It’s inevitable when traveling. You find yourself drawing comparisons to home.
I recently had the good fortune to travel to Germany, the Netherlands and Austria as part of a world vegetable forum sponsored by Bayer CropScience.
We heard a lot about agriculture, and saw a lot of Bavarian history.
It was the dead of winter, and agriculture had moved indoors into multi-million dollar, two-story greenhouses that were artificially illuminated.
We saw everything from fresh pepper and roses growing, and it made me appreciate the year-round, inexpensive field vegetables America enjoys.
(Related story: Vegetable Future Forum under way in Germany — photo gallery)
We heard a host of speakers from throughout the world talking about fruit and vegetable production. Overall, it was obvious, as the world’s emerging economies mature into more stabilized economies, that the demand for crops like those grown in California will only expand.
Currently, approximately 25 percent of what California produces is exported, and that will no doubt grow as middle classes in countries like China and India continue to expand.
Following the forum, my wife and I played tourist, visiting Munich, Salzburg and Vienna. With a German heritage, I was captivated by the history.
As we toured several famous castles, my mind kept wandering back to a place I visited many years ago in Philadelphia, Independence Hall, where America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution were crafted. The castles we visited in Bavaria defied descriptions like magnificent, breathtaking or opulent. One place was literally bathed in 24-karat gold. Paintings covered the walls in every room of these castles. Building sizes were often almost incalculable.
The monarchs and royalty of Europe certainly like to spend money on themselves. Their countries paid a very high price to preserve the ruling class.
As I toured these castles, my memory wondered back to the day I stood in the balcony overlooking the room in Independence Hall, where America’s Founding fathers set the foundations of our democracy. I was struck by how small the room was. From what I could glean from the Internet, Independence Hall is roughly 4,000 square feet. As I roamed the castles of Germany and Austria, the contrast between the birthplace of America and European aristocracy was stark. A hundred Independence Halls could fit into some of the castles we saw.
The men who cobbled together the laws of this new land called America came from where those castles symbolized the governments they left behind to come to the New World.
It made me appreciate more my American heritage and the desire for a new land of democracy. That’s not intended to sound like some backwoods, arrogant American isolationist. Europeans are rightfully proud of their heritage, flaws and all. America’s democracy certainly has had its flaws. European history goes back far longer than American history, and those folks are certainly proud of it.
Not to say one is better than another, but my recent journey made me proud to be an American and more appreciative than ever of my country’s heritage.