Initiation into Nuffield

My Nuffield International Contemporary Scholars Conference (CSC) Experience

Well it’s been a privilege to meet, share stories and travel with my 46 new friends and fellow 2011 Nuffield Scholars. The past 10 days have been full of excitement including the times were the guys struggled in keeping their eyes open during a few of our afternoon sessions; I just had to make sure I wasn’t giggling too loud! The dynamics of our group included: a strong-willed Australian cattlewoman named Lorre Herrod, a very vocal and a little hard to understand Irishman named Shane Fitzgerald, a British royalty look-a-like named Alec Mercer, a soft spoken French gal named Sarah Singla, a long winded Canadian named Kelvin Meadows, a sweet and funny Dutch girl named Djuka van der Maat, and all those in between! Conferences like this continue to impresses me because no matter how many agriculturalists, young and old, you have together in a room we will always have classic farmer debates and unforgettable laughs!

To give you a quick breakdown of our agenda I’ll briefly summarize our adventure together.

DAY 1 Arrive to Wellington, NZ – Some of the delegates went out together that night. I didn’t arrive to the hotel until 1 am. Needless to say it was going to take me a few days to get over the jetlag.

DAY 2 Welcome & Speakers – After spending a good portion of the morning giving our individual introductions it was somewhat overwhelming to see almost 50 scholars there. I had no idea there were so many Australian and British Nuffield Scholarships. It made me reflect upon every international event that I have ever been to and how the Aussies seem to dominate every time! (I challenge all other countries to support delegate representation at international forums.) The afternoon was mixed with speakers and politicians. Need I say more? Haha it wasn’t that bad, I actually learned quite a bit in regards to agriculture policy in New Zealand, the booming dairy industry in China and some statistics on Brazilian crop production. A foreign supper was served at the hotel and the wine was shared by all. I sat beside Rob and Sarah Cook and knew then that this was going to be a special week.

DAY 3 Te Papa Tour, Speakers & Parliament Reception – Conversations had started the day prior about the indigenous people in our respective countries. I must say that NZ should be recognized in managing productive/positive relations with their native people. The language and culture is still very much alive and respected. It was refreshing to see how interactive the Te Papa experience was in this regard. The afternoon was full of visionary and inspiring presentations given by Prof. David Hughes and yet another politician John Allen amongst others. Although some delegates did not agree with all the comments made it was to be taken as food for though. I mean in all reality what works for NZ may not work for Ireland, for numerous reasons. The vibrant topic of farm subsidies and GMOs continued to be debated around the table. After having a few beers at the local downtown pub before taking our formal group pictures and reception with the Ag Minister at Parliament House was to say the least, very entertaining!

DAY 4 Travel to Hanmer Springs via Ferry/Bus – An early start to catch the ferry was hard for some that morning as they had only a few hours of sleep. (Suckers haha! All they had to do is be responsible, like some of us girls, and maybe not drink so much.) The ferry ride was enjoyable as it was sunny and the mountain views were simply stunning. Lunch at a winery was tasteful and a stop to see a seal colony quickly turned all these macho farmers into perfect tourists! Driving through this country brought back sweet memories when I traveled through the exact same area a couple years ago with some Next Generation delegates of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth (RASC).

DAY 5 More Speakers – Presentations from numerous business owners and local farmers was appreciated, although I think the group would have enjoyed actual farm visits. After spending a limited yet relaxing time in the Hanmer Springs hot pools we had a great evening socializing with more local farmers and learned a lot about their operations and asked them about industry challenges and opportunities.

DAY 6 Day trip to Reefton – The west coast in NZ is known for many things, one of which is the gold mining industry near Reefton. This open mine is massive and it was hard to comprehend that the process is to literally move mountains. The morning’s on-site tour was informative and quite interesting. The afternoon however was challenging to say the least. This is when I kept myself preoccupied in watching almost everyone fall asleep during the countless conservation and environmental rights presentations. I laugh out loud about it now because there were some that almost fell off their chair and others began to snore. I suppose it didn’t help that we were in an aged, unventilated local country golf club. Still it was pretty priceless.

DAY 7 Even More Speakers – The theme for the day was Leadership and I was really impressed with all the presentations, unlike the day before. We started off with John Palmer, a farmer whose leadership led him to have an influential role in rebuilding Air New Zealand’s reputation then an intellectual presentation was given by an Australian farmer on the topic of sustainability. Afterwards an inspirational and comedic staging by Mark Inglis brought tears to my eyes. But my favorite presenter of the day was Sam Johnson. His prime example of genuine leadership led to the unstoppable power of over 20,000 volunteers in Christchurch. With over 27,000 supporters on Facebook, the Student Volunteer Army (SVA) was a force to be reckoned with. Or perhaps it would be more suiting for me to say that it is the network that will change the future structure in disaster relief support systems around the world! I’ll be blogging again about this soon as I am currently in Christchurch gaining a hands-on experience with SVA and getting to know more about their ‘quickly becoming famous’ leader, Sam.

As this was our last evening together we were sure to make the most of it. Our meals at the Heritage Lodge were top notch, the only thing I hasn’t too impressed with was that a glass of Oyster Bay Sauvignon (which is made just down the road) costs us $11 a glass! A few thank-you’s were given to conference organizers Dick Davison and Barbie Barton and afterwards I was thrilled to provide the large crowd with an entertaining awards presentation. Nothing like being put into impromptu situations where the entire room is filled with uncontrollable laughter! And the funniest part of the whole day was a joke on me as I unknowingly had a wardrobe malfunction… that’s all I’m going to say there! LOL Needless to say the week’s activities and conversations were extremely worthwhile, and the friendships created are sure to last.

If I was to go into detail of all the topics discussed during the past week it would probably be the length of a novel, instead I’ve chosen to list our top 5 hot topics and welcome any further discussion or queries.

1)      World population reaching 9 Billion in 2050 and how the agricultural industry will meet this increasing demand for food?

2)      Subsidies/Quotas – To keep or not to keep?

3)      It’s a Big Boys Game – How the Walmarts and Super Giants in the industry are running the show. (PS – Must see documentary FOOD INC.)

4)      Carbon & Water Footprint – How big of a deal is it? Are consumers doing one thing and saying another?

5)      Sustainability and Succession – Where does our future lie?


One Comment on “Initiation into Nuffield

  1. Oh Leona,
    Your unfolding tale of travel, research & relationships is so exciting. I would love to be in your shoes one day. This journey of learning & growth is going to change you forever and I know that with your ability to connect with people, these bonds & connections will be with you for a lifetime. Thanks for sharing another great update on your incredible adventure. ♥

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