On December 7, 2010, USAID hosted a luncheon to honor 18 Presidential Volunteer Service Award recipients for their volunteer work under the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer program. The program supports Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, by working to improve agricultural productivity, promote market development, facilitate trade expansion, invest in global innovation and research, promote equitable rural economic growth, and address child malnutrition. Over 13,000 volunteers, 9,848 host organizations, and 103 countries have participated in the Farmer-to-Farmer program since 1986.  Below read  the first hand account of  one of the volunteers honored.

This originally appeared on DGES International.

Mark and I are back from Washington, DC where we enjoyed a few days repose and met a host of interesting people. We were invited to DC by the Partners of the Americas Farmer to Farmer program with whom we have been working for 4 years now. The Volunteer Appreciation Event, on Dec 7th was sponsored by USAID to honor Farmer to Farmer volunteers.

The event was part of USAID’s commitment to global food security. USAID is undergoing a restructuring and is launching the Feed the Future Program focusing on agricultural development and economic growth.

It was a real pleasure for me to meet Peggy Carlson and Meghan Olivier, the two Partners staff people responsible for sponsoring and organizing my trips to Haiti. After working together for 4 years in this modern age of emails and cell phones it was nice to sit down face to face and talk. More important to me was to hug them and thank them for having my back this last year with the earthquake and last month’s riots. Even with my propensity to find myself in the center of the mess, they continue to encourage me to work with them and to return to Haiti. Blessed with such a great team of people, in DC and in Haiti, I am sure we will continue to cultivate change for many more years.

I also had the opportunity to meet and speak with other members of the Partners of the Americas group. We came up with lots of ideas for collaboration and exploration. I especially want to thank Steve Vetters, the Director of Partners, for his support and encouragement. It was very motivating.

The awards were given by Gregory Gottlieb, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Food Security at USAID and Dawn Thomas, Senior Agricultural Program Advisor for USAID. The awards come in gold, silver and bronze levels depending on the number of hours volunteered. I received a GOLD!. To some this probably suggests I’m obsessed and over doing my commitment, but in reality it is a small drop compared to the need. I just hope that each drop can send ripples of positive evolutionary growth. It would be nice if I could see this in my lifetime, but that may be asking too much.

After the meal and awards ceremony came my favorite parts, the meet and greet, and the roundtable discussions on how we can improve the Farmer to Farmer programs. I chose the group that discussed “How can we better follow through with hosts to encourage and support them in carrying out volunteer recommendations?” It was a lively discussion. It amazes me how un-shy I can be when I talk about Haiti, or agricultural development. We were all pretty much in agreement with the ideas presented; listening to hosts versus telling them what to do; increased funding for materials or small project grants for volunteers to use for implementation; continuity of project knowledge base and/or volunteers as building relationships is a very important for success and sustainability; develop a counterpart exchange program so host members can intern in the USA and expand on the knowledge base. I hope these ideas come to fruition as they will greatly impact the success and sustainability of many Farmer to Farmer programs. I’ll be watching for them.

Lastly, I would like to thank President Obama and others for making the changes necessary so that sustainable agricultural development can become a priority. 2008 was apparently the lowest point in US government agricultural support ( So it wasn’t my imagination). Through programs like Farmer to Farmer this support can directly impact the host farmers and help them produce food and income for themselves. Of course we’ll have to wait and see how many big corporate agricultural pockets get filled with aid money to “help” in creative ways that build product dependency. But alas we can only hope that everyone has a conscience that can embrace the best for all of humanity. When we lose hope we lose our humanity. Here’s to HOPE!

Learn more about the award.

Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak DVM is the international program director for DG Educational Services. She is working with Partners of the Americas’ Farmer to Farmer program and Haiti’s Makouti Agro Enterprises.