Saturday, August 3, 2013
WALLA WALLA — You could say John Fouts is helping improve the world, one farm at a time.
A retired Walla Walla County-WSU Extension faculty member, Fouts is one of a number of volunteers helping small-scale farmers in the former Soviet Union improve their livelihoods.
In Fouts’ case, this involved working with host farmers on soil testing, pest management, plant nutrition and many other agricultural topics.
His most recent visits were to the Republic of Georgia and to Uzbekistan, a landlocked country in what used to be the southern Soviet Union.
The trips were sponsored by the CNFA Farmer To Farmer Program and funded by the United States Agency for International Development.
“You’ve heard the slogan, `Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.’ Well, that’s the idea behind the Farmer To Farmer Program,” Fouts said.
Agriculture in many areas of the former Soviet Union is undergoing a major changes from the days of large collective farms run on a top-down system. Those collective farms have now been broken up into private lots, but often with the farmers taking over the land lacking knowledge, equipment and financing.
“They’re very industrious people,” Fouts said of the farmers he worked with. “The big problem is, coming out of the Soviet system, people didn’t have free access to information and knowledge. They were just told what to do. That’s the difference with the university extension system; its main purpose is to extend knowledge to farmers.”
During his visit to the Republic of Georgia, which took place in May, Fouts helped train personnel of a private farm service center how to use a portable soil testing laboratory. In Uzbekistan, he worked with three different farmers to focus on plant nutrition and soil testing. But the conversation often went well beyond just those topics.
“You start off talking about that (soil testing, etc.), but it soon comes to talking about everything else,” Fouts said.
The first Uzbek farmer he visited, named Roki, had been a taxi driver who had sold his vehicle about 10 years ago and used the money to buy farmland. His land, as with others, grew a variety of crops such as alfalfa, garbanzo beans and tree fruits including apples, plums and pears. One of his hosts also had a greenhouse where he was growing cantaloupes. The farms he visited were not large, about 15 acres.
A typical day did not start at the crack of dawn, Fouts said.
“In all of these countries nothing starts before 9 a.m. and usually more like 10 (a.m.),” he said. After breakfast, Fouts and his interpreter would drive out to the host family he was scheduled to meet and, in Uzbekistan, this often involved a second meal.
“We would drive out and sit down at these low tables set out in the open. (The families) always want to host you, so even if you just had breakfast they wanted to have a full meal there for you,” he said. “A lot of times you’re the first American they’ve met.”
The generational changes also showed up in the languages he encountered. In Uzbekistan, the older people spoke Russian while the current generation spoke Uzbek, the native language.
In addition, Fouts said, “I got captured a number of times by younger people wanting to practice their English also.”
Andy Porter can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8318.