In the past three years, I have completed 17 volunteer assignments in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. With 20 years of experience as a farmer and 30 years of experience as an agriculture professor in Hawaii, I have a lot of knowledge to share about agricultural practices and appropriate technology. Traveling to less-developed countries, meeting new people, and giving farmers in other parts of the world innovative ideas is a wonderful feeling, and I am excited to be a volunteer.

Working with a volunteer gives farmers in rural areas a sense of value and a unique experience of interacting with an American in the flesh. Somehow, sharing a meal, creating compost, or looking at worms on a corn plant can be a bonding experience!

For example, as a volunteer with ACDI/VOCA’s Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program, funded by USAID, I spent two weeks in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, training farmers in composting techniques. This is a temperate area, and there is an abundance of organic matter in the fall, which farmers typically burn. After I explained the importance of organic matter in the soil and how to use as a resource, rather than discard it, the farmers were enthusiastic to turn waste into something beneficial. There was even a discussion about developing a business selling the compost as the former Soviet Union had once done.

Back home in Connecticut, I was not raised to be a volunteer. My first experience as a Peace Corps volunteer showed me just how rewarding working with farmers could be. (My parents did not understand why I would spend four years getting a college degree and then work for free.) We farmers, the world over, share the desire to make life better for future generations and produce healthy, abundant food. In my experience, when I explain to some people in developing countries that I am here to share knowledge with them, they accept me and show an eagerness to learn new farming ideas that could improve yields and environmental sustainability, lessen the burden of work, and offer new cash crops.

With no prodding from their parents, both of my children became Peace Corps volunteers, too. Currently, my son, Ryan, is working to help implement Catholic Relief Services’ Farmer-to-Farmer Program in Uganda. Life, for me, has come full circle, and I could not be prouder. Going on a vacation with one’s adult children is a pleasure. But doing development work with my son takes it to a whole new level. On two separate occasions, I have been able to go to Uganda and work on projects developed by his office with people in his country of service.

The Farmer-to-Farmer Program provided me with the opportunity to help people learn about new farming ideas in developing parts of the world. The farmers are appreciative of my help and implement many of the new techniques. I will continue to volunteer with the program, as long as my skills and knowledge of farming can be of help to others.

Read Ryan Ringuette’s guest blog on Catholic Relief Services’s website.