News and Events

LaRon Beemer

This article was originally written and published by The Flyer Group here

Name: LaRon Beemer

Current title/profession: Competitive Intelligence Manager for the Agricultural Division of DowDuPont

Current hometown: Brownsburg, Indiana

Areas of expertise: Agricultural development, cooperative structure, dairy, agribusiness


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer East Africa

Location of the project: Kenya

Organization that sent the volunteer: Catholic Relief Services (CRS)


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

Brownsburg resident LaRon Beemer, a competitive intelligence manager for the Agricultural Division of DowDuPont, is an African ag development enthusiast that recently traveled to Kenya for two weeks to share his technical skills and expertise with local farmers. Beemer’s assignment is part of Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) Farmer-to-Farmer program that promotes economic growth, enhanced nutrition through access to healthy food, and agricultural development in East Africa.

“I really enjoyed the privilege to use my passion for Africa, agricultural development, strategy, finance and the cooperative structure to make a difference at a dairy cooperative in Kenya," Beemer said. “I was able to draw on my business and financial skills from Dow AgroSciences, previous projects in Africa, and my practical farming knowledge.”

Farmer-to-Farmer matches the technical expertise of U.S. farmers and professionals in agri-businesses, farming cooperatives, and universities with farmers in developing countries to assist them in improving agricultural productivity, accessing new markets, and increasing their incomes. Farmer-to-Farmer is funded by the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID).

In a world where 80 percent of food is produced by farmers working on small farms or fisheries, the movement to share proven farming and business skills can improve the quality and quantity of the world’s food supply. For communities in the developing world who often struggle to produce enough food, this can improve access to a reliable source of food and better nutrition. For the farmers, it can strengthen their path to prosperity.

The goal of Beemer’s assignment was to develop an action plan, identify areas of needed improvement in the organization, and develop a strategic business plan for a feed mill operated by a cooperative alliance. The cooperative provides quality feed and training to small scale dairy farmers that are members of 19 cooperatives that invested in the umbrella cooperative alliance. Most of Beemer’s time was spent in the Machakos area about 60 km southeast of Nairobi working with the Lower Eastern Dairy Cooperative Alliance. The impact Beemer left will help restore the cooperative to profitability and allow it to increase the volumes of quality feed on a consistent production schedule that its members are requiring.

This is Beemer’s second volunteer assignment with Farmer-to-Farmer and is one of nearly 500 assignments that focus on improving approaches to local agriculture practices, expanding production of quality food crops and nutrition in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. The program, funded by the U.S. government has been running for nearly 30 years.

CRS is partnering with five U.S. institutions to tap into the rich diversity of the U.S. agriculture community: the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Foods Resource Bank, National Association of Agricultural Educators, American Agri-Women, and the University of Illinois’ College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

The volunteers travel to East Africa for anywhere from one to six weeks.

“We are certain that this program will be beneficial not just to the farmers in East Africa but also to the volunteers from America,” Bruce White, CRS program director, said. “It’s going to make the world a little bit smaller and a whole lot better for everyone involved.

Melissa Delzio

This article was originally written by Melissa Delzio and published by Partners of the Americas here

Name: Melissa Delzio

Current title/profession: Independent Graphic Designer at Meldel LLC; Adjunct Professor at Portland State University

Current hometown: Portland, Oregon

Areas of expertise: Graphic design, illustration, branding, social media


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Caribbean Region

Location of the project: Guatemala

Organization that sent the volunteer: Partners of the Americas


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

With his silver-streaked beard and fashion scarf, seated in Sukhasana (a yoga meditation pose), Marco Barbi may seem like an unlikely candidate to help kickstart the Guatemalan economy. For starters he is Italian, married to a French astrologist and is himself the author of several personal growth books. He arrived to Guatemala via Mexico over a decade ago, and choose to make the outskirts of Antigua his home. He leads a meditation session every Monday evening on one of Antigua’s many photogenic rooftops, and I attend on my first day in the city. I focus on his rhythmic incantations and try to resolve all of the nervous and excited energy that comes from freshly arriving in a foreign land.

