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Ag Journalism is Tough All Over the World

I listened as a man told me a story about hitchhiking across Canada in 1969. He’d caught a ride with a couple of guys from British Columbia to Saskatchewan. One of them suggested they could take him all the way to Montreal. His buddy said, “That’s fine, but we don’t have any money.”

“No problem,” the first guy said. “We can just stop in Winnipeg and rob a convenience store.”

As a general rule, people who hitchhike across Saskatchewan can’t be too picky about who they ride with, but even for the 1960s this seemed like a very relaxed view towards fundraising. He doesn’t know how their adventure ended, because at the next pit stop, he slipped away and caught a ride with someone who wasn’t suggesting such a significant career change.

I had to ask him to repeat parts of the story, because a Dixieland trio was playing and I’d get distracted watching a guy from Brazil and another from Zimbabwe bopping up and down, hoping for someone to join them in a polka.

We were on a riverboat, just south of Lock and Dam Number One on the Mississippi River. It was a beautiful summer evening and I’d just finished a nice dinner as I watched the Twin Cities roll by from a completely different perspective. Only the tops of the tallest buildings came in view and the wooded shoreline was broken up by occasional sand beaches dotted with a smattering of people fishing or frolicking with their dogs. Sheet lightning flickered on the horizon and every few minutes, another boat passed by, full of people enjoying just the same thing we were enjoying.

The event was the annual gathering of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. Held in a different country every year, this time it was the turn of the United States, Minnesota in particular. The organization is limited to – actually, it must not be very limited at all, because they let me join. Be that as it may, people from 31 countries attended this year, and while they didn’t all have stories about hitchhiking across Canada with armed robbers, nearly all of them had an interesting story, or seven, to tell.

Saturday morning, we heard a young woman talk about farming on the edge of the city where land prices average $22,000 per acre. The luncheon speaker talked about the challenge of good journalism in a time when many countries lock up anyone who says something the government doesn’t like, and other countries where if you annoy the government getting locked up is the best-case scenario.

The next day’s luncheon speaker led a question-and-answer period in which a number of journalists expressed their frustration at working in a time where facts don’t really seem to matter all that much, and telling people something they don’t want to hear is not good for your career. It was fascinating being in a room with a hundred people who all work very hard to tell people the absolute truth and feeling their frustration at that not necessarily meaning anything.

Since this is Minnesota, the Sunday night party entertainment was a Prince cover band. They stayed true to their theme most of the evening, but there was a moment when the band and half the attendees joined together to sing some Garth Brooks. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a guy from Austria, a woman from South Africa, and three Oklahoma State college students belt out, “I’ve got friends in low places…”

I’m exhausted right now and my brain is full. Too many great stories, too many fascinating people. I can’t always afford to go to these events, can’t always talk someone into paying my way.

I just wish I could.

Copyright 2019 Brent Olson

Independently Speaking

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