A Grassroots Nonprofit Looks at Poverty from the Ground Up

Print Share on LinkedIn More


October 23, 2011; Source: Idaho Statesman | In light of the economic uncertainty of the past few years it seems particularly useful that founders of new organizations be equipped with a hefty dose of optimism, along with a strong commitment to mission. According to a recent story in the Idaho Statesman, two years after establishing his Oregon-based nonprofit Semilla Nueva, Curt Bowen remains energetically committed to his mission of teaching Guatemalan farmers new organic farming techniques that increase crop yields and combat soil erosion to build overall sustainability. With an annual operating budget of about $40,000 and a staff of seven split between the U.S. and Guatemala, Bowen and his colleagues are hoping that their strategy of teaching individual farmers new techniques will produce economic growth for entire rural communities. 

During the past two years, Semilla Nueva has been working on a micro level by training individual farmers. The organization’s one-on-one approach expanded this past year when it hosted its first national conference in Guatemala to showcase the successes of local farmers and to provide a forum for training new people. Referring to this individualized approach, Bowen told the Idaho Statesman, “We get the seed planted, so to speak, and we try to get that to continue on its own. If we can get farmers to be teaching farmers—here’s how you experiment, here’s how you share it—we’re set. That’s the sustainability.” In Bowen’s view, after the organization involves 1,000 farmers “it won’t be that hard to move to 100,000 farmers.”

Although the rural Guatemalan communities that Semilla Nueva works with have many challenges, the precise focus of Semilla Nueva’s mission means that the organization will have finite end dates with its partner communities. Reflecting on this unique form of success and the possibility of packing up and moving on, Bowen told the Idaho Statesman that he hopes Semilla Nueva will be put out of a job and at that point he and his colleagues will “be on to the next challenge.”—Anne Eigeman