Marco, the yogi guru, is on a mission to serve up high quality, health food products to the Guatemalan people and I am happy to have him as my client for the coming weeks. He calls his mostly Guatemalan-sourced products, “super foods” and thusly named his company, “Yogi Super Foods” (YSF). On our first day together, before the rooftop meditation session, we met at his company’s headquarters, that houses his offices and production center. Here we viewed and sampled a variety of his over 40 products such as Raw Chocolate (cocoa beans are not heated above 42°C to maintain nutrients), goji berries, pumpkin seeds, apple cider vinegar drinks, ghee and kombucha.
 
My role as a graphic designer is to help Marco evolve his brand to have a more consistent and professional look and messaging. Up to this point, the packaging design for this startup was produced by Marco himself, and consisted of a system of black ink clear labels that were applied to kraft bags, jars and bottles. 
 
While this was the most inexpensive way to produce labels, it resulted in a few problems:
  1. All the products looking/feeling the same. It was hard to distinguish different items from each other when they were all on a shelf.
  2. Black printing on a clear label worked fine when set against a light color, but was very difficult to read when the product in the clear jar was darker, like a berry kombucha.
  3. There was too much information on the package and not enough hierarchy. Consumers gave feedback that the multiple decorative typefaces gave it a jumbled look that made it difficult to parse information.
Thanks to a previous volunteer’s work, we had great information about YSF’s current consumer base and market reach. “They are mid to upper socioeconomic consumers. Estimated 60% Guatemalans, 40% Foreigners — predominately North American and European. Most live in Guatemala City or Antigua. Interested in a healthy lifestyle.” Together, Marco and I created a scope of work that included an overhaul of the full line of packaging products. With over 40 products and only 2 weeks to create something from scratch, we decided that the most efficient thing to do was to instead create a series of templates for every packaging form with some size variations. The templates were: kraft bags (3 sizes), Square jars (2 sizes), 1 Kombucha jar, 1 chocolate bar, and 1 bottled drink. 
 
We finished off the day with a tour of five grocery stores and boutique shops where YSF products were sold to view how the products are displayed and evaluate the design of local competitors. Many local competitor’s packaging designs were very generic and did not reflect local Antigua culture or scenery. I noted that our redesign must include the volcanoes!
 
 
I settled into my hotel and quickly realized that working from my hostel room would have all the comfort of church pews. Thank goodness for the world’s extensive network of digital nomads! I found a multitude of resources online for the best wifi-friendly coffee shops and restaurants to work from remotely in Antigua and I set out test every one. Bella Vista Coffee (aptly named) quickly became a favorite due to their beautiful views, ready outlets and covered patio. Guatemala is in the tropics, so nearly every space has an indoor/outdoor component. At Bella Vista there were private Spanish lessons in session, a local tour company planning their schedule and missionary groups checking in with each other about their week’s challenges. Many languages darted back and forth, and the coffee was served strong and abundantly.
 
Soon, it was clear that my new design direction for YSF was not compatible with the original company logo. The logo was too horizontal, didn’t size down well, and wasn’t available in a vector file format. The tagline of the logo was an afterthought. Marco was attached to the heart element of the current logo and the infinity symbol, but was otherwise open to suggestions. I set to work presenting a new set of logo options along with the packaging redesign, starting with the kraft bags.
 
By the end of the first week, we had settled in on a new logo direction, a new look for the “benefits” icons, and chosen a package design for the kraft bags. We were set up to fully implement the designs across the full product line during the second week. 
 
