Saturday, December 23, 2006

Successful Cultural Exchange

We have enjoyed going to other countries and doing development work because of the people we meet. We are usually drawn to programs because of the projects they are doing, then we arrive and meet so many amazing people that our focus on the project usually transfers to a focus on the the people, their lives and their personal projects. We had such an experience a year ago in Nigeria. Our project was the FarmServe Africa program through USAID in Ebonyi State, Nigeria. We were to work with farmer cooperatives and share knowledge about beekeeping and solar dehydration. The farmers we met were extremely motivated and very interested in anything we wanted to share with anyone. The person we spent the most time with was Cletus Nwakpu, the Director of Rural Community Development at the Agriculture Development office (the same as our Ag Extension offices). He is also a PhD in Agricultural Economics, and so we had tons of fodder for late-night, post-workshop discussions at the local club. During these talks we kept saying how much Cletus would get out of coming to America, and so we dreamt. He called us in November 2006 and said he was coming in 2 weeks for 10 days! We quickly scrambled to find lots of inspirational things for him to experience, and so we did. A brief view of his itinerary for interest's sake: We went to Half Pint Farm and shared the structure of our cooperative model with 13 farms; we organized a breakfast meeting with one of our state representatives, Mark Larson, who Cletus asked so many questions of - he is so curious about how our society organizes itself governmentally. Then Spencer organized a meeting with 2 professors of agricultural/environmental economics at UVM. They hit it off tremendously and talked for nearly 3 hours! Then we went on the necessary tour of all things Vermont; Shelburne Farms, cider mill, Ben & Jerry's, and ski resorts (which had no snow!!!). Then we drove down to Massachusetts to spend time at Harvard University, which Cletus HAD to see. We went on a tour and experienced the campus all day. We spent the night at Mara's brother Phil's house, and the next day went directly to New York City. He could barely believe all of the tall buildings, the cars and all of the people! He experienced public transportation, crowded streets, a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty, and NYC pizza! All in all it was a terrific trip with tons of experiences and successful cultural and vocational exchanges. His next big project is a paper and a presentation on farmer cooperative models, based on his experiences here in the US. It was really gratifying to finally have a complete exchange with one of the amazing people we've met from all of our travels. We truly believe that he'll have lots of fun sharing his experiences with his colleagues and his family. Thanks for coming, Cletus!

Some other fun pictures of the visit
Cletus, Spencer & Hank Bissell, who gave us a great tour of Lewis Creek Farm.

Cletus meeting some sheep at Shelburne Farms.

Bob Parsons, Cletus and Ken Becker at UVM - kindred spirits.

On the subway in NYC.

Eating at John's Pizza in Greenwich Village - his last day in the US.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Visit From Nigeria

After a long delay, we have some farm news to report - we are hosting a friend we made last year this time when we went to Nigeria with the FarmServe Africa program (a project of USAID). His name is Cletus (pron. clay-toos) Chukwma Nwakpu. He is a rice farmer who works for the Agriculture Extension office in his state, in addition to these great credentials, he's also a PhD in agricultural economics! He was a generous host during our stay in Nigeria, and we are relishing the opportunity to share America with him. We have been talking nonstop - he has questions about everything, and we are really enjoying taking the time to explain things like: snow, the hundreds of different foods, farm cooperatives, CSAs, crosswalks, money exhange rates, and jet lag! He is an extremely bright individual, and we have had some terrific discussions. One thing that we loved about visiting Nigeria was that no subject was taboo to talk about - we were asked about everything under the sun; politics, corruption, religion, the list goes on and on. That trend continues while he is here - it is quite refreshing to not have to tiptoe around issues and really talk about all of the hard ones. The Nigerians we met were very motivated individuals as well as very inspired to learn about anything they possibly can. Our projects while we were in Nigeria were beekeeping (Mara) and solar food dehydration (Spencer). Cletus reports that several farmers we came into contact with are using the techniques we shared with them to great success. It's not too often in development work that folks really try what you teach! Having Cletus visit us is a reminder that all our efforts in farming and development work really are worth something and we can make a difference in people's lives, not to mention our own. Among his favorite things we did today: a visit to Half Pint Farm and the Intervale - though cold and barren, we still have escarole and cut some for dinner. Weeding the mache in the greenhouse at our field. We checked out the big lake here in Burlington - Lake Champlain. More to come as he meets more people in our lives here in Vermont. Happy Holidays!