Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Farmer's Markets and Soil Testing Support for Dominican Cooperatives

Lily Schneider and Matthew McCue working with farmer's market participants
Matthew McCue and Lily Schneider volunteered in the Dominican Republic in December 2012 on a Farmer to Farmer assignment focused on marketing strategies and soil testing trainings with small producers in the areas of El Cercado, Padres de las Casas,and Bani. McCue, an Iraqi war veteran, got connected to Partners' Farmer to Farmer Program staff at a conference where he was representing the Farmer Veteran Coalition, an organization whose mission is to "mobilize veterans to feed America" through employment and careers in agriculture.

McCue and Schneider have invaluable experience to offer, gained from owning and operating a 15 acre, certified organic, diversified vegetable farm in Fairfield, California. They participate in farmers' markets, and their farm produces more than 35 vegetables as part of a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. They deliver products to clients on a weekly bases. As part of the marketing component of their assignment in the Dominican Republic, they accompanied cooperative members to visit other community farmers' markets. Three areas of improvement observed were to organize production based on the demand and competitiveness of the local market, design and execute a production plan, and better promote their produce through good signage and produce cleanliness.

Conducting and analyzing soil tests at the local farms
Matthew and Lily helped producers build stands for their vegetable sales with locally available resources.  Producers were given advice on the appearance of their stands, focused on getting the produce off the floor onto stands on which they could place different color vegetables and fruits. Matthew and Lily helped build a wash stand at the cooperative's storage facility and advised producers to use the newly-created wash stands to clean carrots, beets, potatoes, yuca (cassava) and lettuce. The coop's facility will now be used for storage and washing. In addition to helping with the farmers' market, Matthew and Lily conducted a number of soil tests in nearby farms.

Building a stand to wash vegetables at the
host organization offices
Recommendations were made based on the findings of the soil tests, and producers were advised to increase certain nutrients to improve the soil fertility. Overall the general recommendation was that soil testing should be done before each planting season. Strong emphasis was also placed on making compost to treat soils and improve fertility.

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