After back-to-back volcano hikes over the weekend, I kick off week two with a new appreciation for the volcanic mountains that form the base of the designs. The work week offers more opportunities for mobile office coffee and café explorations. Most notably, was Fernando’s Kaffee, which makes it own chocolate onsite and roasts their own coffee. Like many establishments, Fernando’s doesn’t look like much until you wind through their gift shop, stroll past the chocolate makers in action, and arrive at their gorgeous garden courtyard. Fernando himself makes the rounds, ensuring all customers are cared for, taking time to pet his aging café cat, Misha, who is curled up on a chair in the sun. A Mayan woman weaves in the center of the courtyard, demonstrating the backstrap style loom. Her bright textile creations are spread out before her. With the hum of café conversation and wafts of chocolate from their factory enticing me with every breeze, I work on expanding the approved design for the kraft bags across the full product line.
 
 
By Friday, Marco and I are putting the finishing touches on the full set of packaging templates. We meet with his web developer. While website design is not in the scope of work for this assignment, we agree on some strategies, show him the work and agree to share assets. YSF’s new designs may not hit shelves for some time, but Marco can start implementing some digital design pieces sooner. My objective is give Marco as many assets that he can use on his own to help build up his new brand.
 
I include a “yogi” illustration of Marco himself with his tagline that can be used as a sticker on packaging and draw a more clear association between the food brand and his “Happy Soul Messages.” Marco’s messages, are small folded cards with inspirational and empowering notes that pair with his meditation classes (his larger Happy Soul Project). I urge Marco to continue these messages as a way to help build brand loyalty and trust. I design a template for him so that future cards match the new aesthetic and integrate the cards into the packaging design so that a message is revealed when you pull off the card. I also recommended adopting the hashtag #yogihappysoul for future Instagram marketing. It is daunting to start a company from scratch as Marco has, and overhauling the branding, messaging and marketing to a more professional level will take awhile. But Marco knows what he needs to do, and hopefully he is set up to make a giant leap forward in that regard.
 
It was hard to leave Antigua. The city was feeling extra festive as Ash Wednesday passed, kicking off the month of Lent. Across town, unique religious vigils were held. All week there were fireworks in celebration. Puppets called gigantes were propped up in formation outside of a church, awaiting their time to be called to perform.
 
I race up to Cerro de la Cruz, a hill just north of town with sweeping views of the city. The clouds hug close to Volcán de Agua’s peak. Night falls, and my last day in Antigua comes to an end.

Jolene Warnke Roszel

This article was originally written and published by Winrock International here

Name: Jolene Warnke Roszel

Areas of expertise: Science, education, curriculum deveopment, agricultural extension


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Program for Agriculture Education & Training

Location of the project: Nigeria 

Organization that sent the volunteer: Winrock International


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

Jolene was nominated by the Nigeria Farmer to Farmer team because she demonstrated a commitment to the success of her assignments and never tired of the frenzied hours of hard work – developing training materials, training the host in necessary skills and capabilities. Country Director, Mike Bassey, said “Outside of Jolene’s scope of work, she accepted a request by the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS) to travel to a NAERLS-adopted farming community to hold an interactive session with farmers in pesticides safe use. This collaboration helped pave the way for the implementation of a follow-on assignment.” Further, Jolene continued to work with F2F country staff after she returned to the US! 

We asked  Jolene to reflect on her volunteer experience and the trip to Nigeria. Read on to see what she had to say! 

Why did you want to volunteer?

I’ve always volunteered in my community, which is very important, but the idea of being able to expand beyond my local borders and reach people who live completely differently than I do is exciting. I love challenges and I felt that this opportunity would challenge me on a personal and professional level and really stretch the depth of what I can do and who I can reach.

What was the highlight of your most recent volunteer assignment abroad?

The most recent assignment in March provided an opportunity for me to meet a few village leaders and provide some pesticide safety training to farmers directly. That was my first experience using an interpreter to translate from English to the native language of Housa and although it was a new experience it was received well and appreciated by the farmers.

How does your experience affect your worldview?

