Agweek abroad: Chinese trip offers students a global perspective

BROOKINGS, S.D. -- As a student at South Dakota State University, I had the opportunity to participate in the school's international experience course and travel to China.

Chinese locals pick watermelon from a wet market vendor. Photo by Erin Wicker, Special to Agweek

BROOKINGS, S.D. - As a student at South Dakota State University, I had the opportunity to participate in the school’s international experience course and travel to China.

I knew China was one of the top importers of U.S. agricultural goods, which is what initially attracted me to this trip. The more I learned, the more interested I became.

Being in China was somehow exactly what I was expecting, but also completely different. For example, I knew China had a massive population, but seeing a city of 20 million people was staggering. We drove on the bus for hours on end without leaving the city. High-rise apartments were everywhere, with dozens more under construction. Every inch of soil that could be used to grow food was planted, whether this was in the middle of the city or on terraces carved into the mountains.

There certainly was no wasted space. Fields are planted with another row of crops in between. The fish and hog farm we visited used manure by having it empty directly into the fish ponds. We passed another fish farm that had cattle grazing on the narrow strips between ponds.

Food is transported from farms into cities, which sometimes was a great distance, multiple times a day.


I learned the Chinese prefer fresh food because they believe it is safer and better for them. Instead of buying meat from a freezer at a grocery store, they buy it locally from wet markets. These wet markets begin each day with fresh carcasses, which they cut and sell to customers through the day.

Meat is most expensive in the morning and cheapest at the end of the day. We toured a couple of these markets and saw chickens being butchered right in front of us and cuts of meat on display in the open air. We also visited a Walmart supermarket, but that was vastly different from Walmarts in the U.S. There were very little frozen meats and much more seafood.

Our group also went to the China Agricultural University, where we met their graduate students and a group from Iowa State University who were on a similar trip. The Chinese students were very welcoming and eager to share about their university.

Walking through the old areas in the city was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Seeing the way people live, and how they buy and prepared food was fascinating. I was humbled and grateful for my way of life after seeing how some Chinese lived. Living in the upper Midwest of the U.S., I’ve never had to worry about whether the tap water I drink would make me sick or if the food I eat would be safe.

China was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I believe it is extremely important for anyone involved in agriculture to have a basic understanding of international markets, and this trip gave me a deeper appreciation of how important a global perspective in agriculture is.

The trip was sometimes slightly uncomfortable but also eye-opening and wonderful. I would absolutely go back.

Cattle graze between fish ponds at a Chinese farm. Photo by Erin Wicker, Special to Agweek

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