WORDS : EMMA ROOKER
Early this year, the Oregon FFA State Officer team embarked on an international adventure. As part of that team, and serving as the State Vice President for 2017-18, my life became a whirlwind of travel and constant learning. I jumped at the chance of international travel, trading in my blue Oregon FFA jacket and heels for my passport and a totally different agricultural experience: the ILSSO, International Leadership Seminar for State Officers.
I joined a group of seventy-five state officers from across the U.S. on an eighteen-hour flight from Washington D.C. to Johannesburg, South Africa. Our first day began at 6:30 a.m. at a local farmer’s market. Except for the fragrance of unfamiliar flowers, spices, and exotic blend of multiple languages, one might have mistaken it for an Oregon farmer’s market. Complete with dogs, bikes, and families with children, the sound of conversations between friendly farmers and hungry customers filled the air. For first half of our trip, we continued those conversations, and explored a goat farm, embryo transfer facility, and farms for bananas, macadamia nuts and avocados. We even managed to find some John Deere machinery.
Our visit to the African Leadership Academy (ALA) was one of the most impactful. Built upon six core values of curiosity, diversity, intelligence, excellence, humility and passion, the ALA is working to develop ethical and entrepreneurial young leaders who will address Africa’s greatest challenges. Everything they do flows from these values. We learned that the average age of an African is 18-19, and 70 percent of the African population is under 30. Like FFA, ALA, focuses on young people and their success as leaders, entrepreneurs, and job creators. Housing students from all walks of life and all parts of Africa, ALA makes an exponential impact in the lives of young Africans.
Next, we traveled to Cape Town, the bustling, multi-cultural crown jewel of South Africa. Table Mountain towers in the distance. Beyond the city’s eccentric architecture and colorful streets, farmland stretches for miles. Originally dubbed the “Cape of Storms,” they desperately wait for the perfect storm. Drought currently threatens farmland throughout the Southern Cape and, by extension, is detrimental to income, job creation, imports and exports.
As our group toured the orchards, we observed sunburnt apples and reduced fruit size, due to restricted water allocation. However, none of these challenges were a match for the resilience and grit of the agriculturists themselves. Farmers may be cut from a special type of cloth, and you can still find them in any part of the world, building their lives upon the audacity to try “one more time.” They told us that, “When there is rain in South Africa, there is hope.” While that is quite true, I think it’s also true that where there are farmers, anywhere, there is hope as well.
Why would Future Farmers of America travel to South Africa? How would an international trip serve our members and Oregon agriculture as a whole? As FFA members and agriculturalists, we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. While on a different continent, we easily drew lines that run parallel to the American agricultural industry we know and love. This year, my teammates and I enjoyed a unique position as we traveled the state, enjoying access to a unique sphere of influence.
Much of who we are is where we’ve been. My team will continue to share our experiences with hopes of impacting the next generation. Though it was bittersweet to wish the rainbow nation goodbye, we were eager to return home to share our experiences. Inspired by the undying faith we saw in the midst of drought on the Southern Cape, I and hope to inspire others to match their determination in promoting an industry that feeds us all