By Alex Zimmer, Agricultural Science Instructor Buckeye Valley High School-DACC
Because of their success at the 2016 National FFA Convention, members of the Buckeye Valley-DACC dairy team were invited to compete internationally, traversing seven european countries over the course of two weeks during June of 2017.
The FFA Dairy Evaluation contest requires students to judge classes of dairy cattle (cows and heifers), select appropriate sires, judge pedigrees, and take a test about the function of the dairy industry as a whole. Qualifying to travel and compete internationally was not a small feat for the Buckeye Valley-DACC FFA dairy evaluation team. The opportunity was borne of a tremendous amount of work and dedication put forth by four team members; Macee Burke, Hannah Edelblute, Sarah Lehner, and Donnie Smith. The group began preparing in the winter of 2016 studying external anatomy, learning to read pedigrees, and gaining knowledge on the dairy industry as a whole. This led to competitive showings at smaller invitational contests, and a fourth place finish at the state prelims.
This performance earned the team the right to compete in the Ohio FFA state finals — something that seemed an accomplishment in its own right at the time. Going in, any top 5 finish would have left the team happy. After a tremendous performance, particularly in the oral reasons portion of the contest, the team walked away with a first place finish, qualifying them for the National FFA Contest. The team placed third (while winning the team practicum portion).
Following the national event banquet, we were given an envelope containing our invitation to compete in Europe. Immediately, the students decided that this was something they wanted to pursue, despite the significant financial cost. Working with the Buckeye Valley FFA Alumni, the team initiated a fundraising campaign soliciting corporate and individual donations while also raffling off sides of beef and pork. After months of effort, the group accumulated enough support to cover the entire cost of the trip.
With a departure date of June 21, students began a set off for Scotland where they competed in the international division at the Royal Highland Show near Edinburg. During this time Donnie Smith and Hannah Edelblute placed third as a pairing. Also in Scotland, we had the chance to tour an entirely robotic dairy.
Moving on to England we toured an additional dairy, explored Warwick Castle, and spent two days getting a feel for London. Exiting the United Kingdom, we travelled by high speed train to Belgium, and then on toward Luxembourg. In Luxembourg, students team members had the opportunity to live with host families and participate at the National Holstein Show for a week. At the show, Sarah Lehner was named Junior Champion Showman. After a slower pace in Luxembourg, we took a river cruise to Mainz, Germany before departing for home out of Frankfurt.
What I learned
By Sarah Lehner, Buckeye Valley FFA member
My teammates and I were honored just to have the opportunity to compete at Nationals, and never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that we would do as well as we
did. Our nervousness built as we sat at the contest awards banquet with the 46 other teams that had competed. We were shaking in our seats, fighting to maintain composure as we awaited the results. When they called our chapter name, revealing us as the third place team, we literally jumped out of our seats in excitement. It was exhilarating, a feeling like no other. We were still on cloud nine a few minutes later, when we found out that the top three teams were invited to compete in Europe. The euphoria from this moment lasted for months, and we used it to raise the $25,000 needed to make the trip overseas.
Our adventure through Scotland, England, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany lasted two weeks. We had the opportunity to judge cattle, attend two large-scale farm shows, tour dairy farms, visit historical and political sites, and most importantly, gain an in-depth understanding of international agriculture. I learned about differences in government, economy, lifestyle, and agriculture between the United States and each of the countries we visited. This experience inspired me to consider pursuing a career in international agriculture.
Staying with a host family in the small country of Luxembourg was my favorite part of the trip. They were remarkably kind and generous, even taking time out of their busy schedules to make sure I had the opportunity to see everything their town had to offer. This was during their National Dairy Show, and I had the opportunity to help the family care for their string of show cattle. Although I’ve looked after plenty of show strings in the U.S., this was different. Surrounded by people from six different countries, with language barriers limiting communication between us, we somehow bonded over our love for show cattle. I learned that no matter what differences you may have with someone, passion has the power to bring you together.
By Hannah Edelblute, Buckeye Valley FFA member
Every time I think back on it, or look at some of the photos I took on the trip, I just cannot believe that I was actually there. I was at the Royal Highland show, next to Big Ben, in the middle of the Grand Place, living with a host family, and sailing down the Rhine river. Our team made so many memories that will last us a lifetime.
One of the highlights of the trip was the food. For some meals we felt adventurous and ordered the local cuisine; as for others, we felt homesick and chose something that tasted a little more like home.
In London we made our way to an Italian restaurant. For this dinner, I was feeling quite adventurous. Instead of ordering traditional spaghetti and meatballs, I ordered their seafood spaghetti, although I was not expecting what they set down in front of me. The first thing I saw was a prawn looking up at me. It was completely unaltered as if they had just plucked him from the sea, and set him atop my spaghetti — that was just the beginning. As I investigated the spaghetti with my fork I found calamari, a full shrimp (also looking like it was fresh out of water), small shrimp (still possessing their tails), oysters (still tucked inside their shells), and mussels (also remaining in their shells). Everyone around the table watched as I attempted to eat the seafood, some of which I had never even seen before. To my surprise the spaghetti was quite delicious, and it tasted nothing like anything I had ever eaten before. Looking back, I would still order the seafood spaghetti. Having that dish set in front of me and navigating my way through eating it is an experience that I, and the rest of my team, will never forget.
By Donald Smith, Buckeye Valley FFA member
While taking part in the 2017 international dairy judging tour, two of my favorite experiences were attending the Royal Highland Show in Scotland and staying with my host family in Luxembourg. We got to experience their culture up close and personal. We had the opportunity to mingle with people from Scotland and see how our culture is different in many ways. While there, my teammates and I got to participate in the dairy judging event where we were put into pairs of two. Judging in the United Kingdom was similar to the United States, but it was also different in many ways. These include the dress attire, numbering of the cows, and the oral reasons presentation. After the competition was complete, we learned myself and my teammate had placed third as a pair.
Later in the trip, my teammates and myself arrived in Luxembourg and were assigned to our host families. Many of our were nervous and scared for this portion of the trip because we had never been to a foreign country and lived with a total stranger before. Many of the host families were people that have been hosting for an extended amount of time. While staying with my host family I had the opportunity to visit many local locations that tied back to the United States. I had the chance to visit the WWII museum in the town, which allowed me to have a connection with their country. My host family also took me to many different locations to show their way of life.