Becky Aikens, Huron County

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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]What is the best way for a person to travel abroad? To meet people in the same age range, from a similar background but from a totally different culture? The Junior Farmers Association of Ontario has a fantastic travel opportunity that can do all of the above! I was chosen to travel to the Republic of Ireland this past summer. There are five main reasons this experience was amazing which include: the enthusiasm of the people who hosted myself; seeing how Macra na Feirme runs compared to Junior Farmers; learning the differences in farming practices; tasting new foods; and playing tourist doing all the sight seeing sites.

Before I even bought my plane ticket, the Macra members were emailing me about travel plans. All of my hosts were so welcoming and made me feel like part of their family by answering every question about farming in the country to local traditions. Several nights my hosts took me out to meet the other members of their local club. They shared their enthusiasm about Macra and farming was infectious. They love their clubs, their activities and competitions, and the friendships that they make.

As a part of Macra, there are members who take part in committees that submit policy changes to the Irish government to ensure that young farmers’ opinions and concerns are heard by their government. It was amazing to see such dedication to making a difference. Local clubs take part in small regional competitions before moving on to the National competitions. They have speaking competitions, sporting competitions, drama performances, and farm skills days. Macra also fundraise for both local and national causes. This year’s awareness project is to raise awareness for mental illness and health among farmers.

As both Associations are involved in farming, I got to learn a lot about the farming practices in Ireland. I got the opportunity to visit several dairy, beef and sheep farms. I learned about government regulations, and about folklore such as keeping a branch of holly in the beef shed to prevent ringworm. I also learned that in order to inherit a family farm you must go to Agricultural College; learning about farm machinery fixing, the best fertilizer applications, and animal health practices. Farming practices are generally comparable to Canadian practices but one interesting difference is that Ireland scrapped the dairy quota system making entering a dairy practice easier for younger farmers.

A different culture offers different foods to be tasted. My favourite foods tasted included blood sausage – a surprisingly spiced meat mixed with flour and yes blood. Another interesting dish was knicker blocker glory – served in a tall glass top layer is ice cream, then a mix of fruits and the bottom layer is orange jello. Every home that hosted in me had amazing moms who cooked amazing meals, and they always made sure you are full!

This travel experience also provided ample time to travel the Irish countryside and tour several castles. My hosts showed me a little bit of everything you could want when traveling. I send rolling green hills with 50 shades of green, and castles and ruins with histories of rebellions that lead to the current freedom of being a Republic. I went on walking tours of towns to learn about Yates and Dublin’s mysteries. I sat in the pub from the movie PS I Love You. I went to a traditional musical festival and learned some traditional folk dancing.

This exchange was the most amazing experience of travel I have ever had. It is hard to describe all the feelings and experiences that I had during these 3 weeks. The people were so welcoming and made me feel right at home. With me on the exchange was a guy from Scotland; I learned not only about Ireland but also about life and farming styles of Scotland as well. Traveling without any one who you know could have been scary but it also made it easy to make new friends. It forced me to get outside my comfort zone in the best possible way. I would highly recommend this exchange to anyone.

I want to thank both JFAO and Macra for awarding me the opportunity of a lifetime. To tour a country with the local people who can show all the best local experiences, learn about another young peoples organization, to share farming knowledge, enjoying new tastes, and seeing a whole country in just 3 weeks.

– Becky Aikens, Huron County[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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