WHAT'S THE STORY?
It all started in the early 1990’s. Florence Reed was serving as an environmental education and forestry extension Peace Corps volunteer in Panama.
During her service, she witnessed the tragic human component of tropical deforestation: huge swaths of lush tropical forests being burnt to a crisp as desperate farmers sought new land to farm.
To make matters worse, the new land only provided enough nutrients for several years before more forest had to be burned down. Reed knew that the farmers recognized the catastrophic impacts of slash-and-burn agriculture, but they could't see any other way to provide for their families.
Through living, eating, and working alongside these farmers, Reed realized that practical training in more sustainable agricultural methods could provide them with a way to continue to provide for their families and protect and restore their precious ecosystems. Driven to find an alternative to slash-and-burn, Reed did extensive research on sustainable alternatives during her Peace Corps tenure, training farmers on new techniques and tools. Together, they met with considerable success. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, however, the time Reed had to train farmers on sustainable agriculture and agroforestry was limited. It was through this experience that Reed saw the need to create a multi-year program that would give farmers ample time to learn, experiment, adjust, and potentially adopt these new practices.
Reed connected with so many farmers in Coclé, Panama that her Peace Corps Program Director joked that they should rename the province "Floclé" for all the work she had done to create lasting environmental and economic change there.
Moved by the power of these sustainable techniques and how they met the expressed needs of the farmers and the environment, Reed sought to build upon this tremendous potential to create significant and lasting change throughout Central America. Investing in infrastructure, funds, staffing, and ensuring buy-in from local communities were a crucial part of the start-up process. Much of the brainstorming during this phase happened in a spare bedroom Reed's parents donated for use as her first office space.
Reed started in Honduras, visiting potential communities and organizations doing similar work. She wanted to ensure that rural farmers were 100% invested. From experience, she knew that grassroots change is the longest lasting.
After cultivating a relationship with concerned university professors, small business owners, teachers, and non-profit executives, Sustainable Harvest International was founded in 1997, complete with a Board of Directors, three employees, and 50 participant families in one Central American country (Honduras).
A pilot program started in Honduras and then extended to Belize, Nicaragua, and Panama.
Sustainable Harvest International now has programs in three Central American countries, a strong dynamic board of directors, eight US-based staff, 24 field staff, and a lively community of dedicated donors that allow our locally-hired field trainers to keep doing their important work. We've now worked with over 2,812 families and planted 3.9 million trees and look forward to what we can accomplish in the future with your help.
Read more about Florence Reed and how Sustainable Harvest International started in this profile in the Portland Press Herald.
Don Cheyo graduated from Sustainable Harvest International's 5-phase program, fully replacing slash-and-burn with organic farming techniques, and his income rose over 900%! Watch his story on our YouTube channel!