Washington Whirlwind

I’m writing these blogs mainly for my own record and benefit, but many have been sharing them and commenting on Facebook. So thank you, I’m glad you find this trip interesting. To find out more about what the Nuffield Scholarship is about follow this link.

Phew. We only spent 60 hours in Washington DC. But we could’ve hardly crammed any more into the time if we’d tried. Let’s see if I can break it up into 12 hour blocks to help my own memory.


0-12. First four hours spent in DC getting from our British Airways A380 to our hotel. Due to BA’s policy of overselling flights, most of our group got bumped off our scheduled flight and so we lost our free day. We flew in at 4pm, had a 2 hour wait at passport control and then some of the group were further delayed at customs. We were all very excited to see the other Nuffield group again and compare notes on our trip thus far. A burger for tea seemed a fitting first meal in the USA.

The White House

The White House


12-24. A generous 9am start time combined with the fact that I was still on UK time meant I woke up ready for the day at 6:30am. This is not usual behaviour for me. We were staying less than 1km from the White House, so I went for a walk to and around it. One of the other scholars later described it to me as a fancy prison. With secret service staff everywhere keeping an eye on things, and steel and concrete barriers around it was a fair call.

Our two days in DC were joined in with the Pennsylvanian Rural Urban Leadership Program (RULE). A leadership development course for people working in rural areas and institutions in Pennsylvania. The group had many themes in common with the Nuffield program especially around working towards personal development and equipping future leaders. Each of us Scholars was partnered with a ‘buddy’ from the RULE program. Which was a great way for us to make contacts with people on the other side of the world and get a locals perspective on life in the US.

Our first workshop sessions introduced all the participants, both individually and nationally. There was a particular effort involved in introducing all the countries involved in the event, and lessons on what the flags of each represented country signify. We were then treated to a talk by former Kansas state Senator Chris Steineger under the heading of ‘Freedom, Opportunity, Self-responsibility and the American Dream.’ Chris introduced us to the American political system and the American mindset that keeps harping on about ‘freedom’ and ‘rights’ and ‘liberties’.

Following Chris we were then treated to an absorbing and transfixing Dr James Chan. A Chinese born migrant to the USA who consults to US companies about doing business in China. Emotional, expressive and eccentric, Dr Chan was like no Chinese speaker you’ve ever heard. Addressing issues that many of us who work for ourselves face, he encouraged us to no longer be fearful of losing business and embrace your own strengths and weaknesses. He said so many good things it’s hard for me to summarise them here, but one takeaway quote from my notes is this:

You won’t do good work until you’re happy with the money coming into your pocket. You won’t do your best work if you are bitter and feel like you are demeaning yourself. You won’t have any self-worth.

Contentment. Something to think about. Note to future self: I must track down his book when I get home and read it.

24-36 A mid-afternoon finish left us time to go and explore the sites of the US Capital. A walk past the White House continuing down through the Mall of America to the Washington Monument. The famous imposing limestone tribute to the first US president. Free of any explanatory plaques or boards, the towering monument is grand and implied. ‘We don’t need to explain this, everyone knows why it’s here.’ Turning right from there we walked past the World War II memorial past the currently empty pool of reflection up to the Lincoln memorial. A lengthy walk worked us up an appetite. So another restaurant and a bison burger for dinner this time.


36-48 If Monday was a full program then Tuesday was in overdrive. Our first speaker for the morning? President of the American Farm Bureau and Texan rancher Bob Stallman. The American Farm Bureau is the equivalent of our National Farmers Federation in Australia and Bob gave us an overview of the AFB and how it organises itself. Their on the ground presence is formidable. There are an estimated 3 million people employed in production agriculture in the USA. Roughly broken up into 2 million farmers/ ranchers and 1 million employees. The AFB has 6 million paid up members. A scale and influence we can only dream of given there are only about 200k farms in Australia.

Visiting the USDA

Visiting the USDA

Following presentations from the AFB we ventured out into the Washington Metro system and caught a train. Coming up out of the subway into the Mall of America between the capitol building and the Washington monument we were out the front of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) building. Where we were able to have lunch before a brief tour of the impressive historic building. The 40 of us were then treated to an audience with Under-Secretary for Agriculture.

Next in store for us was a visit to the New Zealand embassy, where we were given an overview of the Kiwi economy and learnt how agriculture was a major export earner for the country. It was fascinating to hear how the Kiwis had an expensive system of subsidies that were crippling the country in the 1970s. When they could be afforded no longer they were phased out over 5 years, which enabled the ag economy to respond to markets and become efficient and productive. A concept that must’ve been interesting and challenging to our US and European guests.

Looking at Jupiter

Looking at Jupiter

48-60 Just across the road from the New Zealand embassy is the US Naval Observatory. The complex which houses the Washington residence of the US Vice President and 5 Admirals in the US Navy. After a finger-food tea we were humbled to hear an address on leadership from Rear Admiral Craig Faller who is currently the Chief of Legislative Affairs for the US Navy. A man who has previously been in charge of navy battle-groups in the first Gulf War and was in charge of the first responding US ship to the Indonesian Earthquake disaster. A man worth listening to. Not only this but my nerd farming senses were in overdrive here as we learnt that this location was essentially the timekeeping place of the world.

*Non nerds can skip this bit*

Furthermore all 24 GPS Satellites & 6 reserve satellites pass over the observatory once per day where their atomic clocks are synchronised with the Navy’s atomic clocks on site. Our tractors receive signals from these same satellites. The guidance computers on our tractors keep track of the different lengths of time it takes for signals from the satellites to reach it and from this it can triangulate its position on the earth’s surface. This facility enables us to farm the way we do today. We were also able to look through the Observatory’s first satellite at Jupiter and see 4 of its moons.

Interestingly, the US Navy’s official backup system for the GPS system is celestial navigation. Using the sun and stars and slide rules etc. The same way as they were doing it 200 years ago.

*Nerdy bit over*

A wonderful two days full of ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experiences. A credit to the Nuffield and RULE programs for getting us this kind of access, to hear from and learn from recognised leaders, both inside and outside our industry.

After a 4:30am alarm and about 3-4 hours sleep I’m now flying across the United States to California, where we’re based for the next several days looking at agriculture in this part of the US. I’ve heard California described as ‘Agriculture on Steroids’. Can’t wait for the next adventure.


Web developer turned farmer. Interests include: my faith, my wife, technology, cricket, farming, ice cream & world events.

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