'I couldn't see myself doing anything else,' RTHS grad says of agriculture

Haley Turner is shown at the Way Kambus Elephant School in Indonesia. The RTHS grad traveled to that country with a group of University of Kentucky students during the summer to study sustainable agriculture.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — If Haley Turner hadn’t received some helpful guidance from her mother, she might never have discovered her love for agriculture, which she is studying in college.

Originally Turner, a 2016 Rantoul Township High School grad, thought she might want to pursue a career in art.

“I was trying to take art classes in high school, and my mom told me I sucked at art, in a nice way,” Turner said. “She said, ‘Maybe you could think of something else.’”

One of the members of the school’s FFA got her interested in taking ag classes — “in the process of how agriculture works and how vital it is to being human. I think it’s really cool that I get to be part of the process of feeding people,” said Turner, daughter of Ken and Teresa Turner of Rantoul.

Sustainable agriculture trip

The younger Turner is not only excelling in her chosen field of agriculture, she got to branch out to see the wider effects of ag on the other side of the world. Turner was part of a group from UK that took a three-week trip to Indonesia that dealt with sustainable agriculture. The group visited rice paddy fields, coffee fields and animal farms. She also saw several of the ancient buildings located on the islands and sampled the foods native to the islands.

The major focus in her chosen field of study is finding sustainable solutions to combat the issues facing the environment such as climate change and forest fires in the Amazon, finding a less-intensive use of the amount of water in agriculture and producing greater yields without using as much land.

Forget art. Those days are past.

“I love it,” she said of her field of study. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

At coffee farm

Haley Turner, left, is shown with a fellow University of Kentucky student at a Sumatran coffee farm.

She earned grants that paid for her attending the trip, and she and her family paid for her plane ticket.

Turner earned seven credit hours by making the trip. But it wasn’t just the college credit that was an attraction.

“I wanted to be able to engage with another culture agriculturally,” she said.

Indonesia is a developing country with limited resources. Turner wanted to learn how the country was efficient agriculturally with its limited resources. She also wanted to dive into Indonesian culture and see “what they do differently from us.”

Among her most memorable stops was a Buddhist temple at Borobudur, where they arrived at 3 a.m. to watch the sun rise in between two volcanoes.

“It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen just sitting there,” she said. “There is such a rich history in the temple itself.”

The group of five students and two professors also visited an elephant school — a conservation area for the Asian elephants, which aren’t as big as African elephants but are still plenty large. Elephant rescue teams were present, and the UK students got to hop an elephant for a  ride through the park.

“They respond well to vocal cues,” Turner said. “It was so amazing. We got to give them baths and rode them in the water.”

Rice paddies were omnipresent

But it wasn’t all elephant rides and Buddhist temples. The group attended university classes, where they learned about the native agricultural life. They saw rice paddies.

(“They) were everywhere,” Turner said. “You cannot drive a mile without seeing one. There is constantly someone working in (them). They’re very dedicated to their harvest.”

Turner said the Indonesians’ use of pesticide was interesting. Not many of the organic farmers believe in killing the pests but repelling them using a tree root-hot pepper mixture that is sprayed on the plants.  

The trip began in Jakarta. It was the end of Ramadan in the Muslim country, a time when no one works, but there was “lots of food everywhere,” she said.

Indonesia is one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. The women are in full head scarves, but the UK women did not have to wear them. They still had to dress modestly.

From there they traveled to Java and visited the university. Then to Sumatra, noted for its coffee.

“We picked coffee in the forest (and visited) the processing plant” Turner said, “and then got to drink it. Some of it is so sweet you don’t have to add cream or sugar.”

It was summer in Indonesia, and it was hot, Turner said, but not as humid. The country had just gotten out of the rainy season.

“It’s more of a dry heat,” she said. “Some of the days, the humidity in Illinois makes it hotter than Indonesia.”

After college, Turner said she could see herself doing practically anything dealing with food production. She has not decided whether to enter grad school and focus on an area such as converting former military land into a useful purpose to serve mankind.  

Ironically, Kentucky’s sterling reputation as a major basketball power does more than lure top players. It can also prove to be a strong draw for other students. That was the case for Turner.

“I love basketball,” she said, adding that she has transferred that same passion to agriculture. She said she was drawn to the school on a visit there during her senior year of high school.

“The environment was so welcoming,” Turner said. “The College of Agriculture felt like it was part of a big family.”

Turner called the Indonesian visit “life changing.”

“I’m so thankful that I got to go on it.”