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Editor's note: The following post is by Heifer International Executive Vice President of Marketing and Resource Development, Cindy Jones-Nyland.

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to visit Heifer International’s country office in Ukraine. It was an intense trip but I left feeling inspired and intrigued by the work our team at Community Wellbeing/Heifer Ukraine are building in their country.

Cindy Jones-Nyland in Ukraine

The change they are creating in Ukraine isn’t just poverty alleviation; it is long-term, sustainable change. It is a true example of our efforts to scale up our impact and increase our ability to touch families in exponential ways. Before the visit it was difficult to understand the context of Heifer’s work with smallholder farmers in Ukraine. As a U.S. citizen who lived through the last phase and ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union, I did not appreciate the profound ways that the 70 years of Soviet rule destroyed trust, initiative and even basic farming skills for which the region was once renowned.

Global partners and local governments believe in our model of work within Ukraine. They believe in the values-based development framework that shapes all of our work. It is what makes true change possible; the social fabric of the communities evolves. As a result, the pride and commitment of the farmers is infectious. These are spirits that believe in change. They know it is possible.

We witnessed farmer cooperatives growing strawberries as red as Crayons. They are working collectively to cultivate 10 hectares of land, but have another 40 hectares identified to grow in the first phase of the Danone/Heifer-Ukraine Ecofruit project. These strawberries connect many families and co-op members, who take great pride in ensuring the crops are properly cultivated and cared for. For them, the strawberries represent jobs, nutritious food, education, futures and access to services they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Milk plant in Ukraine.

We also visited a milk processing plant in the Bukovyna region, where the members have already developed a marketing plan led by two women, named Halyna Kushnir and Iryna Pavliuk, and the plant manager, Viktor Ivashko. They have dreams and aspirations of making it the largest milk plant in the region. Twelve tons of milk per day – this is the plant’s capacity. It is a new model of dairy cooperation, which aims to ensure sustainable price and continuity. The raw milk producers, many of them women, are the owners of the enterprise. The milk and future dairy products will be supplied to over 50 schools, and more than 9,000 children will receive higher quality dairy in preschools, orphanages and local communities. This provides additional jobs for the community, medicine and access for children and change for a community that was once without hope. And the commitment and belief they have to this dream is filled with passion and heart. Many of the families involved started with one or two animals. The hope is to someday grow that number to 5-10.

We also visited the official opening of the Cooperative Learning and Service Farm project that will unite 1,100 members, the largest co-op union in the Ukraine. Together with local governments, Danone, SOCODEVI, CIDA, Community Wellbeing/Heifer Ukraine lives are being transformed in ways never thought possible. The learning center will enable local small shareholder farmers’ access to modern milk production and animal breeding methods. Local families will have increased income, improved services, social changes in local governance and increased nutrition. Collectively the project will revive the small shareholder farm development in this region.

Tea cooperative in Ukraine.

Finally, we also visited an herbal tea cooperative in the Carpathian region. The marketer in me left feeling inspired. The small shareholder farmers in this region have united to develop a marketing plan for their products – the Carpathian brand. It is certified by private standards as “natural,” and they have developed a brand strategy and plan for distribution. This group of small shareholder farmers who make apple juice, honey, cheese, milk products, tea, etc. are so proud of the products they have created, they want to collectively brand them and sell them around the world. They have built community trust, improved nutrition, improved income and assets for local families, and now they are interested in building it for the longer term. And it started with placements of animals and training. It gave them hope and a dream.

All of these projects are enabling innovation and change. These methods are then shared amongst communities, and small shareholder farmers are uniting to make change. Heifer International is providing livestock and training as part of these efforts, and it is working.

These projects also represent the spirit and resiliency of this country. The priorities are changing. Communities are uniting. They are not only feeding their families, but also supplying local schools, orphanages and preschools. This changes the landscape of a country. The fabric of Ukraine is rich with soil and agricultural potential. Heifer International, along with many other global and local partners, is creating change in these communities; enabling the Passing on the Gift of potatoes, or seedlings, or knowledge, or skills, or livestock. It is an exciting time.

I have had the good fortune of spending time now with our teams in Peru and Ukraine. I feel blessed to witness the amazing work and transformational change that is occurring around the globe to end hunger and poverty.

Author

Brooke Edwards

Brooke Edwards is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and started working at Heifer International in 2009 as a writer. She has a master's in social work and a bachelor's degree in psychology. She is married, a mother of two, and a wannabe urban farmer, raising her own chickens and killing most of her vegetable crops.