Deutschland has treated me incredibly well so far… and it’s certainly time to get up to speed. After Heidelberg , our group of “America’s top agriculture editors,” as the German Agriculture Society described us, toured the John Deere factories in Mannheim with our awesome JD hosts Barry Nelson and Kelly Schwalbe (And when I say awesome, I mean awesome!) I’ve never seen the inner workings of vast factories with thousands of assembly lines, so I really enjoyed getting to see how it all works. The next day we went out to get our hands dirty… well, not so much dirty… but a little wet! We toured a BASF arable farm, a vegetable farm and an authentic German winery on gray, drizzly day. I must admit, before this trip, I didn’t realize how spirited and good-natured the Germans are. Both farmers we met with, Albert Woll and Walter Schmitt, were all smiles and laughter during our visits, eager to share their work with us and proud of their life’s pursuits. At the vegetable farm we got to see how salad was processed and packaged. Before now, I had never given much thought to how salad gets from the farm and to being sealed fresh in nice plastic package in my grocery cart. I watched green corn salad, or lamb’s lettuce, wind up and down and around all throughout Walter’s barn first getting dumped in troughs of water, then being shaken dry and finally being hand-packed into consumer friendly packages by dozens of Polish workers to be shipped out fresh daily. The Polish are like America’s Hispanic workers. They come in and do the labor intensive work that locals wouldn’t give a second thought to taking up. Germany, however, has a more controlled system than America. The Polish are able to get work visas for two months and then they must return to Poland. Walter pays the Polish 5 euros an hour and the pay includes health insurance, lodging and food. It seems the Germans are a bit more reasonable than the Americans when it comes to working immigrants. By then, the our entire ag journalist crew had learned about my plans to stay and couchsurf my way through Europe after the JD experience. They all began urging me to apply for a position on the salad line…. free lodging, food and health insurance! Hahaha… not a bad idea really. ; )
I really got a lot a grief from the group about my couchsurfing… they were either telling me how dangerous it could be… or they were walking up to random strangers at the bar asking them if they could spare a couch! Especially, our very own charmingly, classy Mary Doss and our cleverly below-the-radar Laurie Potter. It was all in good fun though… I couldn’t possibly describe how dynamic and interesting our group was. Everyone was so easy-going, outgoing, and an absolute pleasure to travel with. Something that’s not so typical with group travel! JD bigshots Mary and Terri Reinartz mothered me in the best, most comforting way. Jim Patrico with Progressive Farmer was like the protective uncle you eagerly look forward to seeing at family get-togethers. Laurie was a sisterly confidant. Greg Lamp with the Corn and Soybean digest was the mischievous, yet ultimately good-hearted troublemaker. Jay Whetter with FBC publishing, Canada’s largest agricultural publishing group, was like the older, accomplished brother whom you looked up to as a role model. Really, he’s one to watch… even the U.S. government thinks so! But, that’s for Jay to talk about, not me. Dan Crummet with Farm Progress was the sharp-tongued, funny man that kept us rolling our eyes and cracking a smile the entire trip. Karen McMahon with Farm Industry News and her husband, Randy, were the worldly, travel-savvy couple who’s stories of Kazakhstan and beyond delighted and intrigued me. Margy Fischer with Farm Journal is close behind Jay, quickly making her mark as a well-accomplished young woman taking charge of a successful career. Odds are, she’ll be one to watch too. Finally, Barry and Kelly were the glue that kept our group together. They really gave us the royal treatment with fine wining and dining at every meal. Both of them seemed concerned only with showing our group an amazing time, making sure we were all enjoying ourselves. Everyone agreed Barry really is one of the best PR guys a journalist could ever want to work with. He’s just so all about everyone else… and that’s really a rare quality… in any profession. Kelly quickly became a close, brotherly confident. I used so many familial terms to describe the group and that’s because that’s what it really felt like. They all welcomed me into the ag journalism niche with open arms… and already I miss the whole gang, exploring the deep, mold-covered recesses of wineries that no tour in America would ever reveal. I even dined in my first moving, skyscraper restaurant with these amazing people who made the treat particularly memorable!
Then, of course, there was our German Ag Society representative Hans Christian Hetterich. There is no word to accurately describe Hans. He was an incredibly witty, firecracker still so much in love with life. He’s a magnet for excitement and relishes in life’s little pleasantries. If you’re looking for the secret to how to savor life, he’d be the man to learn from. Hans accompanied us on the farm and winery tours, then slowly brought our evening to a lavish close with an exquisite dinner at, what I’m convinced is the finest restaurant in his German home town of Bad Durkheim. The dinner started off with samples of the restaurant’s still fermenting 2008 wine straight from the vat, followed by samples of 31-year-old ice wine… that is not even for sale. The wine had a delicate, honey-filled taste. Ice wine is a bit of a wine delicacy. Then, on to our 4-course meal with four different wines and a liquor kicker for dessert! Our dinner lasted for more than 3 or 4 hours… I’m not positive which. I wasn’t counting. I was simply thoroughly enjoying myself. Hans’ skill for truly savoring life seemed to filter through all of us and we simply carried on with no concern for time. At one point, I got a little too carried away with my “talking hands” and accidentally broke one of the restaurant’s fine crystal glasses. I felt rather bad about that… especially since I was making such fine music with them just moments before! Speaking of music, one of Hans’ good friends provided some after dinner entertainment in a strong German bass accompanied by guitar, of course!
Of course, I musn’t forget Dr. Oliver Neumann. Oliver was the perfect diplomat ensuring our German encounter was nothing short of incredible. He was the man that put most of this trip together.
Finally, we made it to Agritechnica, the world’s largest Farm Machinery Show. Sixteen buildings full of every machine and innovation you could think of when it comes to agriculture. My exploration of the event didn’t even scratch the surface of what was offered there, but, from what I saw, JD really did have the most hi-tech, sophisticated all-around package. Of course, Case IH went for the sexy puma girls, which I’m sure went over well with most of the male crowd. The German Ag Society put on a great reception for the media with all kinds of hors d’oeuvres and it was fun meeting all the journalists, literally from around the world.
Whew! That’s not quite up to where I’m at now… but I need a break. I’ll tell you all about my wonderful hosts in Koln (Cologne) soon!
JD German Experience Photo Album