Next on our trip was a tour of George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate, a not-so-subtle hint that we need to show leadership and self-sacrifice (being humble while you're at it). George Washington was an inspiring character. Not only was he the first president of America, but first and foremost, he was a farmer. A military man who lived by example, he was a reluctant politician. Surprisingly he was uneducated, as his father passed away while he was very young so never received a formal education. Nonetheless, he was a man of many skills.
The estate is a beautiful piece of land overlooking the Pontiac River. After falling into near ruin, the place has been restored to its former glory after the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association saved the place and raised money to recover it. It costs $50 million a year to run the place and now is completely self-funded by ticket and memorabilia sales, receiving no grants.
We spent half the day at Mount Vernon. One of our tasks was to take two pictures and decide which one was best. As a part of our media training, we also had to make an interview-style video about what we have been doing.
From Mount Vernon, we drove back into the city where we went to the Food Agricultural Organisation (FAO), which is the agricultural wing of the UN for presentations on their work. The FAO’s mission is to stop hunger and they have a truly global view on problems in the world. The organisation was started just after the Second World War, and they are still working on this mission. Since the pandemic finished, there are more people hungry in the world than ever before. We listened to a lot of talk about GM crops and the use of them. The African countries are desperate for them because they will cut down pesticide use, become drought-tolerant and allow them to grow more food. Yet Europe blocks it and, because Europe blocks it, many African governments are cautious. And of course, there is a huge amount of corporate pressure as well as a lot of corruption. Still, a lot of African people I spoke to seem to believe that they need that technology and do not understand why they are denied it. When you hear firsthand from people in undeveloped parts of the world like Africa and South America, you get a completely different view. In Tanzania, many 30-year-old people have never had a job. High birth rates mean an ever-increasing youth. However, there is only basic technology available and things we take for granted, such as digital connection, are non-existent.
The developing countries’ view of China and Russia is also very different from the Western one. China invested in Brazil and built infrastructure and technology before leaving. Now, Brazilians pick up what they leave behind and take it on as their own.
Celestino - one of my classmates - comes from an Italian immigrant family of 13 that arrived in Brazil after the war which left the family starving and with no prospects. They started with 20 hectares and now Celestino and his farming association are farming 9000 hectares of cotton. They have to pay the police to make sure things go right and they have laid 72 kilometres of their tarmac highway and put the infrastructure in themselves. They're farming in their native Bahir which they were told would be unfarmable.
With no water supply, they had to sink the wells and take up to 500,000 litres of water an hour out if they needed to, making this place fertile and growing food. Celestino is very quick to tell you that there is a lot of misinformation about deforestation. According to him, agriculture only accounts for 9% of the land use in Brazil and 66% of it is natural forest. Celestino says he does not support deforestation but that there is too much misinformation about it. Brazil’s economy is still in its growth phase with little regulation, but farmers are working together for a brighter future.
Different parts of the world deal with very different problems. Andre, from Ukraine, broke down on screen because during the night his village had been shelled. His dairy manager's six-year-old daughter had been killed and many of the people in the village are in the hospital. He had to leave after that news.
Marianne, from the Philippines, also had a breakdown during our elevator pitches. The Philippines had been hit by three typhoons and an earthquake, and she was unable to contact her family. This is the reality of global warming and climate change and its impact on farming and living in these other places of the world.
The global farm network is opening doors and getting us to places you never imagined you could ever access.
After the FAO we went to the German Embassy where one of the participants, Marcus, was getting an award: Global Farmer Food Prize of the Year (presented by the German Embassy). We were, again very well received. Germans gave speeches about the need for agricultural diplomacy and Europe's place in the world. After that, we got treated to some amazing entertainment from an opera singer, singing in Italian, English, and German. There was also nice wine and food to try, as well as a short presentation. There would have been a free evening scheduled after the embassy visit, but we got offered a tour of the Capitol by congressman Derrick Van Orden and I chose to go.
Because we were taken by a congressman, we saw places you would never expect to be allowed into. In his office, we met constituents, about 50 people, and he made time for every single person. He spoke to them, asked them to introduce themselves and he made every person feel important. It was an incredible example of a politician making the individual feel as if they count. He was a congressman for Wisconsin and an ex-Navy SEAL. Unbelievably charismatic character and a very professional demeanour - what a trick it was but it also introduced us to people from all over. We met a lot of veterans from Iraq, Iran and the Middle East, and they are really respected. The absolute respect for veterans, for the service that they gave to America, was evident.
Up at Capitol Hill, patriotism is palpable. We got introduced to every single person and got to hear about their different backgrounds and just how multicultural America is. The Congressman is a Republican, which you might perceive as a mildly right-wing group who are anti-immigration but they absolutely truly believe in the 'American Dream' and that you can come to America with nothing and turn into something amazing. We also met famous senator Jesse Jackson's son. Next, we got a historical tour of the Capitol Building. It is grand, and the scale of it is incredible. We were in the rotunda right through into the House of Representatives, where we saw Kevin McCarthy's office. We were hoping to meet Kevin McCarthy, the Speaker of the House, but we did not. One of his constituencies is California, so the student from California got the chance to see him, but as he is a busy man, he did not have time to see all of us. But we got to see the House of Representatives and learned how it works. American politics is a lot less complicated than I thought. It works much like British politics. To sit in the House of Representatives is something that I never imagined I could ever do. It was incredible to walk up the steps that Trump's people rioted on. Our tour lasted for four hours, and we only finished at quarter to midnight. It was a long day but very inspirational.