PINE ISLAND — “The first day there, I had an ostrich burger.”
Thus began Lauralee Eaton’s lessons in the difference between American and South African agriculture.
A 2018 graduate of Pine Island High School, Eaton spent 12 days traveling to and around the Republic of South Africa, learning about agriculture in the southern Africa nation as a member of the 2019 International Leadership Seminar for State Officers, an annual, international opportunity through the National FFA organization.
The seminar allows FFA state officers — Eaton served as Minnesota’s state reporter — to experience a foreign culture, learn about international agriculture and become more knowledgeable regarding the global marketplace.
That burger aside, Eaton said one of the highlights of her trip was a visit to an ostrich farm. The variety of meats raised by farmers was one of the differences between agriculture in South Africa and what we’re used to seeing in the United States, she said.
“We got to feed them and learn a lot about how they farm ostriches,” Eaton said. “They make money off a lot of different proteins.”
For example, she said, she ate springbok (a type of antelope that is also the national symbol of South Africa) lamb and chicken liver soup.
A freshman at South Dakota State University studying agricultural education, Eaton said she received a sponsorship from the Pine Island FFA alumni, and will be giving a presentation on her trip and what she’s learned. In the meantime, she’ll be assembling some of the video she took and share that with the people back in Pine Island.
Shawn Erickson, the agriculture teacher and FFA sponsor at Pine Island High School, said he’s looking forward to hearing about Eaton’s trip.
“The trips or travel opportunities in the FFA are extremely valuable,” Erickson said. “The agriculture industry is so diverse, and these trips open eyes to worldwide opportunities. Very few FFA members actually go into production agriculture careers. FFA provides a network for young people to make lifelong connections.”
Some of the other agricultural highlights of Eaton’s trip included meeting a man who works in animal insemination who, because modern tools aren’t always available, utilizes unique tools on the job. For example, Eaton said, he used a soccer ball to plug the prostate of a rhinoceros.
The group also visited a corn and soybean farm where the farmer also raises sheep and beef. “They have to be diverse to stay afloat in South Africa,” Eaton said. “They sell their soybeans to Cargill, which I thought was interesting because that’s a Minnesota company.”
The farmer explained how they don’t have drought insurance, and the farmers can occasionally have trouble with plant germination, which is why diversification is so important. “They had 3,500 wool sheep,” she said.
The trip wasn’t all work. Eaton said the group of 83 FFA state officers visited a game preserve and went to the top of Table Mountain, a local landmark in Cape Town.
But the agricultural experience was something she won’t soon forget, Eaton said. For example, South Africa does not have national organizations such as a Farm Bureau or National Farmers Union.
“Their farms are smaller than ours,” she said. “We talked a lot about it’s doing the best with what you have. They get really crafty. Because I want to be an ag teacher, I can share that worldly perspective.”