Upsala graduate sees farming in the southern hemisphere
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
It was the supportive atmosphere and confidence-building that drew 2012 Upsala graduate Marjorie Schleper to the National FFA Organization (formerly known as Future Farmers of America.)
While still in elementary school, Schleper was allowed to tag along when her mom, Upsala FFA adviser Gretchen Schleper, went to meetings and events.
“I noticed shy new members and watched them grow into confident people,” said Schleper. “I wanted that too — the family-type supportive atmosphere.”
Once Schleper was able to join FFA herself, she knew that whether she failed or succeeded, her “fellow members were going to be there to help me try again,” she said. “It was a place I truly felt I belonged.”
FFA is still an organization dedicated to agricultural education.
“But agriculture is so much broader than the traditional production agriculture that people usually think of,” said Schleper. “It’s more than only farming.”
She participated in many career development events, which included competitions by region, followed by state and national conventions.
Schleper was elected Minnesota state FFA vice president in April 2012. She received her American Degree in Louisville, Ky. in October 2012, the highest award that can be earned by FFA members.
One of the opportunities open to current and just-past state officers is a annual foreign agricultural trip which alternates between China and Argentina. Schleper and the other five Minnesota officers went to Argentina in January as part of the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers.
“The whole trip centered around what Argentinian agriculture looks like,” she said. “We visited four farms and an export terminal, saw the cities of Rosario and Buenos Aires and went to Iguazu Falls, a waterfall which is one of the new seven natural wonders of the world.”
Group members included 71 FFA members and five chaperones. They had an orientation in Miami before flying to Buenos Aires.
“We learned about travel in a foreign country and about our mission, about cultural stereotypes,” Schleper said. “We found out that two-thirds of the Argentinian population lives in three major cities.”
Schleper found that the hospitality of farmers there is similar to the way any Midwest farmer would welcome visitors.
“They had such pride in what they’d built up, what they were going to pass on to the generations who come after them,” she said. “They also had similar crops of corn and soybeans.”
The biggest difference from Schleper’s point of view was the climate.
“They can grow just about anything just about any time of year,” she said. “They had corn in the ground which was five to six days past emergence, corn that was waist-high and corn that was tasseling — and they expected the same great yield from all three crops.”
There are only 20 days of frost each year on average, with no killing frosts.
The Argentinian farmers use rotational grazing with their cattle, moving beef cattle to a new pasture every day, and moving dairy cows every two hours or so.
The students visited a beef and crop farm, a sheep farm, a dairy farm and a gaucho ranch.
Argentinian cowboys are referred to as “gauchos.” The group ate traditional gaucho-style barbecue foods and watched a display of riding skills and horsemanship. They were then able to go for a short horseback ride.
“I am a horse person and this was especially exciting for me,” Schleper said. “Their tack and riding style is very different from ours, but the gauchos’ personalities closely resembled those of cowboys in the United States. They were very attuned to their horses and were great riders. They were very respectful, but also very flamboyant — always trying to one-up each other.”
The group also travelled to an international export terminal on the Paraná River.
“Products are shipped all over the world in huge cargo ships, with the majority going to China, Germany and other European countries,” she said. “It was an impressive facility.”
Travelling with students from all over the United States added another dimension to the experience.
“People from Florida asked different questions that I would not have thought to ask,” Schleper said. “And I learned more about United States agriculture by talking with everyone else. Anywhere I looked I was learning something new.”
Schleper is currently attending the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, majoring in animal science (pre-veterinary medicine) and agricultural education.
While observing the families at the farms and ranches she visited in Argentina, Schleper realized that “people anywhere are like people everywhere.”
“I had an idea that someone from a foreign country would be ‘different’ but it just really clicked,” she said. “It was a really powerful realization — that our language might be different and we come from different cultures, but deep down we’re really all the same.”
Schleper saw that farmers everywhere are just trying to grow a good product. “We’re all in this together,” she said.