April 2011

At the end of our last day of workshops, several of the APOT farmers offered their thanks to the Purdue team, and commented that they are committed to following through on the activities and assignments that we left for them to do.  They remarked that they found value in the presentations and lessons that J.W., Scott and Ed had prepared for them, adding that they found them practical and applicable to their farms.  Handshakes and hugs reinforced understandings that came via translated words.  Smiles of gratitude didn’t need translation, however.

Reading through the posts below from my team members, it might sound like we’re singing our own praises.  Maybe our emotions were running high from being in-country and having a new experience, seeing the positives and not the negatives.  Perhaps we were missing an objective lens from which to view what were doing.

For me, what matters most is how the people I am working with feel about the work I am doing.  Finding the entry point to introduce new ideas and ways of doing things, with all the underpinnings of coming from the United States to a developing nation, to host-country nationals demands that I not act with hubris, nor be flippant, but instead be considerate and ask from the outset what they think about what I am doing as we progress together in our work. 

Tamara and Eliecer guided that process formally during the workshops, and the Purdue Extension Educators and I felt that out with conversations on the side with the APOT members.  Moreover, by going to their farms, by sitting down and talking with them about their crops and their land, by sharing cups of coffee and discussing the commonalites and differences between agriculture there and here, they came to realize that this project was going to be “different,” as Don Jorge told me.

How so?  Let’s go back to the final day of workshops.  Floribeth is active in managing APOT’s organic farmer’s market.  She’s got a positive spirit, enjoys farming coffee, bananas and vegetables with her husband, and from what I was able to see, finds much happiness in being with her family.  Her sense of humor is a delight, and her concern for APOT’s long-term success is evident.

When she stood up and started talking about what the past eleven days meant to her and her fellow APOT members, that we had traveled so far to work with them, to strengthen their association, to offer suggestions on how to better manage their farms, I could see little tears in her eyes, which brought some to mine, and I’m pretty sure I saw some in Tamara’s and other APOT members’ eyes too.  Her words came from her heart. 

Somewhere near the end of her thanks, she said this, and I’m paraphrasing the translation:  “We have received many trainings over the years.  People come in, they stand up there and tell us things, and then they leave.  It’s like they do what they want to do.  You didn’t do that.  You asked up what we think.  You were interested in learning about our challenges, about how we farm, and then you showed us some things that we know will improve our organization.  What you’ve taught us makes sense to us.  And you came to our farms.  Purdue is different.  We know Purdue has come into our lives at a time when we needed it, that you were sent to us.”

No matter how many reports we write, the numbers we try to capture to measure impact, the dollars spent, when I think of how to measure success, I look for signs of empowerment.  Do the people feel empowered? 


The week after we left, APOT went to the mayor of Turrialba and ask for permission to have a space at the town farmer’s market on Fridays and Saturday mornings.  It was granted. 

The following week, Tamara took fifteen APOT members and consumers of their products to a model organic farming cooperative so that they could learn about better farming practices and organizational management.  The sign-up list had more than fifteen names on it.



Well the three Purdue Ag Extension Educators have come and gone from Costa Rica and in most projects that would mean that the messages that they brought have gone in one ear and out the other.  Guess what?  That isn’t the case in this project.  The APOT farmers have been so motivated and charged by the experience and knowledge of Scott, Ed, and JW that they are now starting to take some new initiatives.

First they went to the mayor of Turrialba to ask to be allowed to sell their organic produce in the conventional farmer’s market.  This is a much larger market and brings in many more clients.  They were allowed to start selling this week since their product is different from the other products.  They will be the only sellers of organic produce in the market.  They will have the ability to start teaching hundreds of people about the virtues of eating healthy foods produced without the use of chemical inputs and protection of soil and water.  It will give the Turrialba population a chance to try something new and start to demand other farmers to think more carefully about the pesticides that they use.

Second, tomorrow I will be bringing at least 15 APOT farmers and consumers from the farmer’s market to visit Alvaro in Tierra Blanca near Cartago.  He produces a bulk of the organic vegetable produce that is sold in Turrialba.  The hope is that the APOT farmers will learn from him on how to better manage their soils, rotate their crops, utilize local varieties, and better understand organic farming.  I am sure we will have a wonderful time, albeit without the great guys from Southern Indiana!

So, all in all, the first Farmer to Farmer workshop has been a huge success.  The next workshops have huge shoes to fill but knowing the caliber of Ag Extension Educators that Indiana and Purdue have I have a feeling it won’t be too difficult.  Indian and the USA are extremely fortunate to have such capable and dedicated staff that are working for the folks in the rural areas.  Farmers in Costa Rica could only be so lucky.  Thanks for loaning them to us for a few weeks!