department of Human Rights.
The news event, held on the Sorg family’s 300-cow dairy farm and estimated to have been attended by 100 people, included the press and supporters of the new commissioners, friends and family.
Thom Petersen lives on a horse farm near Pine City with his wife, Alana, and sons Dylan and Waylon. Since 2002, he has worked as the director of government relations for Minnesota Farmers Union, garnering a range of experience in state and federal farm policy. He also has traveled to nearly every county in the state to understand how farm policies affect farmers’ lives.
“With more than a decade of experience at the Minnesota Farmers Union, Thom Petersen understands how policy directly affects farmers’ daily lives,” Walz said. “We’re looking forward to working with him as our incoming commissioner of the Department of Agriculture to ensure our farmers can compete in the global marketplace.”
Petersen said it has been humbling to hear from so many farmers after it was announced he would be Minnesota’s next ag commissioner. He plans to keep an open door when in St. Paul and encourages farmers to visit him there.
“One of my goals is to continue to keep communication and collaboration open,” Petersen said, who is known for both practices. “I’ve tried to be a good communicator and work together for everyone.”
As MDA commissioner, Petersen oversees efforts to ensure the integrity of the state’s food supply, its environment health and its agricultural economic strength. MDA employs around 450 people across the state and operates with a budget of around $200 million.
Petersen begins his new post at a time when farmers face their fifth year of low prices and trade uncertainty.
“Farmers need resources and new markets,” he said. “We will do what we can to help.”
BABY BOVINE: Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz offers a hand with calf feeding during his visit to the Sorg family dairy farm near Hastings. (Office of Gov. Tim Walz)
Resources available specifically through the department include farm advocates, farmer-lender mediation and mental health specialists.
In visiting with farmers, Petersen knows water quality and the climate also are important issues.
“We want to work with farmers to find solutions and to gather ideas,” he added.
And with an average Minnesota farmer age of 58 and the possibility that 50% of ag land will have new owners at some point over the next 20 years, Petersen wants to help find ways to keep that land in active farmers’ hands.
Other new commissioners
Sarah Strommen is the first woman named as DNR commissioner. Since 2015, she has served as assistant DNR commissioner for the divisions of Fish and Wildlife, and Parks and Trails. She also served as mayor of Ramsey in Anoka County for several years. She now lives in Plymouth with her family.
Laura Bishop has decades of experience in the corporate and public affairs sectors. Her job prior to her appointment as MPCA commissioner was chief sustainability and corporate responsibility officer for Best Buy. While at Best Buy, she helped focus company goals on reducing the impacts of climate change, from recycling 1 billion pounds of electronics to reducing the company’s carbon footprint by 60% by 2020. Bishop and her family live in Eden Prairie.
Jan Malcolm has served as commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health now for three administrations — Walz, Gov. Jesse Ventura (1999-2003) and Gov. Mark Dayton (2018). Prior to rejoining MDH in 2018, Malcolm was an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, where she co-directed a national research and leadership development program.
Tony Lourey, a farmer, grew up near Kerrick and spent most of his adult life as a community leader. He was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2006 and served as chairman of the Health and Human Finance committee from 2013 to 2016. In addition to his senatorial and farming duties, Lourey taught at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and served as a volunteer lawyer for children in the foster care system. He and his wife, Marlana, have three adult children.
Janet Johnson is a long-term career employee of the state of Minnesota in the Bureau of Mediation Services. She also is the first commissioner for a state agency. She joined the bureau in 1976.
Rebecca Lucero has extensive policy, legal and nonprofit leadership experience. Prior to her appointment as commissioner of the Department of Human Rights, Lucero was public policy director at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Her law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School has a focus in employment law.
The Walz-Flanagan transition team received nearly 500 applications to serve as department commissioners. Commissioners have yet to be approved by the Minnesota Senate.