Volunteer Impact

Johnathon Day and Leah Joyner

  • Johnathon Day and Leah Joyner

Johnathon Day and Leah Joyner: 2016 Volunteer of the Year Award Nominees

Over the past 50 years, the Macarena and Ariari areas of the Meta Department have been greatly affected by the Colombian armed conflict. People in the towns of San Juan de Arama, Mesetas and Vista Hermosa have experienced the effects of the protracted violence between guerrillas, paramilitaries and the army. The devastation of these events transpired in what is paradoxically one of the most beautiful regions of Colombia with enormous potential for growth in the agricultural and tourism sectors. The overlap of these two industries, agritourism, was the focus two Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer assignments in 2016.

The timing of the F2F project in this region and this particular assignment brought transformational potential for these farmers and the region. During the years of Colombian conflict, many smallholder farmers in these regions were involved with coca crops. Negotiations of peace have encouraged many of these producers to turn to legal crops such as citrus fruits, coffee, and livestock production. The Macarena and Ariari areas are now recognized for their high levels of dairy and fruit production, but smallholder farmers have yet to benefit from many of these positive developments. As the area’s beauty attracts local and foreign tourists, the lack of infrastructure and natural resource planning has the potential to negatively impact the people and area’s ecosystem. Many smallholder farmers see agritourism as a legal way to supplement income from their farms and promote conservation of natural resources.

Colombia F2F worked with host organization to develop two scopes of work to help locals develop agritourism while protecting the area’s natural resources. Two specialists were recruited to fill these assignments; Johnathon Day, a faculty member in Purdue University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, and Leah Joyner, the Education Coordinator for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.

From May 30th to June 11th, Johnathon and Leah worked with farmers and local officials to provide trainings on basic concepts of agritourism, environmental conservation and tourism development. The volunteers traveled to producers’ farms to understand better the local context and adapt their training material to the needs of specific farmers. Johnathon and Leah worked with farmers to develop strategies to grow their businesses without putting their farm at risk. Through topics such as biosecurity, strategic planning, organizational strengthening, and branding, participants gained information that is directly and immediately applicable to their agritourism businesses. A farmer who participated in the trainings, Ferney Perilla, said the F2F assignment “was the best tourism training I’ve been to”. He emphasized that, “Leah and Johnathon always encouraged us to ask questions and made us excited to keep making progress”.

Johnathon and Leah directly trained forty-eight individuals during this F2F assignment, visiting nine farms often in remote locations. The volunteers delivered their recommendations directly to the mayor and town council of San Juan de Arama. Conflict protected the region’s natural resources from the impact of mass tourism, but peace will allow the world to finally see the amazing beauty of region.

This article was originally written by Purdue University.