MINATARE — Growing up in an ag family in Germany, Lara Schwarzer is now on an adventure, spending some of her summer months learning about how agriculture is done in the United States.
Through an exchange agency called Interswap, an international agricultural internship and training program, Lara ended up just east of Minatare at the Baker Farm.
Until early July, she’s learning how to feed calves, sew, drive a tractor, assist with a 4-H group and a lot more.
“I live in the small town of Schoning in northwest Germany,” she said. “About three or four times a year, we raise from 7,000 to 8,000 chickens until they’re 16 weeks old. Then we sell them for egg laying.”
Lara said she’s wanted to visit the United States for a long time. Her best friend, who had been to the states on a “farm stay,” told her about the trip.
Lara is currently a student at the University of Paderborn in Germany, studying to become an English and history teacher. One of the requirements is to spend some time abroad in an English speaking country. That’s when she remembered her friend’s farm stay and decided to check out the program.
Her sponsors are Cliff Brabson and Valerie Baker-Brabson. Valerie’s mother, long-time teacher and 4-H leader Juanita Baker, has also been instrumental in getting Lara introduced to farm life in rural Nebraska.
“One of our friends had a girl for a farm stay last year and we thought it would be neat to be able to experience that with someone else and teach them the things we had to learn,” Cliff said. “We wanted to give them a good understanding of what agriculture is really like here.”
He added he’s learned a lot about Lara’s family and how agriculture operates in Europe. He said he was so intrigued, he wants to visit Germany to learn about their production methods.
“One of the things that kind of surprised Lara was the large German influence in the valley,” Cliff said. “A lot of the names she recognizes from back home.”
Although she’s retired from teaching, Juanita is still involved in 4-H. So Lara had an opportunity to work with some of the members of the horse program and attend some of their events.
“Lara has been making a very positive impression on the kids as they share their cultures,” Juanita said. “She’s going to be a teacher, so we’ve had a lot of conversations about the teaching profession and how it’s changed over the years.”
Lara’s summer in Nebraska isn’t just about farming. Along with her host family, they’ve also visited some of the sites around the region, including the monument, Chimney Rock, Mount Rushmore, Legacy of the Plains Museum, Robidoux Trading Post and a number of others.
“There’s so much open space here in Nebraska,” Lara said. “I live in an agricultural region, but it’s not a place where you can drive for miles and not see any houses. And I really like the people here. They’re more open toward new people than in Germany.”
Cliff said one of biggest pleasures he’s had is showing Lara just how conservation-minded American farmers are, because that mindset determines the success of an operation.
“Lara is the first Interswap student to stay with us, but we’ll definitely do it again,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure having Lara here and she will be missed.”