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Ag pen pals: Dairy kids increase understanding across the U.S.-Canadian border

Emily Zweber for Progressive Dairyman Published on 16 June 2017
children writing letters

When I was a preteen, my parents’ good friends moved from Wisconsin to Connecticut, and naturally I had an instant pen pal with their oldest daughter. It was fun exchanging letters for a few years, until we eventually drifted apart in our teens. With those fond memories, I wanted a similar experience for my children.

Three years ago, I asked on Facebook if anyone had children interested in being pen pals. An acquaintance, from a previous career, answered. It was a perfect match. Three of her four children were about the same age as our three kids. She and her husband milk about 40 cows. Same as our family. She was just leaving a career in agriculture promotion to take a more active role on the farm. Same as me. It seemed like our families were perfectly matched. The only difference was they live in Ontario, Canada, and we live in Minnesota. An international pen pal friendship was born.

What started out as just our oldest children exchanging letters has turned into a family affair. My youngest and their second-to-youngest exchange pictures, while both of our oldest two exchange letters. These are not deep, international trade relations letters, but the correspondence focuses on family, cows and sports. One of the most interesting things we discovered was that their farm is actually farther south than ours. They live in the part of Ontario nestled between Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

While our children are not acting as international diplomats, Patricia, the acquaintance-mom-turned-friend, and I can ask each other about agriculture issues on both sides of the border. Patricia was a good source of information when changes in Canadian milk pricing affected farmers here in the U.S. It was good to have a primary source on the other side of the border to weed through the hyperbole.

Pen pals are a great way to introduce children to other cultures, formal letter writing and geography. To find a pen pal, you can do what I did, ask around, or you can go through more formal pen pal services. You can find these services online. Pen pals don’t need to take a lot of time. We send letters every month or two. There is no right or wrong way to pen pal. I recently listened to a podcast where a 10-year-old girl became a pen pal with Manuel Noriega, former dictator of Panama. That is the extreme.

As the art of letter writing is diminishing, the thrill of a hand-addressed envelope gracing the mailbox isn’t. Seeing the letters stamped with an international stamp makes my children very excited. They usually sit down right away to write a new letter.

Whether these exchanges will result in some international diplomacy, it is too early to tell, but our children are developing international friendships.  end mark

Emily Zweber is a dairy producer from Elko, Minnesota. Email Emily Zweber.

PHOTO: Emily Zweber’s three children work on letters and photos for their pen pals in Ontario, Canada. Photo provided by Emily Zweber.

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