For Jessica Kolden, who was born and raised in Garrison, a trip to Bismarck used to be an ordeal.
"I knew where the hospital was, but that's it," she said. "There's just too much traffic."
That was before she went half way around the world. Now Bismarck is no big deal.
Whitney Pandil-Eaton/MDN •
Jessica Kolden, logistics coordinator for JM Grain, poses at the office in Garrison.
Whitney Pandil-Eaton/MDN •
JM Grain in Garrison is shown in this undated photo.
As the logistics coordinator for JM Grain, a dry peas and lentil processing company, Kolden is responsible for scheduling rail and steamship transportation from their processing facility in Garrison to one of the more than 20 countries the company exports to. The company reaches nearly every continent, transporting North Dakota products to countries as far away as the Phillippines in Southeast Asia and Algeria in Africa to as close as the island of Cuba, located a mere 90 miles from Florida.
Aside from those duties, Kolden is also required to travel to potential new markets to make official and commercial contacts. Since she joined the company six years ago, she has traveled extensively throughout the United States and Canada and accompanied a North Dakota trade team to Cuba in February 2008.
While the focus of the trip was to contract peas with the Cuban government, Kolden gained eye-opening personal experiences.
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"The people are well-educated but only average $15 per month (personal income) so they don't eat out and can't afford many of the items the tourists of Havana get they mainly eat beans and rice," she said. "They are given their food by the government but the commodities are so limited that people outside the city raise pigs and chickens, because that's your meal, you have to come up with your own food."
While in the island country the trade group was taken out to a potato farm and Kolden said she was taken back by the lack of chemicals and machinery-farmers handpick their crops.
Although the company wasn't awarded the Cuban contract, Kolden said it was a good experience.
"There's a lot of history down there and it was interesting to see how others lived under a different (type of) government," she said.
Kolden's most recent trip occurred just weeks ago as she traveled to three major cities in South Africa to make potential business contacts.
"There's no middle class, you are either poor or wealthy there," she said. "Johannesburg is very wealthy but then 32 kilometers away there are places called 'settlements' that look like a bunch of shacks. Those are places we wouldn't even store things (in) and people live there." She added that one settlement contained nearly two million people.
Although South Africans have more access to a wider range of commodities than their Cuban counterparts, Kolden said high retail prices and a growing population's demands have opened the door for JM Grain and other exporters. While no contracts were signed during the trip, the door of communication is now open she said.
Working and traveling for JM Grain the last six years has changed her perspective on traveling and the world.
"People live everywhere, and to see how others live is amazing," Kolden said. "I have definitely fallen in love with traveling."