She’s headed for Africa, but safaris and big-game hunting are not on the agenda.
Gretchen Lee, a state FFA officer, will instead spend Jan. 2-16 in South Africa gaining fresh perspectives about global agriculture. The 18-year-old Pettisville resident will join 82 other FFA members from across the United States for the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers, which will expose them to traditional and cutting edge African farms, among other destinations.
“Our goal is to tour a lot of South African agriculture to give us more of a world view,” Lee said. “It will give us a different perspective on what agriculture looks like worldwide, as well as what it could look like in America.”
Traveling from bases in Pretoria and Capetown, the FFA state officers plan to visit dairy, beef, and alligator farms, an ostrich ranch, private game reserves, fields of soy, corn and potatoes, and a livestock embryo plant. They will also attend a lecture by Kobus van Heerden, the senior agricultural attache of the Pretoria U.S. Embassy, and take agricultural classes at Erasmus High School in the town of Bronkhorstspruit.
Other visits will include fruit exporters in the town of Paarl, the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, and Robben Island, a cultural and historical shrine designated as a World Heritage Site second only to Hiroshima, Japan.
The trip will end with a cable car ride up Table Mountain, home to thousands of plant and animal species, some found nowhere else on earth.
A 2018 Pettisville High School graduate who serves as secretary of the district’s FFA group, Lee was elected a state officer in May at the organization’s annual convention. She was one of 11 Ohio FFA officers selected among about 65 candidates.
She applied for the FFA-led seminar Aug. 15, a process that included filling out an application about her background and receiving a recommendation from the state FFA staff. She and only one other candidate were accepted from Ohio. Participants will be chaperoned by several adults including National FFA Organization staff members.
John Poulson, FFA advisor and agriculture science educator for Pettisville schools, said Lee’s experience in South Africa will elevate her status as a state officer. “She’ll be a good representative,” he said.
She’ll pay the trip’s $5,000 cost, in part, with support from the FFA Alumni of Pettisville and with a $500 scholarship she was awarded after attending a required cultural sensitivity class. Lessons there included proper handshaking and wardrobe in professional settings.
“There are a few differences here and there, but (Africans) are very similar to the United States…in how they react to things,” Lee said.
She said South African agriculture is relatively modernized but operated differently than in the States. She said South African culture isn’t as highly-structured as American culture.
The overall goal of the trip “is to view agriculture on a more worldwide basis, to educate us on how agriculture can be expanded,” Lee said. “Basically, it’s to give us a different perspective on agriculture. I decided going into this trip to keep an open mind, and not create expectations, so I can be more open-minded about what I’m seeing.”
Lee will attend Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa, next fall, after her FFA state responsibilities end. Though leaning toward a degree in veterinary sciences, she’s also considering studies in livestock genetics. She hopes either path will include study abroad.
She also hopes her South African experience will aid her with a global outlook professionally.
“Just getting to see a different culture in general will give me a bigger perspective on life, and (show me) that’s there’s a bigger world out there than the United States,” she said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.