Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Granddad can we go to the U.S. mission?



Todd Gleason, Farm Broadcaster, University of Illinois

The European Union Center on the University of Illinois campus has taken a group of high school teachers to Brussels, Belgium. Most of them are history teachers, and learned how agriculture, in large part, underpins the common European society. Listen to the third of Todd Gleason’s journal entries from the weeklong trip, and follow along with the transcript below. Also check out Todd Gleason's blog on the experience, featuring posts, photos, and a map of the study tour.

Wednesday June 27, 2012

When the sun sets around 10 o’clock you go to bed about 1:30 in the morning. Well, I did last night. That’s a bad deal when the alarm rings at 6:30am. Fortunately, we get to sleep-in an extra hour on hump day, but we are out and running quickly. A few of the younger folks have been burning the candle at both ends a bit harder than me. The hour-long bus ride this morning gives time to sleep…not enough to recuperate, but everyone is operational. I wonder, with a little smirk on my face, how they’ll take to the chocolate factory. It should be odiferous.

Barry Callebaut is situated in classic small town Americana. At least that’s how we are introduced to the company. Wieze Belgium is a little burg of about 2000. And, judging by the size of the chocolate factory, everyone in town probably works or is related to somebody who does work here. As it turns out, I’ve likely been eating chocolate made by this company for decades. It is the chocolate supplier to the chocolate makers. About 70 percent of Belgium chocolates start with a Barry Callebaut base; one in four chocolates on the planet. Wow! I am at the candy man’s house. It has over 2000 recipes, employs 6000 people in 27 countries, and controls 40 percent of the industrial open market. Illinois based Kraft/Cadbury soon to be spun off as Mondelez is the next biggest followed by Mars, Nestle, Hershey’s (half as much production by the way), Cargill à now we’re talking ag, Blommer, ADM and Lindt.

Barry Callebaut is ‘concerned’ about Cargill and ADM. And while it wasn’t said, it’s a pretty good guess THAT is because those two companies have direct contact with cocoa growers. So, does Barry Callebaut and it makes no beans (pun intended) about the importance of growers in Africa. Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest cocoa producer. Callebaut is putting genuine effort into what it calls Sustainable Cocoa. On the outside that sounds like doing good works, and I suppose it is in part, but I’m more production oriented and it is clear sustainable means teaching growers how to produce a better quality bean. We tour the plant. It smells yummy, and Callebaut sends on our way each with about 4 kilos of chocolate. I tap out a note to the wife… about 8 pounds of Belgium chocolate in hand, will purchase more only upon request. She and I agree on this point.

We board the bus and head back to Brussels for lunch and a visit to the United States Mission to the European Union, passports required for entry. Once again, like our visit to NATO, all of our loose belongings – phones, wallets, cameras, change in our pockets - is collected and stored. We pass through security climb a set of stairs and enter a posh conference room. I’m one of the last to arrive, and take the seat at the opposite head of the table. The journalist, that’s me, is quickly identified and later in the briefing the words “On Background” are uttered. In my world, that means you can hear it, but not attribute it. The mission is like a mini Washington, D.C. housing reps from the Departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Treasury, Justice, Defense USAID, USTR, and NOAA. A tourist from Arizona managed to join our group for this briefing. He was traveling with his grandson. Note to self: Do that with your grandchildren. I don’t think my kids would stand for it, but when Granddad says we are going to the U.S. Mission à that is cool.

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