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Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural:  Jill Zimmerman, KARL program

April 27, 2022

By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University


No, this is not about tasty caramels, it is indeed about camels. Beyond that, it is really about an educational leadership development experience that is helping rural Kansas leaders expand their skills, relationships and global knowledge.

Portrait, jill zimmerman

At right: Jill Zimmerman | Download this photo


Jill Zimmerman is president of the Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership program, or KARL for short. A K-State and KARL program graduate, Jill was an extension agent and later executive director of the Kansas FFA Foundation. She was on the executive team of Eastern Kansas Agri-Energy in Garnett before being named president of the KARL program in 2017.

KARL is a privately-funded, two-year leadership development program for up to 30 individuals across Kansas. The program is headquartered on the campus of Kansas State in Manhattan. It began 33 years ago, under the guidance of the founding board members, the late professor Barry Flinchbaugh, and the program’s first president, Jack Lindquist of Manhattan.

“The purpose of KARL is to take a group of thought leaders who are already committed to their purpose -- be it for agriculture, rural communities, or the general needs of Kansas -- and provide them a learning experience through which they create a bond that allows them to be change-makers,” Zimmerman said.

“Leaders need to be lifelong learners,” she said.

The KARL program provides these learning opportunities through a series of seminars in communities across Kansas. The capstone of year one is a trip to Washington DC and Gettysburg, and the capstone of year two is an international study tour.

Zimmerman is a graduate of KARL class V. The program is now in the process of selecting class XVI. “I met lifelong friends who have been pivotal in my life and career,” she said.

Her KARL class went to Australia and New Zealand. The most recent KARL class went to the United Arab Emirates. “It was a very cool experience,” Zimmerman said.

The UAE is a federation of seven emirates. While the history of Arabic culture is ancient, the UAE as an independent country has only existed since 1971. The nation’s population has achieved a literacy rate of nearly 95 percent (compared to 88 percent in the U.S.). The UAE can claim the world’s tallest building, the deepest pool, and the fastest roller coaster, among other things. Located in a desert, nearly all the country’s food and feed must be imported, and they are interested in sustainability.

As written in the KARL newsletter: “The study tour becomes an extended trip, not necessarily of continued travel, but critical thought in the ways we see our world, our community, our farms and ranches, the way we view economies, food and people and culture – we see things through a different lens.”

According to Zimmerman, “the four pillars of KARL are recruitment, of both board and class members; curriculum, which we seek to continually improve; alumni engagement; and strong financial backing from people who care about the future of agriculture and rural Kansas.”

It’s great to see a program which focuses on rural Kansas. Zimmerman, herself, is from a farm near the rural community of South Haven, population 324 people. Now, that’s rural.

One of the most unusual features of the recent international study tour was their visit to Camelicious, the largest camel dairy in the world. Ten thousand camels are milked daily…I am not making this up.

Compared to traditional cows milk, camel milk has higher antioxidants, is lower in saturated fat, and better for those who are lactose intolerant.

“(International travel) gives us a more expansive view of the world,” Zimmerman said. “The KARL program helps us to become better versions of ourselves.”

For more information, go to www.karlprogram.com.

Camelicious. That name doesn’t refer to caramels, it refers to camels, and the world’s largest camel dairy that was visited by the KARL class. This is one example of an experience that is helping leaders gain global knowledge to bring home to benefit their communities and organizations.

We commend president Jill Zimmerman, her board, and all others involved with the KARL program for making a difference with experiential learning and growth. It’s KARL-licious.

Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.huckboydinstitute.org.


The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves. The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Media Services unit. A photo of Ron Wilson is available at  http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/news/sty/RonWilson.htm.  Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.huckboydinstitute.org.

At a glance

For 33 years, the Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership program has provided a two-year, privately-funded leadership development experience for young leaders in rural Kansas. In addition to educational tours in the state, class members participate in educational tours in Washington DC and overseas.


Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development

Written by

Ron Wilson

Ron Wilson

Ron Wilson | Download this photo


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well‑being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan. For more information, visit www.ksre.ksu.edu. K-State Research and Extension is an equal opportunity provider and employer.