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Christena Jenkins-Giffen, Scotland Exchange 2024

Christena Jenkins-Giffen, Scotland Exchange 2024
Christena Jenkins-Giffen, Scotland Exchange 2024

Hello, my name is Christena Jenkins-Giffen, a Middlesex Junior Farmer for 5 years, and I have just returned from my 3-week International Exchange trip to Scotland with Junior Farmers. I can not rave enough on what a great experience this has been for me to connect with the Young Farmers in Scotland and to experience travel like a local. The best part of this exchange is all of the new friends I made while staying with hosts and becoming a part of their family.  I was able to see a lot of Scotland having hosts in the East, West and North! And my first host brought me down to the South (we will discuss this more later). Each host was involved in agriculture in some way or form. It was great to learn from them and get to know and be a part of their everyday lives, in addition to exploring their local treasures. 

My first host family was a part of the Crossroads Young Farmers, living just outside of Glasgow, in Kilmarnock. I stayed with Holly Leitch’s parents Louise and Gary and her brothers Tom and Stuart.  My flight arrived at 7am on the Sunday and we wasted no time at all. We started the morning off with a tour of their Jersey farm. They milk roughly 400 Jersey coos with 4 Lely robotic milking machines. Robin, Holly’s Grandpa showed me his impressive fruit tunnel. He had so many different fruits ranging from apple and cherry trees, to raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. He even had peaches and apricots! We enjoyed a lot of strawberries while I was there. Louise and Holly took me to the Coo Shed where we had toasties for lunch and saw the milk vending machines, not something I’ve seen here in Ontario. In the afternoon we travelled to see Culzean Castle & Country Park, which was gorgeous to walk around the grounds and follow some trails. Knowing my address has Ailsa Craig in it, Lousie made sure we could see it through an opening on a trail and got my picture holding the island (the place where granite is mined for curling stones) in the palm of my hand! We also went to the Electric Brae where it’s an optical illusion, it looks like we are going down hill but we are actually uphill! Wow, what a first day in Scotland! Even though it was raining off an on, it didn’t stop us from exploring what Scotland has to offer.

While Staying with the Leitch Family, I had the pleasure of getting to help with the morning chores, with a focus on the Jersey calves. I enjoyed getting a chance to spend time feeding and watering them and taking many pictures of them and their curiosity. Lousie took me to Tesco where she showed me many local products their Jersey milk can be found in store as well as picking up lots of Scottish treats and staple foods. Turns out I really like Haggis and cheesy beans! On their farm they also have solar panels and are working on getting more operating to help cover their electricity needs on the farm. I was able to help with moving calves to a different pasture during my stay which actually went quite smoothly. To round off day two I attended a Junior Handy Craft meeting where I met Jane and her team. They were figuring out how to set up their display for the Royal Highland Show in June.

Day three was Lousie’s birthday! I had the pleasure of making her a gluten free cake, and yes, Betty Crocker is just as good in Scotland as it is in Canada! I added their homemade raspberry jam to the middle and topped it with fresh raspberries out of their fruit tunnel. It was delicious.  We also enjoyed their tradition of top hats (Marshmallows in chocolate). I went with Louise and Gary to explore the Dumfries House; both the garden and house interior were gorgeous and well worth the visit.  We were not allowed to take pictures inside unfortunately, but there was a lot of Chippendale furniture, a wealth of history. After the tour, we came back to their farm where I got to leave my mark in the fresh cement they poured in the barn and bottle feed a newborn Jersey calf. We also checked out a neighbouring field of corn (which is not as common in Scotland as Canada) which utilized plastic to warm the soil. I also went with Holly to an organizing meeting for their Young Farmer’s club concert coming up in November.

On Day four, Holly and I travelled to the largest windfarm in the UK and walked along part of the trail in the morning. Then we stopped by her workplace and she showed me her optometry equipment. I tried the ploughman’s sandwich at lunch which was cheese and chutney which was surprising tasty. She also showed me the famous Friday night hammer (which is a hammer with a bottle opener on the other end)! We made our way to Glasgow and we stopped at the University she attended and checked out her old watering hole (the Ark). We toured the Museum of Modern Art and found Argyle Street! We wrapped the day off with the Young Farmer’s male Tug of War practice which was impressive.

Day five was a particularly special day for me. Lousie and Gary took me on a two-hour drive to Langholm to visit Skipper’s Bridge. This bridge was built by one of my ancestors back in the 1700s and is still a well used bridge today. It was beautiful, we walked down to the river and tried skipping rocks (Gary got a few to work). I left a felted poppy my parents made to leave in remembrance. We also took a stroll through the cemetery on a hunt for my heritage and left another poppy by one of the graves. We didn’t find the exact grave stone I was looking for but found some potential relatives to add to our ancestry research. It was a great experience taking it all in and connecting with my roots. Truly an unforgettable experience! Along the way, we stopped at another Jersey Farm and learned about their practices and how they differ from the Leitch Family Farm.

Day six I said goodbye to the Leitch family and headed for Edinburgh to meet my next host family. I had such an amazing 1st week in a Scotland and made great friendships! It was incredible the number of connections I made and things I was able to do all within a week. And to think I still had two more weeks to explore and dive into Scotland’s culture still. Remember, this could be you! Take the opportunity to go on an International Exchange with the Junior Farmers Association of Ontario, you won’t regret going on this unique experience. I know I will cherish this time for a lifetime. Stay tuned to hear how week two in Scotland went in this 3 part blog post.


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