Judy Moses is the president of the Browse & Grass Growers Cooperative in Wisconsin. She has volunteered multiple times, beginning in 2006 in Ethiopia, followed by trips to Egypt, Guinea and Mali. She forms strong connections with the farmers she assists, often checking in on her previous hosts when she returns to a country. She recently won a grant award from VEGA’s Farmer-to-Farmer small grants program to implement a USAID-funded project in Mali focused on developing sheep and goat herders’ knowledge and skills to raise their productivity and increase their cultivation of sustainable land use practices.
Judy’s work in Mali has forged connections between people in a corner of Wisconsin and Minnesota and Mali that never would have existed otherwise. In looking for ways to supplement resources for her volunteer work, she was surprised at the quantity and variety of people – ranging from the local Muslim to Amish communities – interested in helping. Her work has put a human face on groups people may have previously only encountered in the media. A visit from a Malian who traveled to Wisconsin last Christmas to learn about sausage processing has inspired new volunteers among the people with whom he worked and deepened cultural understanding to a level that did not exist before.
Judy assists farmers by demonstrating handling techniques, sharing what she observes when she looks at animals as part of a brief daily routine to spot whether any are struggling, sick or falling behind, or using a thermometer and stethoscope to make basic health decisions. The basics go far with the groups she assists, as sheep and goats have not traditionally been their main focus. She listens to farmers’ concerns and helps them think through solutions, often helping cooperatives see the resources they have in a new way or tapping into what people subconsciously understand but haven’t applied. Helping people verbalize their questions and concerns and think through solutions – rather than offering up solutions that may not work in the local context – has helped the cooperatives become stronger. By the time she leaves, she says, people own the information. When she returns, they often show her how they continued to use what she had taught.
We (cooperative members) struggle, just like other producers, with lambing deaths, balancing rations, pasture watering systems, cost controls, labor availability, implementing and maintaining appropriate conservation programs. Do these experiences transfer to such a faraway place as Africa? We have found that they do. There are more similarities between us than differences.
– Judy Moses, volunteer