Even with extensive media outreach in today’s world, nothing impacts a person more than an actual experience. The differences in cultures, lifestyles, values, environment can’t be truly realized through video and pictures in the same way as being there. Meeting real people in real time creates a bond and you always find that you have something in common with each person you meet even with large disparities in where and how you live. It also gives you so much to reflect on, how so much of the world struggles with basic needs yet people live happily without material things.

Volunteer observes Hausa traditional rights during a courtesy visit to a local chief

What advice would you give a new volunteer?

Use your opportunity to meet and have real conversations with as many people as you can. Don’t be afraid to accept their invitations to culture and new experiences. We grow the most when we move outside of our comfort zone and they will want you to share everything possible about yourself and your life. Don’t be afraid to do so.

How have your assignments made a difference in your own life? /Has your assignment caused you to do anything differently once you returned?

Absolutely! I always thought material things were a low priority for me but now even more so. I purged so much stuff when I came back from my first assignment! I regained my love for art and culture and looked for more ways to share my talents. I thank God every day for clean water and air, security and my family’s wellbeing and for even having the opportunity to venture and see the world.

How do you feel about the support from Winrock, whether before, during or after your assignments?

Winrock is the most amazing organization. They provide incredible opportunities and really support their volunteers. I always feel I can reach anyone with questions, get advice, or details from my assignments. Being able to talk to previous volunteers is a bonus as well.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering?

Professionally, I have always been in science and education or a combination of the two. I’m also a mom and artist, who loves all things outdoors such as camping, hiking, biking, scuba diving, and beekeeping.

Does anyone in your life play a role in supporting your involvement? In providing inspiration?

I feel that the most successful volunteers have support from their families. My daughter is my inspiration; I want to be a role model for her, to show her how to serve others, to be selfless and adventurous and to share her talents with others who can benefit from them.

What keeps you going back to volunteer?

Winrock is such a solid organization and I believe in their mission. The professional atmosphere, the host organizations they work with, the value received from the inputs, and the experience as a whole provides amazing opportunities for all those involved.

Volunteer explains the tasks of new curriculum development

What, if anything, has surprised you on your assignments?

I am amazed at how engaged everyone is during the assignment. Even in cultures where time schedules are flexible and fluid and learning environments are not standardized, everyone is engaged and willing to learn. They show a real desire to soak up as much information as you can provide. They are inquisitive and anxious to use the information you provide. I was really surprised that as much as the internet and media can reach now, there are still huge disparities in the type and quality of information that reach people.

Angela Caporelli

 "There are some real exciting aquaculture projects throughout the world that will help people live healthier and abundant lives. If we have the knowledge to share, we can help feed many and be an integral part of developing wealthier, smarter and healthier generations in the future." 

                                                                                                                    


Profession: Aquaculture Coordinator, KY Dept. of Agriculture BAP auditor, NSF Incorporated

Career Summary: Angela works with farmers and other members of the agriculture industry to increase awareness of good aquaculture practices and promote the value of aquaculture species. She also works with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point's (HACCP) plans and processors to ensure safe products.

Area(s) of Expertise: Aquaculture extension for extensive culture and semi-intensive production systems, food safety issues and concerns in aquaculture, rural aquaculture/agriculture integration for increased production.

Education: MS in Aquaculture from KY State University; BS in Aquaculture and Resource Development from the University of Rhode Island

Language(s) Spoken: English, Kikongo


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Aquaculture without Frontiers Small Grant through Farmer-to-Farmer Special Program Support Project

SPSP Grantee: University of Arizona and Aquaculture without Frontiers

Duration of Assignment: 3 weeks

Volunteer Assignment and Impact: While in Kenya, Angela evaluated an established aquaculture field station and reported on the efficacy of staff and current training protocols. In addition, she developed and conducted aquaculture workshops for over 75 farmers and staff throughout the region. In the workshops, she introduced more appropriate aquaculture technology and application methods to improve the aquaculture production and efficiency of Tilapia and Clarias. She also developed and taught feeding and fertilization protocol for pond culture.

