So... How was Ireland?

How was my trip to Ireland?

I've gotten that question so many times over the past week so I've decided to post the answer that is burning in all of your minds here. It's long so brace yourself and if you want the summary, just skip to the bottom =)

The (Drinking) Culture:





They have a thing called Pub Culture in Ireland and they love it and so do I. Drinking is engrained into their culture and their economy. It's the lifestyle in Ireland. Sadly, while I do appreciate their love of alcohol, my taste buds are definitely not Irish. I did learn how to pour the "Perfect Pint of Guinness" but I couldn't drink it. And while touring the Jameson Distillery was a blast, (I'm a certified Irish Whiskey taster!) I definitely prefer Kentucky Bourbon.

I'm certified!!

Guess where these barrels came from? U.S. Bourbon producers!

Baby Guinness!!! I did drink this one and I wished I liked it.

Me, pouring the PERFECT pint of Guinness.

Here you go. The perfect pint. 

They aren't big row croppers in Ireland but they do produce a lot of Barley. It shows in their alcohol production. The famous Guinness and Jameson are both made with malted and roasted barley and lots of it! They also feed barley to their cattle. When barley kept popping up everywhere it made me realize that each country (or region) uses what they can produce best for numerous products. In the U.S. we rock at producing corn. Having easy access to corn an an ability to produce it well leads to our products being made from corn. Bourbon? Must be made from at least (most are much more) 51% corn. American whiskey is corn whiskey. And what do we feed our cattle? Corn. See? Corn is good!

The barley malt in action.


The Agriculture:

Blew. My. Mind. Honestly, I'm still trying to get over the whole "bull beef" thing. As a student who worked for the beef industry last summer and is currently wrapping up a semester in beef science (and who recently earned my Beef Quality Assurance & Beef Cattle Care Training) I can't believe they don't castrate. Castration is one of the #1 things you can do to improve meat quality. However, because in Ireland they don't use hormone implants, they keep their animals intact to retain the growth. Even in Ireland pounds = dollars. It made me appreciate our hormone implants SO much (bet you've never heard anyone say that before) because they do serve a real purpose!! You won't catch me eating a steak in Ireland anytime soon.
An Irish Potato, sheep, turkey and beef farmer!

Also they place a big focus on "grass-fed," a product they are trying to get into the U.S. This makes me laugh because really all cattle are grass-fed. In the U.S. we finish them on a corn based diet, but the majority of their lives are spent eating grass.

Or maybe they eat potatoes? The locals sure do! Seriously, you have potatoes with your potatoes. I loved it. 

In Ireland, they do have some finishing outfits and guess what?! Their cattle aren't only grass-fed either! The cattle are winterized inside slated barns that reminded me a lot of how we house pigs in the U.S. While inside the cattle eat a ration of silage, barley, and what ever else is available. Some producers import corn to feed while one of the farms we visited grows beets that they use as the starch for their cattle's diet.

Cow food. Those white chunks are beets.

All of their management practices are reflected when you eat Irish beef. Each time I had beef it was sliced very thin, covered in sauce or gravy or stewed. It tasted good, but when you compare it to a high choice, corn-fed, medium rare steak? Not even in the same league. Not even close.

Irish beef. I promise it was good! Tasted kind of like spaghetti with shredded beef.


On a completely different note, everything is government subsidized. While the farmers care about what they are doing, it appeared they were working more for a paycheck from the government (instead of working to produce a quality product for the end consumer). That was definitely different. Their government seemed very involved in lots of different aspects of their lives. People spoke about government everywhere from the farms, to the pubs to publications and schools we visited to the message in mass.

Castles:




Stone ruins are everywhere! Gorgeous churches and stone towers are all over the country side. To the Irish, they aren't a big deal. It would just be like us seeing a barn driving down the road. They are like "Meh" to the Irish. To tourists? The coolest things ever! There is so much history in Ireland! They have buildings that are older than our country! It's crazy cool. To think about standing where people, ancestors of ours stood hundreds of years ago, is amazing.

The Cliffs of Moher. I promise this isn't even close.

However, the best sight seeing wasn't the stone ruins. It was the Cliffs of Moher. The pictures don't even begin to do them justice. I wish we had more time to explore at this stop because even on a foggy day, the view was breathtaking and after sitting on a bus for so long, I was ready for a hike!



As for the rest of Ireland, it looks exactly like the pictures except better. Everything is so green (and this is coming from a girl who grew up in Oregon people). Green, green, gorgeous green.

Agriculture Communications: 

So I'll be completely honest. Even though this trip was centered around agricultural communications in Ireland and that is my major, I didn't really expect to learn anything valuable (about ag comm that is). After visiting the Irish Examiner, several colleges and the Farmers Journal, I couldn't have been more wrong. I learned how truly small the community of agriculture communicators is (several familiar names popped up!). But I was also inspired by the work that they are doing. It was innovative and impressive.

Irish Dew. More proof that it's pretty in Ireland. 

They don't deal with the same disconnect that we do here, but I suspect that they will face similar problems 20 years down the road. Their population is only about 1-2 generations from the farm giving a greater appreciation for farming. Agriculture, especially dairy, is a huge part of their economy and that is how they justify agriculture news being noteworthy enough for high news status.

The Spark-Notes Version:

Ireland was amazing and I hope to return someday. It made me grateful for our agriculture system in the U.S. but it also opened my mind to different ways of thinking, especially surrounding food and agriculture. It showed me that there is definitely not one right way to do things and that just because one country or region has certain food or agriculture laws/regulations does not mean that we should have them too.

After comparing this trip to my experiences in the U.S. and my visit to China I've realized that we all have something to learn from each other. No one is doing everything perfectly, but they are producing food in the way that they know best for their environment and their culture.

So what's next? I'm excited to announce that at the end of May I'll be taking a trip to Brazil to discover what South American agriculture (specifically beef) is like.

Thanks for reading!

Nicole

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