NOTE: The AAEA is the American Agricultural Editors Association. I wrote this for their newsletter. Anyway, here’s how I see life….
Combining My Passions
By Janice Person
Travel. Photography. Writing. Diverse cultures. These are my great passions. I knew this by the time I was able to get a driver’s license. I didn’t pick up my passion for agriculture until my first on-farm interview in graduate school. But it certainly has stuck with me since.
My passions for writing and photography led me to study journalism. They also help me get even more joy from some of my other passions because I get to share them with friends and family through pictures and stories. While I have had great experiences in the United States, the upcoming Ag Media Summit and International Federation of Agricultural Journalists Congress led me to remember my adventures and interactions with farmers around the world.
The first major opportunity for me to combine all my passions was a trip to Japan while my sister lived there. I was the typical cash-poor agency newbie, but knowing I had a place to stay, I wanted to take a two-week trip.
In need of a way to pay for the trip, I contacted a friend about freelancing for an American magazine for rice farmers. I then contacted the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., to connect with a major co-op. The co-op invited us to the countryside to see rice transplanting under way and to meet a couple of incredible farmers. Differences between the countries were shocking to a first-time visitor but the commitment to the earth and food supply was so familiar.
The scenario has played out time and time again:
– A college friend lived in Italy, so I was destined to visit. Little did I know she lived at the foothills of the Apennines surrounded by orchards and vineyards.
– In Turkey, I learned about olives, figs and apricots. And I saw my favorite crop, cotton, in a new light. I did some freelance writing about a buyer at a major textile mill and his use of U.S. cotton.
– Loving tulips and having a chance to visit a colleague in Amsterdam, my sister and I toured the world’s largest flower distribution center. Talking with a team there on how to maintain freshness for the market struck a chord with me.
– College friends from Malaysia introduced me to dragonfruit on their farm. I’ve looked for it in many international markets since, but haven’t found it. (Please call me if you have!)
In all of these cases, I was taking a personal vacation. I did the mainstream tourist things like seeing the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, Michaelangelo’s David in Florence, Biblical locations of Ephesus and Antioch in Turkey, Anne Frank’s house in the Netherlands, and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Most of these are probably listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. I’d HIGHLY recommend them.
But my trips have been enriched by connecting with a few people in agriculture and indulging an interest to see something off the beaten path.
I try to return the favor for people visiting the United States as well . . .
– I volunteered to accompany a group from the Greek cotton industry throughout the Mid-South and then went to Lubbock, Texas, to a fiber testing center with them as a bonus!
– I’ve visited with hundreds of participants in the International Cotton Institute about how we do things in the U.S. cotton business. They’ve come from Indonesia, France, Colombia, and everywhere else that uses or grows cotton. With several, I found myself offering up weekend hours to show them a bit more.
– I took an Australian cotton consultant to see B.B. King perform live in King’s hometown of Indianola, Miss. Having grown up picking cotton, King immediately put the day’s weather in terms every farmer could appreciate – heat was what the crop needed so we could suffer through it!
These connections and the unique experiences they brought me have provided a richness to my travel that few city folks can appreciate. But more and more, these are the stories and images I find that define my trips. And I find sharing those experiences with my friends and family provides great learning opportunities for us all.
By the time we all get back in cars or planes and head home in August after the Ag Media Summit, we all will have had several opportunities to create great connections, learn a bit and help others understand U.S. agriculture. All that, and I will be representing my company at the same time? No wonder I’m so passionate about my work!