The community was suffering. They were geographically isolated and their culture limited their mobility through the region. While they were skilled farmers, the couldn’t compete with the larger import groups that were pricing them out of the market.
News of this community in trouble got out and an agricultural educator came to the community. The spring tomatoes were scraggly and poorly-looking. The fruit was small and each plant only gave a few tomatoes. There might have even been some parasites. The early season market was a great opportunity to outsell the larger producers, but the unpredictable spring weather was wreaking havoc on the farmer’s attempts to start their plants early.
The agricultural educator devised a plan and a whole new system for growing was suggested. Rather than trying to heat greenhouses with wood, a bit of clear plastic and some black boards became solar green houses. New compost and mulching techniques were taught. Plants better suited to local conditions were identified and cultivated. Low-tech and cost-effective irrigation systems were employed.
As a result, these farmers began producing the best quality early spring and late fall crops in the region. They sent their produce to market, and based on their success, formed a new co-op for selling at auction. They began to out-compete the larger warehouses and were able to develop a successful system of co-sharing profits and reinvesting in their community farm production. The community was strengthened and whole families benefited from this new source of revenue.
Where did this story take place?
No, it isn't a Peace Corps story. It's not even a USAID or iNGO story.
This story is the story of a UW Cooperative Extension program with the Amish and Mennonite communities in central Wisconsin.
To me, this story captures the essence of the parallels of the international work I was doing, and the state-wide work the UW Cooperative Extension is doing right here at home. The same successes we come to expect in rural, traditional and often isolated communities in the international world is what the UW Cooperative Extension is modeling and perfecting right here at home.
And once again, I discover I have found my home again in Wisconsin.