Much like Dorothy in the Land of Oz, our South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership trip to China experienced many wonders. While seeing many amazing sights in China and Vietnam, there is no place like home. Driving back from Sioux Falls Sunday night, it was great to see the wide open spaces and the lack of people. Does that make sense? My mind is still racing with all of the experiences these last few weeks. I do have to thank Dan Gee and Michelle Robbins for all of the work going into the preparation for the trip, to Darla Scarlett for handling my job while I was gone and to the American News/Farm Forum company for giving me this unforgettable opportunity. And to my husband Dale and family for their support. I’m going through my notes and will provide more information from our trip in future issues. Throughout all of our trip, we were offered tables full of food. For many in that part of the world, platters are filled and offered on a lazy susan, family-style. Guests help themselves to the offerings. We were very appreciative that our interpreters helped us understand what was offered. We were given some very unfamiliar choices. That all was part of learning about a different culture and how to get along. The presentation of the dishes was gorgeous, adding garnishes to set off the food. Carrots were carved into flowers and flowers were added to set off foods. Our western palates, accustomed to burgers, fries, pork chops and steaks, had a tough time with the variety we were offered. Small amounts of seafood, poultry and meat were offered with a mixture of vegetables. Dumplings and steamed buns hid sweet treasures. Most of the class became very adept at using chopsticks. (And some became very adept at finding places that sold Snickers candy bars.) Fresh fruit was a luxury enjoyed throughout the trip. In the Mekong Delta area, we were served freshly cut fruit in the jungle setting --- mango, freshly picked tiny bananas, pineapple and durian, which is one of the most controversial fruits. The outside has a horrible smell but inside is a creamy textured, almost custard-like flesh. One class member declared that it tasted a lot like Juicy Fruit chewing gum. The Longan means “dragon eye” and is a close relative to the litchi. The peel is brown and brittle. The meat is translucent white and is very juicy and sweet. We also were treated to fresh coconut and watched a family operation that turned coconut into candy to be exported. Quite a value-added industry. For lunch one day, we were presented with a beautifully cooked fish. At a loss as to how to serve it, our waitress pulled off fins and got down to the best part of the fish for us. She put a piece on a lettuce leaf, added sauce and other condiments, rolled it up and presented us with a delicious lettuce wrap. After all of our adventures, the group decided that we needed to have a good USDA steak before returning home. Morton's Steakhouse in Hong Kong was suggested. We were served many of the same dishes we could get back home. After 13 days, savoring the steak with friends while looking over Victoria Harbor provided a perfect ending to our visit. From now on, I’ll see foreign visitors in our country in a new way. As a take-away point, food is meant to nourish our bodies. Just as we sometimes struggled to try the various dishes presented to us, we were surprised at how good so many of them were. This was just a small part of our experience. By meeting with farmers and business owners, we learned how the farmers prepare their fields and the types of conditions they are working with. Our group is better able to understand where the demand is coming from within these countries and some of the obstacles that they face. Although farmers make up 60 percent of the population in China, they are not valued for the food they produce. When we look at the United States and only 2 percent of us produce the food we eat, it's quite a dichotomy. Many inroads are being made by private companies partnering to move agriculture ahead. While there are many differences, we have many areas in common. This familiarity will help us be better leaders as we seek to develop policies to move our industry forward.