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New Leaders Council

How NLC Acted as a Spark for One Progressive Wisconsin Farmer

Chad Chriestenson, a member of NLC-Madison’s 2015 class of fellows, looks and sounds like a progressive Wisconsin farmer with a side of hipster. Well, the easy explanation for this is that he is a progressive Wisconsin farmer with a side of hipster. Of all the 2015 NLC-Madison fellows, Chad has likely experienced the most immediate personal and professional changes as a result of being an NLC fellow. We asked Chad a few questions about his NLC experience.

 

Chad Chriestenson, a member of NLC-Madison’s 2015 class of fellows, looks and sounds like a progressive Wisconsin farmer with a side of hipster. Well, the easy explanation for this is that he is a progressive Wisconsin farmer with a side of hipster. Of all the 2015 NLC-Madison fellows, Chad has likely experienced the most immediate personal and professional changes as a result of being an NLC fellow. We asked Chad a few questions about his NLC experience: 

You’ve previously said your life was "primed for change," but you just needed a kick-start to make it happen. How has NLC been that spark? 

For years after high school, I spent my time wandering, searching & seeking out new & exciting experiences. The more I saw and did, the unviable paths I ruled out. By the time I turned 30, I had developed a couple fundamental tenets that guided my life as I moved forward:

  1. Food is fundamental to physical human existence on a daily timescale. Good agriculture is fundamental to human existence on long-term timescales. Good food, a product of good agriculture, serves as a wonderful conduit for conviviality and the stories that remind us we're human and have an obligation to treat ourselves and others as we want to be treated. Good drink, another product of good agriculture, is the social lubricant that allows these stories to capture our imaginations and begin changing our lives. We need all of this.

  2. Spirituality is fundamental to the existence of the human intellect. It is also intensely personal and should be kept private.

  3. The crafts of the hand are becoming rare. A society that is too cerebral lacks a solid foundation and runs the risk of collapsing in on itself. We need more craftsmen and craftswomen.

  4. Talking accomplishes nothing. To achieve, one must act. The difference between the words reaction and creation is the placement of one letter. But, it is the difference between looking backward and looking forward. We need men & women who are creating the world they want to see.

  5. Pride is disappearing (especially from rural America) and passion is following close in its footsteps. The simplest way to change this is to involve ourselves in things about which we are passionate and in which we can take pride.

 

I also realized I wanted a family of my own. At this point, I was finally at a place where I was ready to commit to a person, a place and a way of living. I had been laying the necessary groundwork for about a year when my NLC fellowship started. It served as a wonderful catalyst and put me exactly where I needed to be. During the course of the fellowship, I left a job that was not going well, bought a house with my partner and began the slow and tedious process of raising the investment necessary to start by own business (a distillery) in a small town west of Madison.

 

What was your favorite weekend of the 2015 Institute?

That is a difficult question to answer. I took something really valuable from every one of them. In fact, I have dozens of pages of notes and handouts filed away next to my desk. Some of them I have accessed repeatedly during the development of my business plan and pitch to investors. Others, less so. But, all of them have been vital to my progress. If I were really forced to narrow it down, I would say it's a tie between Life Entrepreneurship with John Brougher and Communications with Mike Moschella. I found those two teachers to be amazing and the content they taught to be extremely valuable.

 

How have the other components of NLC—the mentorship pairing, the capstone project, and the fellows’ fundraiser—helped you become a new leader?

They have been incredibly valuable. My mentor is Mark Bakken. He is a great person, a great business mind and a great leader. I went into our first meeting with what I thought was a nearly finished business plan. An hour and a half (and 5 pages of notes) later, that business plan took a new and much better form.

The capstone project ended up being valuable to me in a very surprising way. I'm a pretty independent person. In recent years, I have been in management positions at most of the places I've worked (small businesses) and am used to making a lot of decisions by myself. So, I came to the capstone not accustomed to working in a team (I've never been employed in the corporate world or anything that resembles it). The teamwork component was really valuable. The project was great in this regard.

The fundraiser taught me to ask people for money. That's not something at which I excel. It also taught me to deal with rejection. A family member told me that NLC was not helping the country move in the direction God wanted it to go.

I have been putting the combination of skills learned from the communication and fundraising weekends and the experiences from the fundraiser itself together to ask people to invest in my business.

 

You’re now a member of NLC-Madison’s board and a Co-Chair of the Selections Committee. What advice do you have for all the young political entrepreneurs out there thinking about applying for NLC-Madison’s 2016 class of fellows? 

Do it! When former governor Jim Doyle spoke with us this spring, he made a point of reiterating that young people need to get involved at the local level. Our generation, the Millennials, are underrepresented at every level of government. Obviously this is due, in part, to our youth. But, that's only a partial excuse. Governor Doyle's point is that the level of politics that has the most profound and obvious impact on our daily lives is the local level.

Those involved in the village in which I live and the surrounding township are predominantly white males and have an average age of about 50. A group of us that organized around a public comment meeting about letting Dollar General build a store on the edge of town (they were denied the zoning variance) are now looking forward to spring elections and appointments. We are determined to make sure our generation of business owners and community members are represented in local government.

While anyone can get involved, the knowledge and set of skills provided by the NLC fellowship provide a competitive advantage that cannot be easily learned on one's own. These same skills can be applied to starting a business of any type, in any place. Ghandi is credited with saying that we should strive to be the change we want to see in the world. There is no better way to do this than to live our values as entrepreneurs while also ensuring others in our community have the opportunity to do so through involvement in local politics.

 

Sorry, man, but we have to ask: When will we be able to buy your goods and do NLC folks get a discount?!

The distilling industry is heavily regulated at every level. I've worked my way through the zoning process. The next set of permitting is at the federal level. To get this, I have to have a bank account with enough money in it to purchase all the equipment necessary to start distilling. I don't yet have that kind of capital. I've got a business plan, income statements, cash flow projections, production schedules, etc. built out. I'm putting in every penny I can afford (and then some), but need to find the rest of the money to get the permitting process moving forward in the very near future. The full permitting process can take anywhere from 6 months to 1 year, so once that is under way, I'll have plenty of time to track down the rest of the money. The current goal is to open the doors sometime during late summer of 2016. However, any number of hiccups in the application/investment process could push this back a month or two (or more). Once the doors are open, I will happily offer a discount to NLC members on bottles purchased at the distillery.

Note: If you would like more information about investing in the distillery, please feel free to contact me: chad.chriestenson@gmail.com

 
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