Benedicto Marinas

Name: Benedicto Marinas

Current title/profession: Chef

Current hometown: New York City

Areas of expertise: Culinary Arts


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Improving the Sustainability of Malian Sheep and Goat Farming Program

Location of the project: West Sikasso region, Mali

Duration of assignment: Eight weeks

Organization that sent the volunteer: Common Pastures/Browse and Grass Growers Cooperative

In the village of Solla-Bougouda, as in many other villages in the West Sikasso region, most families have corn porridge for breakfast; and corn porridge, break corn or corn paste with tomatoes, onion or okra sauce for dinner. If a third meal is taken the options are the same.

New York City Chef Benedicto came to Bougouni Circle in the Sikasso region of Mali to share his creative use of farmer products in nutritious, inexpensive meals. He worked with 4 villages and 1 school including 125 men, 129 women, 118 youth and totaling 372 (36 with disabilities).

He first requested that the participants share their cooking methods and ingredients. He then explored what was available in their community gardens and sold on the roadways. With this information he was able to increase the nutrition and diversity of their meals. Measuring tools were ignored. Participants were encouraged to use their intuition and trust their eyes and taste when creating meals.

Almost half of children in the rural areas of the Sikasso region, 42%, show delayed growth (Malian Demographic and Health survey: EDSM-V 2012-2013). Benedicto built the capacity of men, women, and youth to prepare and appreciate more diverse food choices, such as the highly nutritious moringa tree leaf, papaya, sweet potatoes, and spices, along with the addition of protein from fresh milk, eggs, chicken, and fish from the local river.

The village chief, Mr. Djeka Mariko, praised the results: “Benedicto you are a blessing…, by coming so far and training all of us on the importance of using our foods as our medicine to maintain health.”


Chef Benedicto Recipe - Corn and Moringa in Fish Broth

Ingredients:

  • Moringa leaves
  • Dried catfish
  • Corn Kernel
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Tomatoes
  • Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Heat oil in a large skillet. Cook and stir garlic, then onion, ginger and tomatoes in hot skillet until softened, about five minutes. Add the dried catfish, stir slowly until tender. Add water. Let it boil. Add the corn kernel. Simmer until cooked, about 15 minutes. Add the moringa leaves. Season with salt and pepper. In no less than a minute after the moringa leaves are added, this dish is ready.

Note: moringa leaves gets overcooked easily and when they are, they tend to get bitter.

 

Fresh corn, moringa leaves and dried fish

Paul Christ

Name: Paul Christ

Current title/profession: Retired

Current hometown: Minnesota

Areas of expertise: Economics, risk management, strategic planning, and dairy 


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer in Russia

Location of the project: Russia

Organization that sent the volunteer: Land O'Lakes International Development


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

Paul Christ, retired Vice President, Economics and Risk Management for Land O’Lakes, applied his 26 years of Land O’Lakes experience to a recent volunteer assignment in Russia. As a volunteer in the USAID-funded John Ogonowski Farmer-to- Farmer Program, Paul traveled for two weeks in November–December 2006 to central Siberia to advise the Tomsk Department of Agriculture on strategic planning and development of their dairy industry. His knowhow covered the entire dairy value chain, from production to marketing. Still, Paul discovered that his Russian counterparts were most interested in the structure of the U.S. dairy industry. He delivered six seminars on this topic to urban and rural audiences, all of them followed by rigorous question-and-answer sessions. Though the weather was chilly, literally -17°F upon arrival, the Russians warmly received the exchange of information in the seminars. In a recent interview, Paul shared his views on being a volunteer:

Why did you volunteer?

I am rewarded by each foreign assignment. It is one of the most rewarding things you can do. I am much enriched by each assignment and receive more than I contribute. Regarding this particular assignment, I was always interested in Russia and had taken a course in the Russian language in the Army.

