With glowing hearts

National pride is something that most of us hold near to our heart, no matter what nation we come from. And when we have the chance to show off our nation – invite someone to our home and show them what makes us proud – we jump.

It was with great pride of nation that I went to Berlin, Germany. I was recently elected as Canada’s representative on the executive board of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists – and I’m kind of proud, and humbled, to be in this role. As well, Canada is hosting the annual congress of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists later this year. So not only is the Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation expecting 300 of our colleagues from around the globe here in September, but I’m hosting a post-congress tour to Atlantic Canada.

With all of these elements combined, well, I’m pretty darn close to popping with Canadian pride.

The IFAJ executive meetings are held in conjunction with International Green Week in Berlin. During the 10-day food, horticultural and agriculture show, 400,000 people stream through the dozens of multi-levelled halls. In total, the 632 exhibitors from 57 countries fill 23 acres. The many people working at each booths was dressed in a traditional costume from their home country. The pride of their home country could be seen in the smiles on their faces.

There was a communal, yet individual sense of national pride wrapping its arms around us at Messe Berlin and I was anxious to find the booth representing Canada. I had heard that IFAJ colleagues sometimes invite others to their country’s booths for a drink or meal and I wanted to see what Canada had to offer.

When my Canadian colleague Owen Roberts, who is IFAJ’s Secretary General, and I arrived at Canada’s booth, Owen was met with a loud hello, a huge smile and a warm hug. The booth is operated by Marie-Luise Gareis. She remembered Owen from his visits in previous years and the sparkle in her eyes showed she was genuinely happy to see him. I felt that same kindness when she shook my hand.

Owen Roberts and Marie-Luise Gareis

From Germany, Marie-Luise and Fritz discovered Canada when Fritz went salmon fishing in British Columbia several years ago. He fell in love with our country and Marie-Luise did too when she joined him on subsequent trips. They’ve been back to Canada about 20 or 30 times, she can’t really remember, and her passion for Canada has grown.

The Gareis’ booth is Canada’s only presence at International Green Week in Berlin. Their entrepreneurship is striking. They import bison meat and make beef jerky, marketing it as a Canadische spezialitäten (Canadian specialty). They also bring in Crown Royal, maple syrup and Moosehead beer. Smoked salmon use to be a popular item, but import cost restrictions have driven costs high and she’s stopped selling it. Along with the Canadian booth at International Green Week, the Gareis sell to high-end retailers during the rest of the year. Marie-Luise also creates and bottles a drink called feuerwasser, or firewater, a combination of Crown Royal, maple syrup and a secret ingredient that Marie-Luise refuses to reveal.

According to three other Canadians who I bumped into at Green Week, the Canadian booth was certainly one of the louder, more fun booths. Country music was blasting from on top of the cooler and plaid shirt, cowboy hat-wearing workers at the booth, including Aboriginal Murray Small Legs from Alberta, were calling out for folks to stop in for their feuerwasser.

Four Canadians, on the left, and a Dutch at the Canadian booth at International Green Week, Berlin

Congratulations to Marie-Luise for representing Canada – but it’s a huge responsibility. The one booth is a small presences for the world’s second largest country and the agriculture and food sector that relies heavily on exports.

Like the Canadian booth, many of the booths represented stereotypes of our views of other countries, but this event is a chance to promote our countries and our foods. In Canada, there are agri-food and agri-businesses across the country who create wonderful products – endless unique and delicious foods. It’s a perfect chance to showcase Canadian products directly to German and other European customers. Canada needs more representation.

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