Nominated by Aitkin County Developmental Achievement Center (DAC), Mille Lacs Wild Rice Corporation was named an outstanding disability employer by the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR), during National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October.

“We applaud organizations in Minnesota that employ individuals with disabilities,” said Julie Johnson, president of MOHR. “They are pillars of the community who recognize the value of this largely untapped workforce.” MOHR represents more than 100 disability service providers across the state.

“Mille Lacs Wild Rice embodies a work environment of acceptance and appreciation,” said Tammy Jo Johnson, executive director of Aitkin County DAC. “All staff who work there are treated equally.” The nearly 100-year-old business has a crew of six supported by the DAC.

The group fills and weighs rice sacks, packs cases, labels items by hand and with equipment, heat seals, sorts and stacks product. They also assemble display cases with rice box contents and handle cleaning duties, Johnson explained.

Aitkin County DAC provides a job coach for the crew who has taught members to be dedicated, focused and proud of the work, Johnson said. There is fun and competition in the work day to exceed packaging goals. The supportive nonprofit also handles transportation for the crew.

Johnson said Mille Lacs Wild Rice staff and owners are in regular contact with team members to promote learning and verbalize their appreciation for them. They also hold employees accountable and teach fair work ethics, she said. The enclave team from the DAC is included in staff functions and trainings. They receive company clothing and, of course, free wild rice.

Communication between the company and the DAC is open and supportive, said Johnson. There’s creativity and a willingness to look for opportunities to employ more people with disabilities.

“They are very humble and appreciative of the enclave crew that has run their entire packaging department since January 2017,” said Johnson.

Joe Ratuski, CEO of Mille Lacs Wild Rice, commented after the award ceremony that his busiess would not be as successful as it is without the reliable employees on the DAC crew. When asked what specifically he appreciates about the team, Ratuski said, “Reliability, the fact that they are happy to be at work and their excitement about improving their own job performance is contagious in the plant.”

Enclave crew member Thomas Miller said, “I love wild rice and I love my job. I pack bags, pack cases and put on labels. I make sure they look good.”

Mille Lacs Wild Rice recently shared its experience with the University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration. Aitkin County DAC is one of several providers participating in the two-year Minnesota Technical Assistance program which promotes community-integrated work for people with disabilities.

Johnson presented the award during a celebratory party at the new DACWORKS building in Aitkin.

Representative Dale Lueck, Aitkin, attended the ceremony. Lueck had this to say:

“This award is well deserved. Mille Lacs Wild Rice makes a huge contribution to the community. They are giving DAC clients the opportunity to reach their full potential in a rewarding job. It’s nice to see that recognized.”

Tammy Jo Johnson, Aitkin County DAC executive director, can be contacted at 218-768-4031.

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