A lunch with friends. Conversation about farms and food, traveling and working, Broadway and the prairie. A delicious meal at DeStihl, complete with locally-sourced cheddar cheese curds, made by farmer friends at Ropp Jersey Cheese. A meal not soon to be forgotten because although the weather on the prairie blew wet and cold outside, the friendship around the table was warm, fanned by a deep love for agriculture and journalism that spans actual continents.
It all began with my trip to Sweden, as a member of the IFAJ Young Leaders in Ag Journalism Boot Camp. Anna Nilsson was our Swedish contact, and she put together a most excellent boot camp. Blond and petite, Anna led us through the streets and subways of Stockholm with her umbrella raised high: "Follow me!" And we did. Like a lot of Boot Campers, we all became rapid Facebook fans and Twitter followers. We came home and kept in touch.
When I was asked to tell our 4-H club about Sweden this winter, I fired off a quick message to Anna, who promptly supplied me with advice on throwing a "fika" and shared a handful of Swedish recipes - in U.S. measurements! Amen. And just like that, a group of Illinois 4-H kids listened, looked and even tasted a bit of Swedish culture. And I came to appreciate Anna's love for the traditions of her country even more.
Then Anna and her colleague at Landlantbruk, Camilla Olsson, secured a grant to come to the U.S. and study agricultural podcasting. Through an endless series of emails, we set up a visit for her at Illinois farms and radio stations, and best of all, we were able to meet for lunch one day in Bloomington. Kenna Rathai was able to come, too - all friends from the IFAJ Swedish Congress. We sat and visited and talked agriculture.
Anna and Camilla, as it turns out, are pioneers in Swedish ag broadcasting. They don't have the rich heritage of farm broadcasting like we do, so Anna and Camilla are creating podcasts ("poddresan") to share agricultural information and stories. They're also blogging this trip. We hooked them up with visits at the Illinois Farm Bureau RFD studios, plus a visit with the Larson/Martz farms near Maple Park. From Illinois, they were headed to Kansas (including a visit with the Peterson Farm Brothers), then to Iowa and finally back to New York City for a final few days.
"Everything is much bigger here in America," Anna observed. "The fields, machinery, the herd of livestock. It is impressive from a business point of view and very effective." She and Camilla rented a car after they arrived in Bloomington for their farm visits and one thing surprised them: the trucks. "The trucks!" she exclaimed, referring to the many semis on the interstate. "We don't have the trucks in Sweden! They are right there - right next to you!"
She noted further differences, particularly in livestock.
"The tails on pigs and sometimes cattle are cut off to prevent production losses, is something that is forbidden in Sweden. Also, we don't do hormone treatment and GM crops are not allowed to do or grow."
I was heartened – and a little surprised – to hear how friendly we are. "Everybody that we have met are very friendly to us and take time to explain and show us how things are run here," Anna says.
We talked a lot that day, too, about the Illinois Farm Families program and USFRA, and the two American farm documentaries that are coming out. Anna and Camilla were both impressed by the U.S. efforts to reach out to consumers, something I recall our South African colleague to have been interested in during our Boot Camp as well.
Anna's observation: "We feel that farmers are very proud of their production and that farmers have a high status here. The work of including the public and showing how the agriculture works is something that you are far ahead in the U.S. compared to Sweden and that is inspiring to us."