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Winrock International

Volunteer Post

Celebrating 30 Years of F2F: Most memorable moments

When we asked F2F staff — past and present — to share their thoughts about their fondest memories from their years of working with the Farmer-to-Farmer program, nearly everyone said “there are too many memories to choose!”

Reflecting on his time with the program, Winrock’s former F2F director and vice president, David Norman, narrates his most memorable volunteer story:

Aside from my family, my involvement with the Farmer-to-Farmer Program is the most important thing I have ever done. My experience with the F2F program comes from many roles. I was first a volunteer, then a manager, then a program leader, then a promoter/cheerleader. One central theme I have always focused on in talking about the program is the determination, heart, and commitment that volunteers have to their host and the sector they worked in. It is a powerful drive in most volunteers to ‘give back’ and to do it with what they have to offer that has the most value: their expertise, their experience, and their time. They often remain connected for life to their projects and the people.

There are so memorable events. If I have to pick just one, I will have to go with dairy farmer John Rodgers, owner of Plum Bottom Ayrshires in Belleville, Pennsylvania.

John had completed a large number of volunteer assignments in Kazakhstan (I think 8) focused on dairy production in the mid to late 90s. To recall John’s description of his work there, he felt that his work in feed, management could only accomplish so much. In his estimation, a key constraint was genetics; in other words, the cows were only capable of so much, and better, more productive cows were needed.

Now this is where the story gets interesting.

John called me one day to tell me what needed to be done. He began describing a project idea to introduce new genetics to Kazakhstan through the introduction of embryo transfer which is superior to artificial insemination in that a completely whole new genetic animal would be born to Kazakh cow with all appropriate immunities in place. To all that, I took a deep breath and asked John, ‘So how would we do all that?’ — fully prepared to hear a great volunteer out before I would diplomatically respond with all my development experience why that just wasn’t feasible.  John then described that this was how it was done on his farm and that we just had to buy 250 high quality frozen embryos, a cryo tank in which to store and ship them to Kazakhstan, and then implant them in 250 cows perfectly scheduled to receive these frozen embryo. I was about to launch into my diplomatic explanation of the financial limitations of the program and the slim chances of being able to ship a contraption like a cryo tank full of frozen embryos into a country that was recently a part of the Soviet Union. He then quickly continued to explain that he had managed to get the funding from USDA for $30,000 — which was enough for the embryos and a cryo tank, he found the right embryos, and he recruited two volunteers with the expertise to actually do and provide training on the implant process. He also managed to identify the processes needed for permits to bring all this into Kazakhstan.

I recall that I just sat there with my mouth open, in disbelief as to what this volunteer had managed to get done. I am fairly sure that had John called me with this idea before beginning the process, I would have been fairly pessimistic about the chances to do something like this.

I also had the very good fortune to coincidentally be in Kazakhstan while John’s project was being carried out. 250 cows on four farms were implanted with high quality embryos, and approximately 200 calves were born.  All in all, it was a lesson that I learned about what can be accomplished by a determined volunteer. I have told this story often and am sure I will again. I am very happy to have the opportunity to share what I think was a remarkable F2F volunteer.”