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Austrian Exchange – Kate Johnson

Austrian Exchange – Kate Johnson
Austrian Exchange - Kate Johnson

Where to start, what an incredible journey my Exchange has been. Many new and exciting experiences were made possible, thanks to the Junior Farmers Association of Ontario (JFAO) and my gracious sponsors.
I arrived in Vienna, Austria on July 2nd, a day before my exchange was planned to start, giving me time to tour some of the oldest buildings in the inner district of Vienna. The cities culture, history, and charm characterizes its beauty.

July 3rd, 2018; the official start of my five week exchange in Austria begins. I met up with the other incoming exchangee’s from serval other countries including; Switzerland, England, Northern Ireland, Estonia, Finland and the USA. Over the next two days we toured the city of Vienna and the head office of the Land Jugend. Land Jugend is the official name of Austria’s rural youth organization. This translates to “Country Youth” in English and the organization has about 90,000 members throughout the country, making it the largest youth organization in Austria. The organization also includes the International Farm Youth Exchange program (IFYE) and an agriculture work placement program for students.

July 4th I traveled by train to the town of Wels to meet up with my first host Doris Bieregger. Doris’s family operates a swine and crop farm in the state of Upper Austria. It was very interesting to learn about their swine operation and crop production. I enjoyed several outings with Doris and her family during my stay. We attended an open air concert where the orchestra that Doris plays in was preforming. I attended one of their Land Jugend club events, visited a local spa, and enjoyed a mountain hike. What a wonderful time I had with Doris and her family!

Staying in the Upper Austria area, I was off to my next host Laura Maringer and her family. They lived about one hour from Doris, on a dairy farm about five minutes from the village of Frankenburg. During my two and a half week stay with Laura, I met lots of her family and friends, feeling very welcomed in their home. Laura is planning to take over her family’s Simmental Dairy farm where they milk 36 cows in a double three parlour. The milk price is about 40-45 cent per litre in euros. In Austria, the Simmental breed is a dual purpose animal, used for milk production as well as meat. Mixed cereals and grass silage were their main forage. Alfalfa is not very common in Austria and GMO’s are forbidden. Old farm homes in Upper Austria and a few other areas were very commonly built as a large square building with a large court yard in the centre. The barn and the home would be connected around this courtyard and there would be one entrance that sometimes had a gate. Laura and Doris’s family farms followed this style.

During my stay with Laura, I helped with milking, farm chore’s, as well I had a hand in making Scnapps.  Taste tests were a necessary part of the process, with a :Prost” (Cheers) before each test.  Laura’s father was a firm believer in “a schnapps a day, keeps the doctor away”.   Europe was experiencing a heat wave this summer, which is very unusual for this area.  Many places have no air conditioning,  so we spent many afternoons and evenings at the lake with  Lake Attersee being one of my favourites.   I attended a couple of town fests and Land Jugend events with Laura. To top it all off, we visited the beautiful city of Salzburg and the Augultiner Brau, beer gardens.  I experienced much of Austria’s culture with Laura and her family, and felt truly grateful for the opportunity to stay with them.

After three weeks in Upper Austria, I then traveled four hours south west to the region of Carinthia. Once there, my next host Christina showed me her family’s dairy farm where they milk Fleckvih cows.
These dual purpose animals fair well on the steep slopes at their farm. In Austria, each square meter of land counts, especially when making hay silage.   I spent some time hand raking loose cut grasses from steep slopes down to flatter ground. It was then raked by a hay rake and tractor, which is quite different from home.   We enjoyed a road trip to Hallstatt!  Stopping first at Zotter Chocolate Factory, it was delicious to say the least.  In Hallstatt we visited the oldest salt mine in the world, dating back 1000 years.  Two wooden indoor slides were our mode of transportation from one level of the mine to the next! Needless to say I had a wonderful short 4 days with Christian and her family!

Last but certainly not least, I stayed with the Rieberer family near Neumarkt in Steirmarkt. This was a great family to end my exchange with. They were situated on one of the most beautiful farms I had seen in Austria, milking 48 Brown Swiss cows on a biological/organic dairy farm approximately 1200 meters above sea level. Martina took me on several farm tours, including a biological/organic beef farm, a sheep farm and other dairy farms in her area.   I enjoyed time in the kitchen making Rye bread, schnitzel and helping with meals for the family.   Her Aunt had a pottery studio in which I took part in one of her lessons.   There were many hikes in the mountains to check the sheep fence, listen to the cow bells and take in the breath taking view.  I explored an old battle field and castle in one of the nearby towns, went tree top trekking, and found time for a wee bit of shopping.     I attended a Hen Party (Bachelorette Party) for one of Martina’s cousins, now this was quite an experience! The Rieberer Family was very sweet and I had such a good time staying with them for the last 11 days of my Exchange!
My time in Austria was incredible, definitely a “once in a life time” experience! This opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without JFAO and all of those who have supported me in this adventure.  I will remember it forever and I would like to end with the most sincere thank you!

Thank you so much!
Kate Johnson


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