Ottawa farmers make an impact thousands of miles away

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By Derek Barichello, Shaw Local News Network

Joe and Nathalie Schmidt found a calling more than 7,700 miles away. The couple went on mission trips organized from Ottawa to the East African nation of Uganda. There, Joe and Nathalie, who farm in rural Ottawa, were struck by the lack of modern farming techniques utilized by its citizens. In that 2019 trip, Joe saw farmers who wanted to work hard and provide their families and community with food. He knew if he could share some of the knowledges and resources he’s had in his career with Ugandan farmers, their yield would be substantially better and feed more people. “I think that’s why God put us there,” Joe Schmidt said. “The farmer in me, I was struck by how poor the crops were growing. I started asking questions.”

Joe and Nathalie decided to return to Uganda in 2020 and meet with the farmers. They learned a variety of factors, including the AIDS epidemic, caused a gap in the generational knowledge handed down from elder farmers. The Ugandan farmers needed more education. After that visit, the couple started the Transforming Ugandan Farmers project. Going on its third year, the project has helped 180 Ugandan farmers by providing them with agronomy education, improved seeds and agricultural inputs. These changes have made a positive effect, leading to harvests three to fives times better than before the program.

Since Ugandan farmers have seen the impact the program has made with its neighbors, interest has grown from others who want to be a part of the program, the Schmidts said. The Schmidts teamed up with an agricultural expert in Uganda to handle the implementation of the program and the hands-on education of the farmers. An educational plot has been established to teach farmers. Joe Schmidt estimated an investment of $600 over three years can transform a Ugandan farming families’ lives, to the point where they have some extra crops that may be sold and that money utilized for other needs.

“They are seeing a better way to grow their crops and becoming self-sufficient,” Joe Schmidt said. “It’s been exciting to see the change, and how quickly it’s making an impact. … We also like how directly we’re working with the farmers. There’s no go between, we’ve been able to utilize the money we’re raising to go straight to the program to help farmers.”

The Schmidts have worked with Starved Rock Country Community Foundation, which serves La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties (as well as some neighboring counties), to set up the non-profit account and manage it. “They have been excellent to work with in making it easy to handle the transferring of funds,” Nathalie Schmidt said.

The Schmidts have taken a couple trips since the implementation of the program to see how it is working first-hand. “It’s changed me,” Joe Schmidt said. “To see how it’s changed somebody’s life, it’s the work of God. I believe that’s why he put us there.”

“The reason for the mission trips from Ottawa to Uganda is to see how you can help,” Nathalie Schmidt said. “We found how we can make a difference in our own way by sharing what it is we do. There’s an opportunity for others when they take these trips to see the impact they can make. The possibilities are endless in how we can engage them.”

The Schmidts are looking forward to the expansion of Transforming Ugandan Farmers and the impact it can make. The program is looking to open a store that will provide farmers with seeds and other materials to succeed. “It’s encouraging, because the farmers are seeing their neighbors and want to join in,” Joe Schmidt said. “It’s having a snowball effect. We want to be able to help more people.”

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