International visit could help elevate farmers’ incomes

5 adults, one holding a small boy, and a little dog walk around a garden surrounded by corrugated metal fencing. The garden rows are separated by cinder blocks.
WSU Everett Paul Pitre, Rotary Club of Everett member Ed Peterson, and WSU Extension’s Anthony Gromko tour the pilot greenhouse garden of Dona Manuela, a local farmer near Dajabón, Domincan Republic.

EVERETT, Wash. – Farmers around the city of Dajabón, Dominican Republic are mostly subsistence farmers, only able to grow enough food for themselves and their families to eat. WSU researchers, in partnership with the Rotary Club of Everett, are working to help those farmers increase their harvest so they can sell their produce at market.

“This project aims to enhance family income through family greenhouse gardens,” said Anthony Gromko, WSU Extension assistant professor of Economic and Community Development. “This is a poverty alleviation effort, where we can empower families to increase their economic resiliency.”

Last month, Gromko and WSU Everett Chancellor Paul Pitre visited Dajabón, a city of around 35,000 along the border with Haiti, to meet with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and professors from Universidad ISA, an agricultural university about three hours away. Ed Peterson represented the Rotary Club of Everett on the trip as well.

The program will work with farmers all around Dajabón province, which has a population of around 70,000.

The 3 men pose under a shade tarp in a garden. There are green plants in the background.
(L-R): WSU Everett’s Paul Pitre, local farmer Don Neri, and WSU Extension’s Anthony Gromko, pose in Neri’s pilot garden. The garden is part of a project to help subsistence farmers around Dajabón, Domincan Republic.

The duo laid the groundwork for collaborating with various groups to implement the program, which will require the use of microloans to fund the farmers’ gardens, Gromko said.

“We would help set up a revolving microloan fund to lend farmers a small amount of money to create their gardens,” said Gromko, a former Peace Corps volunteer. “There’s infrastructure required to set these up. But once they’re making money and pay the loan back, then that money will be loaned to more farmers.”

The Everett Rotary Club initially paid for 10 pilot gardens for farmers around Dajabón, just to see if the project could work. Gromko and Pitre toured those 10 pilot gardens and talked with farmers about their experiences using them, Gromko said.

Gromko, Pitre, and fellow WSU Extension colleague José García-Pabón are working on a grant from The Rotary Foundation to establish the microloan fund, Gromko said.

“This all started because Paul is passionate about this kind of work, and the Rotary Club of Everett supported that,” Gromko said. “I was so excited when José and Paul asked me to help. It gets back to the spirit of service work that I really care about.”

“WSU Everett recently added the Organic and Sustainable Agriculture degree, and we have such a wealth of expertise from the WSU system in our backyard that can be leveraged to make an incredible impact,” Chancellor Pitre said. “Everett Rotary saw the opportunity to partner and the expertise that José and Tony brought really made this project take off.”

WSU Extension’s José García-Pabón, right, talks with a farmer in the Dominican Republic on a previous trip to the Dajabón area.

The WSU faculty members also talked with Universidad ISA faculty about setting up a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to facilitate a student exchange program and a research component for the garden project.

“Their faculty were really interested in hearing about our Organic and Sustainable Agriculture program,” Gromko said. “We talked about research exchanges and maybe getting WSU Everett students to help solve problems on the ground in the Dominican Republic. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities.”