By Florence Reed, Founder and Director of Strategic Growth
In 1997, I founded Sustainable Harvest International after living alongside subsistence farmers in Panama. I saw that though farmers are responsible for much of the world’s tropical deforestation, they can also be part of the solution. Success stories from the past twenty years abound, motivating me to keep growing the organization. I’m happy to share some of my favorite stories with you. Thank you for helping us get to where we are today.
WHAT'S THE ANSWER
Charred forest, burned to the ground, is a heartbreaking sight. Especially in the middle of a lush protected forest like this one in Nicaragua. This is where I met Germàn. He was paid by the Nicaraguan government to prevent people from burning down the forest for farmland.
Germàn often caught people in the middle of burning. He’d plead with them to stop, but his heart wasn’t always in it. He understood their plight. “If I don’t farm, my children will go hungry. What am I supposed to do?” they’d say to him. And he didn’t have an answer.
When Germàn partnered with us, he learned how to farm the same plot of land from year to year. He replenished the soil with organic fertilizer and grew a nutritious harvest of fruits and vegetables.
Now when people ask him how to feed their families without destroying the forests, he has a solid answer. “Come visit my farm and I’ll show you.”
Listening to the needs of farmers has always been at the core of our organization. Ermita Roches was one of the first farmers I met in Belize. The land she farmed with her husband was at the base of the forested hills of the Carib Reserve. She asked for our help preserving the forest by their home.
When Ermita first signed on to our program, we were just getting off the ground. I worked beside her, planting trees, making compost, and planting vegetables. Her enthusiasm and hunger to learn inspired me to secure ongoing funding for Ermita and families like hers.
Ermita’s hard work paid off. She was able to work the same land every year without toxic chemicals. As a result, the mature forest by their farm still stands.
FOR THE FUTURE
Prior to partnering with us, Migdalia Rodriguez’s three children were malnourished and frequently ill. Migdalia’s pediatrician said their poor health was likely caused by exposure to the synthetic agrichemicals used on the farm. Many farmers I’ve met over the years have shared similar stories about harmful agricultural pesticides and fertilizers poisoning their friends and family.
At first, Migdalia found the work more difficult and time-consuming than how she’d previously farmed. But she wanted to take care of her children. Migdalia persevered because farming sustainably was the best thing she could possibly do to ensure a better future for them. That’s why I’ve persevered in my work with Sustainable Harvest International, too, and why so many of you have joined me.
LEGACY OF INSPIRATION
Don Cheyo is an elder from Los Amantes, Honduras. He grew up practicing slash-and-burn farming, but since he joined forces with us, he’s done a total 180.
“My neighbors see that though I live simply, I’m able to feed my family with a diverse and healthy diet,” Don Cheyo told me. “They see that I’m also generating income. I’ve shown them the best lesson of sustainable farming—that one can live in harmony with their environment and not do it any harm.” Don Cheyo now says he wants to be buried at the foot of a tree so he can give life to one of the trees that gives life to his family.
The benefits of sustainable farming continue to inspire entire communities to transform into lush oases. While hunger continues to disrupt families, forcing them from their homes, farmers like Don Cheyo and thousands of others demonstrate that there is an alternative.
Stories like these are why I’ve persevered in my work and why so many of you have joined our cause.
I’d like to see all 500 million subsistence farmers in the world learn to thrive with sustainable farming. The threats of climate change grow more frightening by the day and Sustainable Harvest International has a practical, innovative solution to this global problem.
Right now, I’m focused on determining how we can expand our methodology to reach significantly more farms and their families by 2030.
Last spring, a small group of donors committed $250,000 in honor of our 20th anniversary. That impressive sum is half of the $500,000 necessary to expand our impact exponentially!
I hope you will join these lead donors by making a donation today. With your help, we can match the funds already raised by the end of our 20th anniversary year.
Thank you to everyone who has given an anniversary gift already, and to those of you who will consider doing so before the end of 2017!
Have you seen our new interactive timeline? Check it out to learn what you've helped us to accomplish in the past twenty years.