How did being a part of the Land O’Lakes organization positively influence what you bring to an overseas assignment?

Because Land O’Lakes is a major player in the dairy industry, I could answer all their questions about the U.S. dairy industry. Working at a broadbased organization such as Land O’Lakes gave me a range of experience that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

How did your trip benefit you personally and professionally?

In terms of professional development, as on other trips, I learned about agriculture in another part of the world and other ways of doing things. As for personal development, it was a confidence-building exercise.I was the only American around  except in Moscow at the beginning and end of the trip. I had some culture shock but learned I could fit in and made a point of spending some time on my own without the interpreter.

Do you ever recommend to others that they volunteer internationally?

Yes, at social and professional occasions, I talk about my foreign assignments. People are intrigued by the stories. If others seem interested, I encourage them to contact Land O’Lakes International Development to fill out an application. I stress to them that it is a new cultural experience. You go into it needing to depend on others for help. By following the in-country staff’s advice on where to go and where not to, I’m glad to say I’ve never had a bit of trouble. My experience is that people are decent everywhere.

This article was originally written by Land O'Lakes.

Nimer Al-Shadfan

This article was originally written and published by Land O'Lakes International Development here

Name: Nimer Al-Shadfan

Current title/profession: Strategic Operations Manager at Land O'Lakes, Inc.

Current hometown: Blaine, Minnesota

Areas of expertise: Manufacturing, quality management, food safety


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Middle East and North Africa

Location of the project: Egypt

Organization that sent the volunteer: Land O'Lakes International Development


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

In December 2015, Nimer Al-Shadfan, a Land O’Lakes, Inc. employee, went on a volunteer assignment with Land O'Lakes International Development's Farmer-to-Farmer program. He is featured in the photo below on the left, alongside Hossam Habeeb, Farmer-to-Farmer Egypt Country Director. Nimer spent two weeks in Egypt training a manufacturing plant on quality. We sat down with him to learn more.

Hello, Nimer! Please tell us about your career with Land O’Lakes, Inc.
Three years ago, my family and moved from overseas to Chilton, Wisconsin. Land O’Lakes hired me as an Operations Manager at a milk replacer plant, supervising about 50 employees. Earlier this year, I was hired for a Strategic Operations Manager position, still supporting milk replacer plants, but relocated to headquarters. I now live in Blaine with my wife and two daughters.

In December 2015, you went to Egypt with the Farmer-to-Farmer program. You were halfway around the world from the United State, but I hear that this assignment was close to home for you. Please tell us more.
I’m originally from Jordan, a country in the Middle East not far from Egypt. Jordan is where I went to school, met my wife, and we still have a lot of loved ones there. Egypt has a large Jordanian population, so for me it was like going to a second home. I even know their dialect of Arabic. When I heard about these volunteer assignments, I knew this would be an opportunity to give back to and share my manufacturing knowledge with the community that raised me.

It all comes full circle. What was your Farmer-to-Farmer assignment?
I was assigned to work with an organic manufacturing plant about north of Cairo. They requested that I train 25 employees on quality management. The plant is actually very sophisticated, they manufacture organic goods, such as medicines, tea, and cotton, but they had some major gaps in quality consistency.

What were a few of the results of the training?
After doing group exercises and better understanding the company, we worked to come up with solutions to issues they were facing. At the end, we presented improvement ideas to the leadership team. Two ideas that stood out to them were: a pest control management system, and an organizational decision-making process that better includes the workforce – the people who are on the line protecting quality.

All in all, the participants and the leadership were pleased with the results. They must have liked something I did, because I was invited to many of their houses for tea and dinner. And the president of the company actually invited me to play in a soccer game with him on the weekend.

Sounds like a hospitable bunch!
Yes. It’s unfortunate that the region is mostly portrayed as violent and unsafe. Middle Eastern people have always been known for their hospitality and generosity. And they love to learn.

