They held up signs bearing the names of countries like Nepal, Moldova, Japan. They were farm families mostly, in the Iowa town of Carroll, and this week they are hosting dozens of foreign ambassadors and diplomats in their homes.
"More open, more friendly," is the way Petr Kavan of the Czech Republic Embassy described his Iowa hosts. The diplomats are here courtesy of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who began organizing these get-to-know-Iowa trips during the farm depression of the 1980's. "What I want to get out of this is jobs," Sen. Grassley said while riding on one of three buses transporting the group around the state. "Export related jobs are very much higher paying jobs."
He admits it was hard in the beginning to convince diplomats to come to the heartland. "They would ask questions, 'Why Iowa?'"
The five-day trip began Monday with stops at global financial services company Principle Financial in Des Moines, then moved to a Bridgestone-Firestone agricultural tire plant, and then to Monsanto for a discussion of genetically-modified seeds--which Monsanto believes can help feed an ever-crowded planet. "They really don't know what to expect," said Monsanto's Mike Dykes about diplomats visiting an actual farm where "GMO" seeds are cultivated. "They expect it to be radically different, and when they see this corn, they see it looks like any other corn."