Paynesville Press - September 7, 2005

Guest Column

What I learned by visiting rural Minnesota

By Pilar Conci

I have spent the last four weeks in Minnesota, learning about the state and the country. Most of that time I spent in the Twin Cities but I spent a week experiencing the taste of life in rural areas.

And everywhere I went, I learned something new and got to see many things for the first time. At first I was in the Twin Cities, which are similar to the life I'm used to in Buenos Aires, Argentina, my hometown, which is also the home of another ten million people, including the suburbs.

But then I came to the country and, boy, is this different!

My first stop was Cyrus, a small town with a population of 303 that was my home for four days. No skyscrapers, no apartment buildings, no pollution, just thousands of acres of green land and fresh air. So during those days I learned a lot about different kinds of crops, and I visited a pig farm and a dairy farm. I got to see those animals up close for the first time, because although in Argentina we are also big producers of crops, dairies, and meat, I rarely go to those places.

So it's funny that I had to come thousands of miles away from home to see the same things we do there.

I also got to see enormous tractors, and some of them looked like war tanks to me! I was surprised to see their cabins and all the technology they involve. So that modern-day farmers now can sit in a comfortable seat inside an air-conditioned cabin and control every tiny movement of the tractor just by pushing a button, an image that is a long way from how I had always pictured farmers, sweating under the bright sun and lifting heavy hay bales.

I also saw old tractors, which I thought were really nice and interesting to look at, and I learned all about the rivalry between green and red tractors, which I found very amusing.

In rural Minnesota I led a life that was much more laid back in comparison to what I'm used to in the big city. I spent some quality family time, I visited neighbours, I sailed in a lake, I saw deer, I found myself canning tomatoes and cooking plum jam, as well as picking fruit and vegetables.

For some reason the day seemed longer, I didn't have to rush from one place to the other and the hours went by more slowly, so it felt like I could do a lot more things than in the big city.

During my days in Paynesville I worked in the Paynesville Press, the local newspaper. That definitely felt different compared to the newspaper I work for in Buenos Aires, which probably has around 300 people working in the newsroom and about a thousand in the whole company. In Paynesville Press, everybody knows your name and the company is a lot like a big family, where they look after each other.

In Paynesville I also visited all kinds of industries. I went to a steel plant, two plastic plants, and a milk processing plant, where I saw how they make cheese. So although there are hundreds of factories in the city I live in, it was in this small town where I finally entered a plant and learned about what goes on behind those walls that up until now had been a mystery to me.

Something else that caught my attention was traffic. It's so quiet! In Cyrus, I would go for a run or for a walk along the road and maybe half an hour would go by until the first car appeared. So that's really different from the big city I come from, where I have to struggle with hundreds of cars everyday to get from one place to the other. Even in the Twin Cities, traffic is different to the one back home. People are so nice here and so respectfulŠthey yield, they respect the lanes in the highways, they don't speed, and they don't honk the horn everytime a car stops for just one second.

And these are just some of the many reasons why spending this time in Minnesota has been a real pleasure to me.

Conci is an international news reporter for La Nación in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She visited Paynesville last month as part of the World Press Institute's four-month program.

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