Article by Bonnie North. Printed in Vermont’s Local Banquet
“These women came down—they call them ‘The Forest Women,’ women who plant on the edge of the mountain’s forests. Some walked for two hours! They’d never attended an educational workshop before…. It was pretty amazing.”
That’s Howard Prussack, owner of High Meadow Farm in Westminster, recalling his first assignment to Nepal with Winrock International as a “Farmer-to-Farmer” volunteer. It was in late 2006, just months after the cease-fire of a vicious civil war.
“When we got there the country was still traumatized,” he recalls. On that trip for a couple of weeks, Howard worked with a small wholesale nursery run by the Gautam family, who had labored for generations yet never made a decent profit. They were so impoverished that son Hari wouldn’t dare to even contemplate getting married and having his own family.
“All their techniques were from the 30s, 40s and 50s,” says Howard. “They did everything just as their elders had done and they were losing, like, 90 percent of their seeds. We showed them how they could make sterile seed-starting media with elements they had on hand, suggested some better procedures in propagation, and gave them marketing tips and general advice on doing business.”
Howard’s wife, Lisa, also volunteered that year, teaching basic book and record keeping, which was a big transition for the Gautams. “Their records were always ‘all in their head.’ Which is OK—to a point,” Howard says, “What’s really hard to do in your head is comparisons of methods, yields, and so forth. Learning how to keep records and draw comparisons was tremendous for them.