Going Full Circle: Overcoming Assumptions In the Land Down Under

Written by Diane Meyer, Animal Science Senior

“The best thing you can do is to completely embrace the culture. Try new things and don’t be afraid to branch out of your comfort zone.” This piece of advice from the orientation leader seemed cliché and obvious to myself and the other 58 American interns sitting in a conference room on our first day in Australia. We were already traveling abroad on our own to work with people we had yet to meet. Wasn’t that considered branching out of our comfort zones? Of course we would have to embrace the culture; there wasn’t another option unless we intended to live under a rock. However, I soon discovered there was wisdom behind that statement.

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Assumptions

My thoughts before arriving in Australia were entirely focused on my internship. At that point, this was something I was doing primarily to help build up my resume. I kept hearing how great this internship would look on paper, so that was the only long-term benefit I expected. Now, after two months of working and traveling, the industry skills I gained are not nearly as important as the new mindsets, connections and friendships I made.

IMG_0226This trip taught me so much about how to be comfortable in new and unknown surroundings. From the moment I saw the green, tropical Queensland coast emerge into the Boeing 747 window, I knew all of my predictions were entirely…wrong. Or at least very different from what I imagined. In this case, different and wrong seemed like the exact same thing, because it meant that none of my presumptions were true. That scared me, and I was immediately filled with self-doubt; maybe I wasn’t ready for this. However, as the days played out, I noticed along with the countless differences between America and Australia, there were also countless similarities. After some self-reflection, I identified the differences and ‘foreign’ material first when I was faced with unfamiliar circumstances (which was happening on a daily basis). After I adjusted more to the Australian life-style, I easily drew parallels between life down under and life in the States. I didn’t know why I subconsciously chose to acknowledge differences before similarities; I assume it was because differences evoke a sense of fear, which your body will naturally respond to before anything else. But if I dealt with the similarities before or even at the same time, it would have made me much more comfortable from the beginning. Learning to initially look at similarities gave me the confidence to keep traveling and trying new things. It also enabled me to identify similarities in various aspects of the Australian lifestyle, especially in agriculture.

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In Australia, I was interning at a free-range pig farm, where I expected to learn about farming systems that were very different from those in America. Once again, I assumed wrong, and after just two days of work, realized Australian and American agricultural practices are very similar. Production animal welfare, management and processing techniques were essentially the same, other than the fact that our production numbers are much higher. The most important similarity I noted is American and Australian agriculturists are facing the same issues. Problems such as public misconception, the generation gap and animal welfare concern are just as controversial there as they are here, and the debates on how to resolve these topics are also the same. Suddenly the term “globalizing” took on a whole new meaning to me. People are not just connecting and communicating on a global scale, but facing the same dilemmas. There I was, on the other side of the world, witnessing controversies I believed to only exist in California and the US.

Diane's host family on their farm.
Diane’s host family on their farm.

I empathized with the stress and frustration of Australian farmers, and particularly those of my host family, who own and operate the farm I interned at. This made me feel connected to them in a way I never could have predicted.

Agriculture Family

I interned at Sunnyville Free Range Pastured Pigs, a small, family-run company dedicated to providing free-range pork to the local community. Sunnyville is the first farm of its kind to market free-range pork in the area, but even before its first year of business was up, Sunnyville was facing a court case to have it permanently shut down. A few neighboring landowners did not like the idea of living next to a pig farm, despite living in a dominantly rural area. They took the issue to court, and within the next couple of weeks, Sunnyville’s fate will be decided. The court ordered owners Shane and John Beattie to hire experts to come out and evaluate the farm. These included an odor evaluation firm, a soil erosion expert, a city planning commissioner and an expert in free-range pig farming. During the final week of my internship, all of the different experts met to assess Sunnyville. After suggesting a few minor adjustments, all of the experts concluded Sunnyville was operating with full legality and the opposition did not have a strong foundation to force Sunnyville out of business. is came to no surprise to me, or anyone for that matter, because it was clear there wasn’t a valid reason for wanting Sunnyville to shut down.

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Sunnyville’s struggles are so similar to farms back home and I connected with the Beattie family so well because I understand what they are going through. The Beattie’s are working tirelessly to provide an honest and healthy product for their community, but because of a few individuals, they are being denied that opportunity. Not only is this bad for their local community, its bad for the agriculture community as a whole.

The Great Debate

Every day, small family farms are forced out of business because they do not have enough support to compete against bigger, corporate farms. But at the end of the day, the issue isn’t small vs. large, organic vs. conventional, or free-range vs. caged. The issue is about protecting all farmers from misunderstanding and lack of respect. Worldwide, farmers are facing opposition because people don’t understand agricultural practices. But most importantly, people don’t appreciate agriculture. It is crucial the agriculture community bands together, regardless of what sector you’re in. At the end of the day, the various markets are all interdependent and issues affecting certain groups will eventually affect everyone. I went to Australia hoping to help myself, but I left wanting to help the Beattie’s and all of the other families just like them. The most important similarity and lesson I discovered on my trip is the agriculture community’s shared passion and concern for the future of agriculture.

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Passion is what unites and keeps agriculture moving forward. That innate drive every farmer possesses to keep going when times are tough is why the agriculture community is so unique and diligent. We have the ability to deeply inspire those around us, even the people who do not work directly in agriculture. Everyone can appreciate someone with a strong work ethic and genuine morals. Nothing was more rewarding to me as an intern than to work for a family who truly believes in what they do. It was extremely motivating because I knew my work was appreciated. I am so grateful for my entire internship experience in Australia because it made me appreciate just how special agriculture is.

Agriculture Pride

IMG_0175You should be proud to be a farmer. You should be proud to know a farmer. Without farmers there is no I, you, they or we. Farmers are responsible for keeping the whole world nourished and healthy. As actress Cameron Diaz explains in her book, The Body Book, “…most of your life revolves around getting food…everything you know and have learned comes back to the most central thing in our lives: food. And we all have the same singular life goal: to find something to eat.” The world needs farmers to keep everything running. Sometimes the future seems bleak for agriculture, and often times it is because one person is trying to ruin things for everyone else. But it also only takes one person to inspire progress.

Traveling, whether for work, school, or leisure is a learning opportunity unlike any other. It forces you to break out of your shell and acknowledge your personal biases, strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, how the experience will impact you is entirely your responsibility. Simple things like embracing new ideas, finding connections and putting yourself out there for other people to get to know you really is the difference between just a trip and the experience of a lifetime.


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