September 6, 2002 - New Hampshire Business Review: Panama RPCV Florence Reed has an impact that's global

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Panama: Peace Corps Panama : The Peace Corps in Panama: September 6, 2002 - New Hampshire Business Review: Panama RPCV Florence Reed has an impact that's global

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Panama RPCV Florence Reed has an impact that's global

Read and comment on this story from the New Hampshire Business Review about Sustainable Harvest International, an organization formed by Panama RPCV Florence Reed, which has now been involved for five Years in Reversing Rainforest Destruction and Poverty in Central America at:

N.H.-based organization has an impact that's global*

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N.H.-based organization has an impact that's global

Sep 6, 2002 - New Hampshire Business Review

Author(s): Mccord, Michael

When it comes to foreign aid, the big headlines are reserved for multibilliondollar International Monetary Fund loans to financially ailing countries, which may or not prove helpful to the larger population. But under the radar screen hundreds of non-governmental organizations operate with far fewer resources, yet have emerged with many more success stories.

Portsmouth-based Sustainable Harvest International is an example of unnoticed good deeds. Founded in 1997 by Florence Reed, a former Peace Corps volunteer and University of New Hampshire graduate, Sustainable Harvest works with farmers in Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama and Belize with two goals in mind: helping them employ environmentally friendly farming methods and grow more profitable products depending on the variables of local markets.

The connections between environment, economy and social stability also apply to the closer-than-imagined globalized ties between Central American farming families working with Sustainable Harvest and New Hampshire residents.

"The farmers who work with us in Central America have planted nearly 1 million trees and saved over 40,000 acres of tropical forest from slash and burn farming," Reed says. "These trees and forests absorb carbon dioxide, thus mitigating global warming. They also produce much of the oxygen we all breathe."

Protecting the environment and improving the economic fortunes of farmers go hand-in-hand. Reed, 34, says she founded Sustainable Harvest to do something to stem the tide of rain forest degradation and "slash and burn" farming practices she witnessed firsthand while serving with the Peace Corps in Panama.

"My initial concern was about the environment, but it doesn't do any good to these impoverished farmers just to plant trees. They also need economic stability which is why teaching market practices is a new and important concept of our work," says Reed.

Growing organization

According to Sustainable Harvest figures, more than 680 farming families have increased farm production by as much as 800 percent in many locations. As an example, Reed talks passionately about a Honduran farmer who practiced slash and burn methods. His farm soil was being washed away and yielding smaller crops. After only a year of stopping the soil erosion by planting trees and employing environmentally smart practices, the farmer sold an onion crop for $2,000 - a significant increase from the $80 corn crop of the previous year. The fanner also was helped by the market research of a Sustainable Harvest extentionist, who determined onions would be the most economically beneficial crop.

"While we have been able to expand our reach from 10 communities in onecountry to 73 communities in four countries, there are hundreds of more communities waiting for our assistance, and the number is increasing much faster than our funding," Reed says.

Sustainable Harvest accomplishes much with little capital. The long-term work Sustainable Harvest does averages about $2,500 annually per project. Reed started out with $15,000 in 1997 (most of which was donated by a sympathetic donor from Switzerland Reed had met in Panama), and she didn't know much about staffing, fundraising or making a payroll. Depending heavily on an experienced and eclectic board of directors - which includes lawyers from San Francisco, a local teacher and fanner, and Samuel Kaymen, founder of Stonyfield Farm - Sustainable Harvest contributions have grown to $500,000, almost all of which comes from individual donors (many in New Hampshire) who give between $1 and $50,000.

"We are a small, lean and efficient organization," says Reed, who intends to keep

Sustainable Harvest as small as possible. There are only three full-time staff members in Portsmouth while 16 local coordinators in Central America work with farmers and deal with local governments.

"Generally, we get no resistance and limited cooperation from host governments. I suspect that we are not of much interest to politicians because we are not doing anything that will bring a lot of money their way in the near future," Reed says.

As Sustainable Harvest grows into more countries and continents (Africa tops the list of proposed Sustainable Harvest territory), Reed envisions each country developing its own Sustainable Harvest affiliates (which is happening in Honduras) and wants no part of a top-heavy headquarters bureaucracy.

She sees herself as an instigator, with the real headline-makers being the farmers and the local coordinators.

"If Sustainable Harvest Honduras is successful, as we expect, then we will continue the growth of our entire program based on that model. The ultimate goal would then be to have a vast network of affiliated, lean, efficient organizations working for the farmers in their respective countries, while Sustainable Harvest International moves into a more limited role of facilitating the flow of information and resources to and amongst these affiliates."

Triumph and frustration

Reed divides her time between getting her hands dirty working with farmers in Central America and the more challenging chores of domestic fund-raising. She admits it isn't easy shuttling between the front lines of Third World poverty and First World prosperity. "For instance, one week I can be fighting off tears as I watch a Honduran boy who has been eating cardboard as his family struggles to eke out a living from the land. The next week, I can be fighting off frustration and the urge to judge others as an American man tells me that he cannot donate this year because he just bought his third luxury home."

She also finds the toughest part of the job is saying no - something that has become more frequent as word of Sustainable Harvest's successes spread.

"I will often be greeted by a delegation from a neighboring community that has made a real sacrifice to travel to where I am to tell me how desperately their community needs Sustainable Harvest's assistance too. Invariably, I need to tell these people that we do not have the funds to start work in a new area. Upon returning to the same area a few months later, I have sometimes been greeted by the same delegation who has now gotten the use of a vehicle to take me to their community and show me how bad the deforestation is, how dry the water supplies are, the degradation of the soils and the poverty facing the families.

Having to say no again is by far the hardest part of my job."

But there are 'moments of triumph, such as when she encounters farmers and workers who thought of most Americans as only greedy and self-absorbed, but are moved by the efforts of an American woman.

And then there are moments of self-realization. Reed recounts the struggle to buy a few used motorcycles and ship them off to Honduras for local Sustainable Harvest coordinators to use.

"Several months later, I was riding on the back of one of those motorcycles down a washed-out dirt road in the pouring rain. I will never forget the thought that kept running through my head while we were stopped in that road waiting for the pig in front of us to finish relieving himself and move on - 'So this is what it is like to be the executive director of an international development agency?...

For more information about Sustainable Harvest International go to

Copyright Business Publications Inc. Sep 06, 2002

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