August 9, 2001

Future French Farmer Learns About American Agriculture During Stay In Scotland County



The world is a small place. How else can you explain a college student from France selecting Scotland County as the site for her summer study exchange?

Blandine Meunier, 21, is spending approximately two months in the region as part of a college internship. She is an engineering student at the National Engineering School of Agronomy and Food Industry in Nancy, France.

She lives in a small village near Macon, a town of approximately 50,000 population, which in turn is a suburb of Lyon, a much larger city.

Blandine arrived in Scotland County on June 25th not exactly sure of what to expect.

She was meeting her host family, the Cowells, for the first time, having only communicated with them via the Internet.

She said the biggest question she got from people at home as well as from those here in the United States, was how she found Scotland County and why she chose to spend two months here?

"It was really quite simple," Blandine said jokingly in her French accent. "I was interested in studying elk, whitetail deer or buffalo, so I did studying on the Internet to find farms that had these animals."

She ultimately settled on elk as her first choice and commenced a mass e-mail campaign to find a host family. She sent out preliminary queries to elk breeder associations across the United States. From that point she found member lists and began sending e-mail to the individuals searching for someone who might be interested in a free farm-hand for a couple months.

Blandine said the Iowa Elk Breeders Association was particularly helpful so she started with its members. She sent approximately 80 e-mails to individuals in the group and got just two responses.

The field was quickly narrowed to one when she talked to Greg Cowell of the Groundhog Mountain Elk Farm. Not only did his family farm offer elk and other livestock opportunities, but he had experience in the foreign exchange field. He himself had traveled to Europe through the Rotary Group Exchange program. His family also hosted a 4-H foreign exchange student last year.

"It is just a great opportunity to learn about the rest of the world," Greg said. "My son Andy is getting a first hand look at a different culture. Ultimately I hope it sparks an interest in him to where he might consider pursuing some of the international opportunities that we have available through Rotary."

Blandine plans to work as a civil servant, working for the French Ministry of Agriculture. She explained it is like a combination of the Department of Agriculture and the University Extension services in the United States.

She said she definitely will take lots of new ideas back home. All of the elk industry is new to her, as there is no such livestock producers in France. She was not sure if this relatively new livestock would take off in her country as it has in the United States.

Elk was not the only difference between the two nation's farming practices. Blandine said the livestock industry in France focuses mostly on purebred animals with very few commercial cross-bred animals that are common in these parts. She also noted there are a very limited number of seed types available for crops as the produce is not as genetically engineered as here in the United States.

"I'm not used to seeing all the different breed of cows together in the same herd," Blandine said. "Then there is not as big a variety of crops as there is nothing like Round-Up Ready soybeans or corn."

Blandine said she learned just as much from the cultural interaction as she did from the farming end of the trip. She highlighted the experience with the 4-H and the county fair, which she praised as true learning experiences for youth.

However she will be taking home plenty of agricultural education as well thanks to an aggressive schedule put together by the Cowells.

"Greg and Kathy take me a lot of places and show me as much as possible, like spending a day at Morgan Fertilizer and going to the vet's, Dr. Wiggins, and many other places," Blandine said.

She also is scheduled to visit Jerry Parks Elk Farm near Bucklin. Blandine went to the elk velvet competition at Des Moines, IA and will go to the Missouri State Fair this week to work at a elk booth and view fair activities.

The trip has offered her plenty of hands on training. Greg reports that Blandine has helped in every aspect of the elk farm, right down to bottle feeding a calf. She helped pour concrete for the new hydraulic chute for the elk. She helped build and repair fence, move cattle and even ran the brush-hog to clip pasture.

"She had never driven a tractor before so that took a little training, but otherwise she has been very helpful around the farm," Greg said.

Blandine said she was not so sure about that. "I try to help on the farm but I'm not a farmer by any means," she said. "I live in the countryside but am not a farmer. I'm not like Andy, who is raised on the farm. I'm not very helpful but I try."

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