At first, Darin Johnson wasn’t quite sure what he was signing up for when he agreed late last week to host a presidential candidate at his family farm in Wells.
“We honestly didn’t know what to expect,” Johnson said, “but we’re glad we did this.”
It all seemed to happened in a blur, Johnson says. Last Friday, Mike Bloomberg’s campaign contacted the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association’s (MSGA) office asking to visit with a farmer leader prior to Minnesota’s primary on March 3.
“As an advocacy and membership group, we welcome candidates of any party to come to a farm so our farmer leaders can help inform legislators about the issues our members have,” says MSGA Executive Director Joe Smentek. “When candidates call, we answer.”
By Friday afternoon, Johnson, who serves as MSGA secretary, agreed to host the former New York City mayor on his first Minnesota campaign stop. Within days, Bloomberg’s advance team visited Johnson Farms to begin handling logistics for the visit. On Wednesday afternoon, just five days after MSGA staff called to gauge his interest, Johnson and his family were shaking hands with a presidential hopeful and one of the wealthiest men in America.
“It was kind of surreal,” Johnson says.
On a chilly January afternoon, Bloomberg, trailed by a national press contingent, arrived at the Johnson farm in Faribault County shortly before 2 p.m. Bloomberg visited privately with Darin, his wife, Rachel; their children; his father, Charlie, uncle, Scott; and Johnson Farms employees. Johnson told Bloomberg about the history of his fourth-generation farm. The Johnsons grow soybeans and corn and also have a seed and trucking business.
“Hopefully this becomes a fifth generation farm,” Darin told Bloomberg. “We’re very diversified and like most farms in Minnesota, ours is a family farm.”
The Johnsons gave Bloomberg a brief tour of their operation, then met privately in their farm shop with the business mogul to discuss rural economic policies, including improving rural broadband access, biodiesel, trade issues and expanding health care options.
“I don’t think the average person understands how technologically advanced agriculture is,” Bloomberg said.
After the private conference with Bloomberg, the Johnsons strapped on microphones and further discussed rural policy issues during a roundtable discussion in front of reporters.
“We eat and live based on what you do,” Bloomberg told the Johnsons. “And I think it’s easy for us living in big cities to forget about the rest of the world and it just doesn’t come up because you don’t see them every day.”
Johnson says he appreciated Bloomberg engaging with his family and hoped other farmers join Bloomberg in visiting with farmers throughout the 2020 election season. Just hours after his visit with Bloomberg, Johnson was on the phone with his district legislator, GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn, and invited the congressman to also visit his farm in Wells.
“We enjoyed Mayor Bloomberg’s visit to our family farm. Our family thought the meeting with him went very well; he was very down-to-earth,” Johnson said. “It was a great experience, and we encourage other candidates from both parties – and not just those running for president – to visit more farms throughout the 2020 campaign.”