A cultural exchangeBuilding Bridges Cultural Exchange program participants from China’s Shandong Polytechnic University visited Pete and Cindi Beurskens’ hobby farm near Hager City on July 6.
By: Stephanie Li, The Republican Eagle
Building Bridges Cultural Exchange program participants from China’s Shandong Polytechnic University visited Pete and Cindi Beurskens’ hobby farm near Hager City on July 6.
Pete is a published writer and teaches English at Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical. He and his wife also homeschool their three children, Ethan, Sam and Noah.
It was a hot summer day with a faint breeze. Everyone was slathering on sunscreen and putting on sun hats.
Pete started the tour by showing his bee houses. Big cases lined up against the walls of a garage contain approximately 300,000 bees. They can produce 250 pounds of honey.
Cindi led students to a patch of gardening fields. Onions, garlic, beets, potatoes and rhubarb were planted in rows. While students had fun teaching Pete how to say vegetable names in Chinese, a few birds with unusually long necks strutted by.
He explained that they were Guinea chickens and they “patrol” the field of crops and eat the bugs and ticks.
Pete and Cindi’s garden generated a great deal of interest with the program participants because food safety has been a major social issue bothering the Chinese over the past decade.
Pete then proudly showed off his creation: a chicken tractor. It was a pretty simple fenced up box. You put a few chickens inside the box and leave the bottom open. Then you lay it down on a patch of weeds you want to remove. You move the box around so that the chicken always have some fresh salad to eat, as Pete put it.
We were amazed at the function of the chicken tractor, but we were more impressed by the fact that this ingenious creation came not from an engineer, but from an English professor.
The next stop was the sheep pen. A few people went inside the pen as she fed the sheep grain and hay.
Cindi guided us to the shearing house. There were huge tables covered with wool. Cindi explained she is taking a class on how to turn sheep wool into yarn.
We also found out that after the sheep were sheared, they needed to get reacquainted with each other because they all looked different after the shearing. It is pretty interesting, just as you have to know your friends again after they get a haircut.
By midmorning the heat was starting to get to the program participants, most of whom are city folks who had not visited a farm before, let alone under the scorching Wisconsin sun. Cindi brought everyone inside and served us ice tea, fresh fruit, rhubarb muffins, and apple pie with ingredients produced on the farm.
The family dog, Emmy, greeted us with her wagging tail.
During BBCE orientation, participants had learned the important status of a family pet for Americans; the pet is often treated as a family member.
They were specifically instructed on how to befriend a dog. You kneel down, offer your hand for the dog to smell your hand, and then gently pat the dog. Several participants did that and got acquainted with Emmy right away.
Once we had a nice break at the kitchen table, Cindi, who taught school before their first son was born, shared with us how she and Pete homeschool their children.
She started by talking about the huge cupboard in her house. She found it in an old barn. It turned out to be an antique that dates back to the Civil War period. Now the stately cupboard stands next to the dining table, which turns into a school desk immediately after breakfast.
The cupboard holds all of the books, instructional materials and learning tools for homeschooling.
A lively discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling followed, because in China everyone receives mandatory education up to ninth grade at school.
The program participants, especially the teachers, were impressed that different states have different requirements for homeschooling and people could even construct their own curriculum based on the needs and interests of their children.
The discussion on American education could have lasted for the whole day if we had not had plans for the afternoon. After bidding farewell to farm animals and Emmy, we left for Nesbitt's Nursery with the Beurskens family.
After a sandwich lunch, we hopped on a 64-horsepower tractor for a tour. Green pine trees lined the edges of the gravel road and a big cornfield could be seen. We were amazed to learn the corn is grown for deer and raccoons so the wild creatures won’t bother the nursery plants.
During the tour, the program participants compared the plants with what they have in China. Mr. Nesbitt showed us the weather monitoring device that helped them make decisions on what to do when the weather changed.
Spending a morning with an English professor-turned hobby farmer and having a guided tour with a seasoned nursery owner for the afternoon, we felt we had a crash course on Midwestern agriculture within a day.