This summer I was one of the fortunate Junior Farmers selected to go on exchange and I have to say as cheesy as it sounds it was definitely the experience of a lifetime! After March Conference when I was selected, I started to prepare for my trip but I have to admit it really didn’t hit me that I was leaving until about 2 weeks before my flight out. My flight was scheduled to leave July 12th and like the procrastinator I am I left my packing until a couple days before, which left me scrambling to get things but thankfully when Sunday finally rolled around I was all ready to go. I arrived at Pearson well before my flight time (5 hours…) since I was nervous about flying as it was my first time and I was heading out alone too. Thankfully though it was an uneventful and incredibly easy experience even though I was a bit nervous! I finally arrived in Birmingham after a connecting flight from Dublin at 7:35 am where I then caught a train to Newtown, Wales. The train ride was fantastic despite it being a rain day as I loved soaking up the English and Welsh countryside views. I arrived in Newtown around noon and after waiting a little while I found a familiar face when Adrian Straathof (Renfrew JF) showed up to pick me up with one of the YFC staff. From there we travelled on winding narrow Welsh roads to High Gate farm which was a barn turned into a holiday resort. There we met all the other exchange delegates, which were from Nova Scotia, USA, North Ireland, Scotland, Finland and Switzerland, along with the YFC exchange program officers and some of the YFC executive. We then spent all day (and most of the evening) getting to know each other. The next day our hosts started arriving throughout the day but Adrian and I were some of the last ones to get picked up. Finally after cramming all our stuff in the back of a little red Jetta we were off to the north of Wales!
Adrian and I parted ways around Porthmadog and I continued farther north with my host county’s organizer Edna and after about a 6 hour drive we reached my host family’s house on the northern island of Anglesey near a town named Gaerwen. Unlike Canada the houses and farms in Wales don’t have addresses unless they are in cities, they have names and the house of my hosts was named Cae’r Wennol. Even though it was about 9:30 at night I met my host family Dafydd and Glesni Foulkes, a young married couple who were involved in the YFC and after brief introductions and a bit of chat I headed to bed as they promised a busy day ahead.
The next day I meet Dafydd’s family and toured the family farm. They farmed around 1000 sheep which they breed and lamb out every spring and around 200-400 young cattle which they aim to fatten up and sell by the fall. This was all done on only 400 acres which was all pasture land that is used for grazing and harvested for hay. The concept of this blew my mind since it was so different from farming back home where pasture seems to be a rare in some places.
After all the farm touring Dafydd and Glesni took me to a BBQ with the local YFC club, Ynys Mon. This was quite the experience since almost everyone was speaking Welsh! In the north of Wales English is the secondary language so everyone tends to speak in Welsh as it’s easier some times. For me it was a bit confusing at times but I didn’t mind since you could get the gist of the conversation by people’s expressions and by the odd English word as not every word has a Welsh version. With all the listening to Welsh I managed to pick up a few word though too!
From here on the days were busy with helping a bit on the farm with haylage and touring around. With several different tour guides over several days I got a taste of Anglesey! I toured a thatch cottage, traditional windmill, bird sanctuary, several castles including Caernafon and Beaumaris, Menai bridge (the most photographed bridge in the world), several beaches and Aber falls in the Snowdon mountains. This kept me busy and gave me lots of great photos and I saw things that regular tourists probably never would.
I thought the first week was crazy but the second week was much more fast paced as this was the week of the Royal Welsh Show! The Royal Welsh is the national agricultural show and is sort of like the Royal here except much bigger and with a lot more sheep!!! We arrived down at the Royal Welsh which is hosted in Builth Wells on Sunday July 19th and met up with the rest of the exchange delegates and all camped out together in the Young Peoples Village. Over the 5 days we had a blast, there was so much to see and do both in town and on the fair grounds. There was plenty of cattle, sheep and horse shows, shearing competitons and YFC competitions to watch during the day so there was generally something to watch at any time of the day. Also there was a vendors market to wander through selling everything and anything from agricultural to household to gifts. I think I managed to wander through almost the entire fair grounds, including the 6 different sheep barns (with more breeds of sheep that I’d ever heard of!). All in all it was a fantastic week with lots of great memories with all the delegates, also I discovered that it’s true that any where you go people love talking to Canadians…
After the chaos of the Royal I went back to Anglesey and took pretty much the entire Friday to recuperate by sleeping in then touring the town with the long name and walking under Menai Bridge.
On my final full day on exchange Dafydd and his parents put me to work helping bring in the sheep and sort them. This was an incredible experience, I’ve never seen so many sheep herded down a road before. It was just like the stereotypical sheep pictures you see of people in the UK herding sheep down hedged roads except on a bigger scale… Even though about 1000 ewes seems like a lot it didn’t take too long to get the sheep sorted back out to pasture. Finally after the sorting was done we went to a final BBQ with the YFC club and had a bonfire after. Despite the difference in BBQ styles it reminded me a lot of our JF BBQs here at home and made me miss home a bit.
On the Sunday my exchange was officially over… It was a bittersweet moment as I had really enjoyed my time with my host family but it was time to head for home as I was starting to miss my own family. However do think what made the goodbye easier was that it isn’t going to be goodbye forever, I think someday I will see my hosts here in Canada and I hope for sure to go back and visit them again any day.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Wales although I do wish I’d had a little more time to see all the sights…. To anyone thinking about exchange all I can say is go for it! Take the time because it’s worth it and exchange will be one of the best things you will experience in your life since you get to learn, see and do so much in a short time. Thanks again to my hosts and everyone who made my trip fantastic! Thanks also to JFAO for the fantastic experience and opportunity and thanks Jen VanderMeulen for organizing and coordinating everything for the exchange.
Meaghan Weber, Waterloo Junior Farmers