Why, I wondered, was Green Field Farms Co-op teaching an IVEPer how to make horse drawn farm equipment? That particular skill is in scant demand these days. I was talking to Aden Yoder, Green Field Farms’ director of operations, to find out how this placement for IVEPer Alexis Chindebya was working out.
Back in 2013 when Green Field Farms Co-op first considered offering a work placement to an IVEPer, the group of four members were skeptical. Marlin Yoder, the then IVEP regional coordinator for Ohio, helped them understand what to expect and played a large role in their decision to say yes. Mbaidiro from Chad arrived the next summer and had a life-changing experience. So much so that when he returned to Chad he encouraged his friend Alexis to apply for IVEP and to ask for a placement at Green Field Farms too. Green Field Farms were ready to say yes again. Alexis arrived in the summer of 2017.
Green Field Farms Co-op is a farmer-owned co-op of some one hundred farms, dedicated to sustainable agriculture for the horse farming communities of Amish and conservative Mennonite people, with headquarters based in Wooster, Ohio. Aden Yoder, Green Field Farms’ director of operations and Alexis’ overall supervisor, painted a detailed picture of Alexis’ IVEP placement in this unusual context.
On a day-to-day basis Alexis might work with different produce farmers to grow the crops for market; or work at the headquarters, analyzing farmers’ soil samples in the laboratory, preparing farm specific mixes to produce optimum soil; or with board members who have businesses producing farm supplies such as irrigation systems. Alexis engages with all aspects of agriculture, including those specific to the horse farming community.
I asked Aden how Alexis fits with this community, and if he has been welcomed. The Amish community has accepted him very well, I learned. He has given geography presentations on Chad at 12 one-room schoolhouses, attended Amish worship services and an Amish wedding. He is learning to speak Pennsylvania Dutch. He is in such high demand as a speaker at youth groups and family reunions, etc., that Aden as well as Alexis’ host family have needed to step in and monitor invitations to guard against Alexis exhausting himself with hours of activities. He has been accepted by the Amish community and aspires to be part of it, wearing Amish clothes half of the time, doing everything he can to be Amish. This belonging, welcoming, reaching out to each other comes from both sides.
How can this be? What makes this placement work so well? Alexis is a special person, Aden tells me. He has a very unique make up; he adapts, he adjusts, he fits in. His outgoing personality enables him to connect with strangers and fellow workers alike. He enjoys people, is very upbeat, always in the heart of things, and very well accepted by the employees. He is a “day brightener,” says Aden. They share the same values, the same faith, and this forges a strong bond. They have become as family. It will be a tough parting in July. And, since Alexis comes from a community in Chad that farms with oxen building horse drawn farm equipment is perfectly relevant. Yes, this was just one of many examples of why this placement with Green Field Farms Co-op was a perfect fit for partner and IVEPer alike.
When Alexis packs his bags and sets off for home in July, he will take with him a carefully designed business plan to help guide his steps as he starts up his own farming business, together with tools for marketing, and many skills and abilities in agriculture. I might hazard a guess that there will be some Amish clothes tucked in his bags too.
Meanwhile Green Field Farms will be preparing to welcome a new IVEPer in August, this time from Rwanda.