Far-Flung Farm Friends

By Holly Spangler, American Agricultural Editors’ Association president

A lunch with friends. Conversation about farms and food, traveling and working, Broadway and the prairie. A delicious meal, complete with locally-sourced cheddar cheese curds, made by farmer friends. A meal not soon to be forgotten because although the weather on the prairie blew wet and cold outside, the friendship around the table was warm, fanned by a deep love for agriculture and journalism that spans actual continents.

Anna Nilsson (left) and Holly Spangler (right)
Anna Nilsson (left) and Holly Spangler (right)

It all began with my trip to Sweden, as a member of the IFAJ Young Leaders in Ag Journalism Boot Camp. Anna Nilsson was our Swedish contact, and she put together a most excellent “Boot Camp.” Blond and petite, Anna led us through the streets and subways of Stockholm with her umbrella raised high: “Follow!” And we did. Like a lot of Boot Campers, we all became rapid Facebook friends and Twitter followers. We came home and kept in touch.

When I was asked to tell our 4-H club about Sweden, I fired off a quick message to Anna, who promptly supplied me with advice on throwing a “fika” and shared a handful of Swedish recipes   in U.S. measurements! Amen. And just like that, a group of Illinois 4-H kids listened, looked and even tasted a bit of Swedish culture. And I came to appreciate Anna’s love for the traditions of her country.

From bottom left: Camilla Olsson, Holly Spangler, Kenna Rathai and Anna Nilsson met in Bloomington, Illinois, which is in the central part of the state.
From bottom left: Camilla Olsson, Holly Spangler, Kenna Rathai and Anna Nilsson met in Bloomington, Illinois, which is in the central part of the state.

Then Anna and her colleague at Landlantbruk, Camilla Olsson, secured a grant to come to the United States and study agricultural podcasting. Through an endless series of emails, we set up a visit for them at Illinois farms and radio stations in the middle of their trip, and best of all, we were able to meet for lunch one day in central Illinois. AAEA Associate Director Kenna Rathai was able to come, too – all friends from the IFAJ Swedish Congress. We sat and visited and Anna marveled at the people we knew and the contacts we have. “You know everyone!” she laughed. Kenna and I looked at each other and laughed right along with her.

“Well, it’s a pretty small world in U.S. ag journalism,” I said. Of course, to Anna, it seems huge here; our numbers outweigh Sweden’s ag journalists by several times.

I thought a lot as I drove home that day. AAEA makes for a tight family. We do know each other and we know each other well. And thanks to IFAJ, we can extend those friendships around the world. We learn what they observe when they step onto an Illinois farm. We can enrich our opinions and our writing with their experiences, and our shared experiences.

AAEA is one of those organizations where you get just about what you put into it. If you want to volunteer as a committee chair to build your resume, AAEA can do that for you. If you want to meet ag journalists on the other side of the world and strike up a friendship that allows you to start an email chain to learn what’s happening there in agriculture, AAEA can do that for you, too.

If you’ve never considered attending the IFAJ Congress, now is a great time. Registration for the 2014 Congress, to be held in Scotland, just opened March 31. The agricultural tours are a great way to step onto farms and learn about the agriculture of a particular country, and the people you’ll meet are second to none. That, I know.

Check out the Swedes’ blog about their trip.

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