When they boarded a plane home after a week of sightseeing in Ireland, Oregon High School teacher Jillian Beatty and her students were looking forward to returning someday.
They just weren’t expecting it to be later that same day.
It was an eventful inaugural international trip for Beatty, 21 of her agriculture students and five adult chaperones, who traveled from Madison to Shannon, Ireland, and back. But not before they enjoyed – and endured – some experiences they will never forget.
For Beatty, the trip was a great chance for her students to see how agriculture is done in a country much different from the U.S. in terms of environmental regulations, farming practices and land type.
The trip showed the students how agriculture has become a “global community,” Beatty said, and is something that offers many opportunities for students in the future.
“I want my students to consider, ‘Is this an option for me?’” she said. “It’s definitely a growing area for students that are going to be graduating soon; it’s good to have that international perspective … whether they’ll be working for daily producers or for another company or organization representing farmers and trying to advocate for American products or working for businesses internationally that sell products here in America.”
It also turned out be an unforgettable bonding experience, as the group grew even closer after their plane had to return to Shannon with electrical and mechanical issues about halfway across the Atlantic Ocean.
“It was nerve-wracking, I won’t lie,” she said. “I don’t know if the students were fully aware what was going on and maybe that was for the best.
“I told them, ‘You get to go to Ireland twice in one summer – not many people get a chance to do that.”
During the weeklong trip, students got to see a variety of examples of Irish agriculture, which has developed differently than in America, mainly due to the scarcity of good cropland.
To compensate, the Irish place an emphasis on maintaining large animal herds, which can graze in the rocky, hilly soil where most food crops can’t grow.
One of the highlights was a visit to dairy farmer Michael Murphy, who has hundreds of cows roaming around huge pastures.
“He manages his pastures to rotate rows from one pasture to the next while maintaining the production,” Beatty told the Observer last week. “It was really neat for my students to have conversation with an international leader in dairy.”
Ireland has many pastures – mainly for sheep – which give the entire country a pastoral feel.
“Ireland is just beautiful,” she said. “I’ve never seen a place so green in my entire life, it really is the Emerald Isle.”
Junior Nick Brown said the differences between agricultural practices in Ireland were evident right away.
“They’re more environmentally friendly with regulations – you barely see any tractors,” Brown said. “They don’t grow many crops because its rocky there and it’s hard to grow much, so they free-range all their animals all year long except for a couple months of the year when it’s too cold for grass to grow, and they ship in all their grain.”
Junior Izzy Finstad said she noticed a lack of the “huge machinery” she sees on American farms.
“They do a lot by hand, but also use older machinery, so they don’t have all the new techniques we do,” she said.
Finstad particularly enjoyed a demonstration of how sheep dogs operate – critical to the herding of the thousands of sheep covering the island.
“We got to see how they train their dogs in different languages and different words for going right and going left, and herding the sheep,” she said. “Just two or three dogs led a whole herd of sheep.”
Long ride home
After all the sightseeing and learning, the group was settling in to a meal on their six-hour flight home when about two hours in, things began to go wrong, Beatty said, starting when the monitor on her seat stopped working.
“I thought, ‘Whatever, I’ll just sleep,’” she said. “Then all of a sudden, the lights were out. And the captain comes on and said, ‘Folks, we’re going to have to turn around and go back, we’re having some electrical issues,’ which definitely causes your stomach to drop, because we were about two hours over the Atlantic, so clearly, something’s really wrong if you’re going to go back.”
Through it all, though, Beatty said her students were “absolutely amazing,” having to return to Ireland for the night before heading back, landing in Madison some 42 hours after the plane took off the first time.
Finstad said she first realized something was wrong when she saw “worried” looks on the flight attendants’ faces before the electricity went out and the plane “dropped a little bit.”
“It was very scary, because all we could see was clouds, and underneath that was the ocean, so we’re like, ‘Well, we’re either going down here or were going to make it back.,” she said. “We’re all pretty close now.”