Our Swedish Melting Pot

My Generation

Day 1 realization: other countries can see farm policy, supply control, banning GMOs and more as right, just as naturally as I do the exact opposite.

Published on: August 14, 2012

Alexis from Canada. Mercedes from Argentina. Nikolai from Australia. Calvin from Zambia. Ciara from Ireland. Lindi from South Africa. Jeri from Slovenia.

This is a slice. Just a slice.

As I sit here in Stockholm at the end of Day 1, I am in awe – truly awestruck – at how different we all are. And yet the same.

Today, we began the day by introducing ourselves. We are two groups of people at the International Ag Journalists Federation, or IFAJ, Congress. I belong with the Young Leaders Boot Camp, which is as it sounds. The other group we are meeting and training with is known as the Master Class – a group of ag journalists from countries who have not had the privilege of the same kind of journalism school we have. They are here to train, to learn.

Gathered round the table, ag journalists from around the world learned a lot more about each other.
Gathered round the table, ag journalists from around the world learned a lot more about each other.

How different are we? I learned this morning that a Zambian farm magazine has started a mobile device for reporting maize prices – this is what you do when you have no Board of Trade, no open pricing structure, and no internet service. I learned that Asians are buying Australian farmland in order to control food supply, and Australians aren't necessarily happy about that. I learned that Gambia's largest farmer is the president, and he can and does require forced farm labor. I also learned that the media is a threat to Gambian government, a fact not necessarily comforting to a Gambian journalist.

I don't often think about freedom of the press, which is the luxury of those who know no different. But I should. Today I also learned that where there's no free press, there's often hunger.

People of different backgrounds have different takes on the world, too. And on the farm. Like GMOs, and who should have them.

Take Sweden and Illinois; Sweden has a fifth of the amount of farmland compared to Illinois, but its farmers make 20% of their income from government subsidies. Sweden is also in the process of enacting more stringent animal welfare guidelines. They will hold their farmers to these – access to natural behaviors, no stalls/crates, no hormones, antibiotics only when sick – but currently import 50% of their beef, and only require imported meat to be hormone and antibiotic free. In other words? They hold their own farmers to a higher regulatory standard, and when the bureaucracy forces them out of business, they import meat raised at lower standards. I would really like to talk to an actual Swedish farmer about this.

But then Lindi of South Africa and I started talking. She was terrifically interested in our Illinois Farm Families program, maybe even in covering it. South Africa, it would seem, is in the same boat we were 15 years ago: no one much cares where their food comes from, nor pays attention to it. I warned her that when we got to that point, it gave the activists and those with agendas the opportunity to feed misinformation (a nice way of saying "lies") to consumers.

And so it is. Lindi from South Africa, Calvin from Zambia. Lots of opinions, definite middle ground. And always, a fabulous opportunity to broaden horizons.

And speaking of horizons, we wound up our day on a dinner cruise through the Stockholm harbor, cruising along the Baltic Sea as the sun set over Stockholm. This is a sentence I did not imagine myself ever writing, and I ask myself, once again, how in the world? Like Shannon said, we're not doin' too bad.