As we move into the swing of our main program season, we’re seeking more ways to bring sustainable farming exchange full circle. MESA is exploring more possibilities with our newest program, Certificate of International Training in Agroecology (CITA). Through CITA, beginning farmers and agriculture students have the opportunity to live and train with MESA alumni and their farming communities.
Read more for highlights from our pilot program and updates on our upcoming partnership with alumni in Thailand.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR PILOT PROGRAM
We’ve come a long way since introducing the CITA program concept last year. Thanks to you and our wonderful supporters who took an on-line survey last spring, we shaped a program that could integrate US farmers with farming communities in Peru and Tanzania. We had five outstanding women from different parts of the US participate in our 1-month pilot programs. As with most pilot programs, after working through a few initial kinks, we ended up with some very worthwhile experiences and new partnerships.
In the Sacred Valley of Peru, we worked with the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development (AASD) and MESA alumnus Ruben Quispe. AASD co-founders, Aaron and Adam, spent months working with MESA to design this program with hands-on training focused on community development. “Adam and Aaron were great – honest with us, passionate about what they do, committed to the communities and building relationships.” -Emily, CITA steward
The CITA stewards experienced first-hand the impact that the AASD school greenhouse project has on the highland communities.
The AASD is also in the process of developing a demonstration farm in Calca, a hub for several smaller farming communities around the Sacred Valley. MESA hopes to utilize this demonstration farm as a hands-on training site for future CITA programs. In addition to work in the farms and greenhouses, CITA stewards enjoyed field trips to natural hot springs in Lares, Incan archaeological sites in Moray and Ollaytaytambo, meeting with “El Rey de Papas” or “King of Potatoes”, and participating in the communal corn harvest of Choquecancha.
Following training in the Sacred Valley, the CITA Stewards journeyed north to Lima to meet our long-term global partners at El Huerto. Here, the group toured the University of La Molina gardens, harvested produce at a farm in the neighboring city of Mala, transported and sold vegetables at the all- organic Bioferia farmers market in the Miraflores district and visited the ecological demonstration farm named “Casa Blanca”.
“The people that we met in Lima were more than wonderful. Again, passionate about what they do, interested in creating our experience in Peru, and interested in our lives outside of the program. I loved spending time with them, and I definitely feel like we could have easily spent more time there. I felt very well taken care of.” -Emily
After their month long trek through agricultural traditions in some of Peru’s most distinct regions, the stewards left us with valuable feedback to help us develop CITA for the future.
“I wanted more time with everyone! I think this was a wonderful group of mentors who were flexible and patient with us and the program, and really made sure we were getting a lot out of our visit.” -Kathleen
One of the most resounding remarks from the pilot participants was to extend the program length so training could be focused in more specific areas. MESA is now ready to embark on a longer, more comprehensive program with our global partners in Thailand.
UPCOMING CITA PROGRAM IN THAILAND
Michael B. Commons, Earth Net Foundation, Thailand
After a number of years as a MESA global partner, Earth Net Foundation is happy to be developing a CITA program in Thailand to invite young farmers and others interested in sustainable community development and self-sufficiency to learn from its organic farmers and farmers’ organizations and experience Thai rural culture.
We are planning to launch CITA as a three-month winter program, starting early November. The program will include a 2-week starter course mixing intensive Thai language and Thai self-sufficiency basics at the Wanakaset Learning Center. The center is famous for its dissemination of the Wanakaset (organic agro-forestry) principles and practices, which look not only at growing multilevel food and herb forests, but on how to use and transform one’s natural resources to meet all of the basic human needs, food, medicine, household goods, or to improve the soil’s fertility.
After this cultural and ecological immersion, CITA stewards will live and work in the field with some of the most recognized and respected new generation organic farmers, many of them MESA alumni, and their farming organizations.
One such prospective host is Apisak Kamphen, who after returning from his MESA program with Dripping Springs Garden in 2009, has gone on to develop a CSA network with three other new-generation farmers in his community. In a time where farmers are getting older and older, the community of Mae Tha is an inspiration. Farmers like Apisak and his colleagues are showing that organic techniques and other creative approaches can make farming a very viable and attractive profession. Set in a lovely valley with its rich community, traditions, and well-managed forest, Mae Tha is one of the bright spots in this world, showing how doing things the right way can be so rewarding.
While Thailand may have more notoriety for tourists in its beautiful beaches and exotic cuisine, Thai locals are blessed to have a number of next generation farmers who understand the ecological impact of industrial agriculture and are moving toward more sustainable methods . Earth Net is happy that while many of our farmers have had a chance to learn and experience the organic life in the USA, now we can return the favor.