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Published May 20, 2010, 09:28 PM

Fun on the farm — Norwegian style

Norway’s ambassador gets first-hand look at Red River Valley agriculture
He will keep his day job, but Norway’s ambassador to the United States, Wegger Strømmen, got schooled in Red River Valley fieldwork Thursday on the Bateman farm south of Grand Forks.

By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald

He will keep his day job, but Norway’s ambassador to the United States got schooled in Red River Valley fieldwork Thursday on the Bateman farm south of Grand Forks.

With Beau Bateman riding shotgun, Ambassador Wegger Strømmen took control of a 9760 John Deere rotary combine and guided the behemoth out of its hangar-like shed. He tooled around the farm’s graveled drives, then — with Beau’s help — brought the combine back neatly and clambered down like an old farmhand.

“I’ve never driven such a monster before,” he said. “It’s actually much easier to handle than I expected. But backing up takes a little experience, I think.”

Joined by his parents, his sister and brother-in-law, all visiting from Norway, the ambassador spent much of the day learning about agriculture in the Red River Valley and how it has evolved since thousands of land-hungry Norwegian immigrants arrived more than a century ago.

Over breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn, Strømmen heard from wheat and sugar beet growers, implement dealers and others, some of whom shared stories of immigrant parents or grandparents. They talked about migrant labor, women in agriculture, fertilizer prices, computers and satellite imagery.

They talked about the bigness of it all, which had Torbjørn Aurlien, the ambassador’s brother-in-law and a farmer back in Norway, shaking his head.

“When I see the farms here, I wonder if I am a farmer,” he said.

Strømmen said he wanted to learn more about the costs, equipment, challenges and daily operations of an American family farm. “I know some of the broad economics of it,” he said, “but I wanted to see how it works for the people involved. It’s a completely different thing for us, and I wish I could stay for three or four weeks!”

He also got a chance to show off in front of his folks — parents Knut and Ragnhild Strømmen, retired, and sister Marta Aurlien, a nurse and teacher — as he maneuvered the combine, a giant tractor and other heavy equipment around the farm started by Charles Bateman’s grandfather in 1890.

“Look! My husband is just like a little boy in there now,” Marta Aurlien said as Torbjørn took a turn in a tractor.

All come to look for America

It was a new experience for the Batemans, too.

“I’ve not met many ambassadors,” Charles Bateman said, admiring Strømmen’s enthusiasm and keen interest in the combine, which with its header cost about $400,000.

“He’s interesting,” Bateman said. “And he has a good sense of humor.”

At breakfast, the ambassador recounted how, as a boy, he had traveled across much of the United States with a group of Norwegian and American Boy Scouts, often sleeping in barns on the farms of Norwegian-Americans. It was the best way to see the country, to understand the variety and sweep of it, he said.

“You can sleep in my barn anytime, Mr. Ambassador,” said Janne Myrdal, who with her husband Mark farms and raises horses near Edinburg, N.D.

With a glance at her husband, she added — to much laughter — “Oh, maybe that didn’t sound right!”

The extended Strømmen family, who helped the ambassador celebrate Syttende mai in Minneapolis on Monday before their three-day visit to Grand Forks, will return to the Twin Cities today. Saturday, they will meet some of their many relatives descended from immigrants.

“Many of them I have never met,” said Knut Strømmen, 80, before everyone filed into the Bateman house for a sit-down lunch befitting an ambassador — or a cadre of weary farmhands.

“It’s strange to meet old people who are your cousins,” he said. “But I am very much looking forward to it.”

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald.com.

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