LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (April 23, 2015) – Staff and volunteers from Arkansas-based NGO Winrock International met face-to-face with Cuban farmers in March, as part of the first Winrock-sponsored volunteer exchange in Cuba.
With warming relations between the United States and Cuba as a promising backdrop, Winrock’s first assignment in Cuba focused on assessing needs and opportunities for exchange in the area of agriculture.
“Winrock is delighted to be part of the dialogue about improving relationships between Cuba and the United States,” said Rodney Ferguson, president and CEO of Winrock. “We both have much to gain from that dialogue, and much to learn from each other.“
Winrock’s team met with several farmers, cooperatives and other organizations that support Cuba’s vibrant agricultural sector. Discussions reaffirmed that American volunteers can help close knowledge gaps that exist within agricultural sectors; while Cuban farmers have unique perspectives and methods to enhance farming practices beyond the country’s borders.
“Winrock’s resources and professional capacity have much to offer in support of Cuba’s agricultural self-sufficiency,” said Winrock volunteer Mimi Arnstein, owner of Wellspring Farm in Marshfield, Vt. “It was exciting to be involved on the ground floor to assess several potential projects and meet many Cuban partners, both farmers and technicians alike.”
In addition to Arnstein, Winrock’s exploratory team in Cuba included two other volunteers — Howard Prussack, owner of High Meadow Farms in Putney, Vt.; and Charles Mitchell, a former Vermont farm owner now living in Ontario, Canada.
This initial assignment sets the stage for Winrock’s future efforts to establish volunteer exchanges in Cuba.
“These types of volunteer exchanges are technically designed to address agricultural productivity, agribusiness development, and natural resource management, but it’s connecting people that establishes the critical conditions for long-term success,” said Winrock’s Director of Volunteer Technical Assistance, DeAnn McGrew. “Not only can American farmers and business owners support the success of Cuban farmers, they can also gather knowledge that can be applied to their own lives and businesses in the U.S., including here in Arkansas.”
During one needs assessment at a Cuban farm, the question of support was raised. Specifically, it was asked, what did the farmers need? One farm owner responded that it was building trust and friendship that was most important, that leads to working relationships. As he put it, “the rest follows.”
Winrock International is a nonprofit organization that works with people in the United States and around the world to empower the disadvantaged, increase economic opportunity, and sustain natural resources. Winrock fields approximately 200 volunteers each year to assist farmers, agribusinesses, and local organizations worldwide. Winrock is headquartered in Little Rock, Ark., with an office in Arlington, Va., and project offices worldwide.