Lilian Schaer, Canada

Perspectives from an Alltech Young Leader

The New Year is a good time to reflect – on the year just passed and on the one that lies ahead. I have some fond memories of 2010, especially those stemming from the IFAJ congress in Belgium as I was fortunate enough to be selected as an Alltech Young Leader Award recipient – and doubly fortunate to have made it to Belgium before a certain volcano brought air travel in Europe to a screeching halt.

Becoming involved in the IFAJ has been a terrific experience for me, one that has evolved almost exclusively from attending the annual congresses. I’ve had the chance to meet and build relationships with fellow journalists from around the globe, which is both as much a valuable career asset as it is just plain fun staying in touch with new friends in the lull between congresses!

As agriculture journalists, we’re all familiar with food and farming in our own countries, but learning about what’s happening in another part of the world helps broaden our understanding of the issues facing the sector. And it sure puts a different perspective on world events when you can send off an email to someone who is living a news story that we’re only reading about or following on television back home.

While at the congress in Ostende, I was struck by the similarities between Belgium and Canada. Both countries have two major language groups who know they should get along for the greater good of the nation, but often struggle with making that a working reality. They also often both find themselves in the shadow of much larger, stronger neighbours and who must work hard to carve out their own niches in the global agricultural landscape while keeping their farmers viable in face of global competition.

But the much greater takeaway I received from my visit to Belgium is the new meaning that Remembrance Day – known as Veteran’s Day in some countries – has for me. I’ve visited Vimy Ridge and a Canadian World War II cemetery in the Netherlands in the past, but this was the first time I’ve ever experienced the iconic Flanders Fields, immortalized by Canadian doctor John McCrae in his epic poem of the same name.

The haunting Last Post ceremony in Ypres, the sea of meticulously kept Commonwealth war graves that mark the final resting place of so many young Canadians and the bombs that continue to turn up to this day as farmers plow their fields are indelibly marked in my memory – and were vividly with me as I observed Remembrance Day this past November 11th. There is perhaps no greater gift we can give the fallen than to remember their sacrifice.

As I look ahead to 2011, it too will be a big year as Canada prepares to host IFAJ members at its first congress in more than 40 years. As co-chair of the 2011 congress, I will be more than a mere participant this year – and I look forward to being part of the team that will welcome all delegates, and in particular the next group of Alltech Young Leaders, to Canada this fall.

Thank you, Alltech and IFAJ, for supporting the Young Leader Program. I’m honoured to have been a part of it.