Did you face any challenges at all while you were there?
The training handouts were in English, but the participants weren’t that comfortable with English. So every night, I went back to the hotel and translated the materials to make sure they would be used. Without an Arabic keyboard on me, it took quite a while. I ended up working 13 hour days, but it was all worth it for an interesting and fulfilling experience.

As we close, did you notice any parallels between Land O’Lakes employees and those you worked with in Egypt?
In the manufacturing industry, I find more similarities than differences in people, no matter where I am. Folks working in the plants are there to make a living and provide for their families. Many of them work in one facility their whole lives. Cultures may differ, but everywhere I go, people’s needs are the same.

David Ringuette

This article was originally written by David Ringuette and published by ACDI/VOCA here

Name: David Ringuette

Current title/profession: Retired Professor at the University of Hawaii Windward Community College, Owner of Serikaku Farm Ltd.

Current hometown: Hawaii

Areas of expertise: Aquaculture, agriculture, environmental science, horticulture, climate change mitigation


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (ECCA)

Location of the project: Kyrgyzstan

Organization that sent the volunteer: ACDI/VOCA


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

In the past three years, I have completed 17 volunteer assignments in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. With 20 years of experience as a farmer and 30 years of experience as an agriculture professor in Hawaii, I have a lot of knowledge to share about agricultural practices and appropriate technology. Traveling to less-developed countries, meeting new people, and giving farmers in other parts of the world innovative ideas is a wonderful feeling, and I am excited to be a volunteer.

Working with a volunteer gives farmers in rural areas a sense of value and a unique experience of interacting with an American in the flesh. Somehow, sharing a meal, creating compost, or looking at worms on a corn plant can be a bonding experience!

For example, as a volunteer with ACDI/VOCA’s Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program, funded by USAID, I spent two weeks in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, training farmers in composting techniques. This is a temperate area, and there is an abundance of organic matter in the fall, which farmers typically burn. After I explained the importance of organic matter in the soil and how to use as a resource, rather than discard it, the farmers were enthusiastic to turn waste into something beneficial. There was even a discussion about developing a business selling the compost as the former Soviet Union had once done.

Back home in Connecticut, I was not raised to be a volunteer. My first experience as a Peace Corps volunteer showed me just how rewarding working with farmers could be. (My parents did not understand why I would spend four years getting a college degree and then work for free.) We farmers, the world over, share the desire to make life better for future generations and produce healthy, abundant food. In my experience, when I explain to some people in developing countries that I am here to share knowledge with them, they accept me and show an eagerness to learn new farming ideas that could improve yields and environmental sustainability, lessen the burden of work, and offer new cash crops.

With no prodding from their parents, both of my children became Peace Corps volunteers, too. Currently, my son, Ryan, is working to help implement Catholic Relief Services’ Farmer-to-Farmer Program in Uganda. Life, for me, has come full circle, and I could not be prouder. Going on a vacation with one’s adult children is a pleasure. But doing development work with my son takes it to a whole new level. On two separate occasions, I have been able to go to Uganda and work on projects developed by his office with people in his country of service.

The Farmer-to-Farmer Program provided me with the opportunity to help people learn about new farming ideas in developing parts of the world. The farmers are appreciative of my help and implement many of the new techniques. I will continue to volunteer with the program, as long as my skills and knowledge of farming can be of help to others.

Read about Ryan Ringuette here

Blake Scott

This article was originally written by Blake Scott and published by Partners of the Americas.

Name: Blake Scott

Current title/profession: Founder & Cinematographer of SkyPixel Media

Current hometown: Denver, Colrado

Areas of expertise: Cinematography, project management, business development


ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW

Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Caribbean Region

Location of the project: Guatemala 

Organization that sent the volunteer: Partners of the Americas


VOLUNTEER IMPACT

At just over 6200ft elevation, winded, but yet proud of my accomplishment, I began setting up my camera gear for what was next to come.

The coffee harvest here in the mountainous region of Huehuetenango. Guatemala is home to what surely were severe 45° mountain slopes and expansive highland views; a perfect setting for great imagery. Elvera, and her two daughters, are indigenous coffee farmers and owners of a small plot of land filled with organically grown coffee plants. This is a precious opportunity so rarely given to women in a society so dominated by male influence. This was a welcomed open door for change.a028_c008_020844.0000011.jpg

As a documentary videographer, I have been tasked by F2F to tell Elvera’s story as she works to better her family’s lives through the exportation of high quality, woman-grown, organic coffee. Through the FECCEG’s (Federación Comercializadora de Café Especial de Guatemala) concerted effort to extend local markets, these small micro-producers finally have a voice in such a competitive international market.

Throughout my two-week assignment here in Guatemala I traveled to multiple coffee-producing farms, beekeeper’s hives, goat raising communities and also documented the coffee production process from start to finish. Countless hours of filming, tireless effort of chasing the light of the sun, multiple bee stings, thousands of clips, and two terabytes of footage later I can proudly look back and say my time and effort was very well spent and will hopefully do some good for these communities and organizations.

So let’s rewind back to the mountainside where I found myself ducking under trees and hauling camera gear up these steep slopes trying to keep up with the local kid who was leading the way to the location where the coffee harvest was taking place. He was an ace at it and I was crashing my way through, I can assure you of that. We eventually arrived to this singular flat spot on the mountain which gave me the opportunity to film amazing landscapes with humble people working extremely hard at their craft. Between unique GoPro point of view shots from the farmers’ perspectives’, stabilized RED Epic Dragon movement shots, and drone aerials to sincere personalized interviews- it was safe to say the steep hike was absolutely worth it.

Fast forward from here, and we are driving down a dusty, windy dirt road at 4:30am on our way to capture the first rays of light casting down on a series of bee hives where honey is produced. Adorn with a full veil, gloves (not so lucky the next time) and long sleeves head to toe we were ready to head in for battle. Armed with my RED Epic Dragon 6k balanced on a Ronin-M camera stabilizer I had no other way but to stay focused on the task at hand as over 12,000 bees were abruptly awoken.

“Whatever happens, don’t drop the camera…” I kept thinking to myself, as the bees turned the silent mountainside into a an overwhelming, reverberating buzz. Despite the turmoil, a feeling of serenity passed over me as I realized I was in very good hands with the FECCEG technical staff. In order to help me capture the imagery we needed to show these bee hives in good light the locals continually took the initiative to apply smoke to my hands and head in order to keep the bees at bay. After a few hours of squinting at my screen through my netted veil I captured the imagery we needed. I learned a tremendous amount about the toils of being a beekeeper and have such a deeper appreciation for acquiring quality honey.

We continued our journey from there, documenting the work that FECCEG is doing to build up local capacity of knowledge and expertise, as these farmers hone their craft and a023_c036_0201na.0000747.jpgexercise their newly found voice. We traveled to local women weavers, goat farms and to see the honey extraction process. We started with coffee cherries (pre shelling) and ended with roasted and packaged coffee.

I was able to capture it, every step of the coffee process, and met some truly amazing people along the way. Everyone at FECCEG was extremely helpful in the best kind of way because as a filmmaker there are always challenges with setting up shots. From getting the perfect lighting, to repositioning subjects and repeating actions from different angles, there is always a challenge so while working in these remote environments. I couldn’t have been more thankful for this help I received.

As I sit here at my computer, categorizing footage and translating interviews, I am humbled by the opportunity that this assignment placed before me to truly impact other people’s lives. I am eager to dig into this footage and craft something that both embodies FECCEG and Kishe but also creates a feeling of intense pride towards the tireless efforts of the many hundreds of producers that create the FECCEG name.

Time. Well. Spent.

 

 

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