Armenian Volunteer Corps

Welcome to the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) blog. Here our volunteers and alumni reflect on their experiences living and volunteering in Armenia. For more information about our programs, visit our website, follow us on Facebook or drop us an email: .

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Returning to Armenia and Finding Organic Farming

Diana Muratova

Born and raised in Yerevan for the first half of my life, I have always associated my homeland with its beautiful capital - busy streets, stone buildings, and marshrutkas. So when I was assigned to volunteer at an agricultural NGO specializing in organic farming, the images in my mind were instantly shattered and replaced with a big question mark. Curious about my role within the organization, I accepted the assignment and arrived at Green Lane Agricultural NGO my third day back in Yerevan.

The following month at Green Lane was spent soaking in an incredible amount of information about farming and the state of Armenian farmers, meeting professionals from Armenia and abroad, and enjoying one of the friendliest environments I have ever worked in.

Let me begin by clarifying what Green Lane Agricultural NGO is all about. It is an organization led by a group of extremely knowledgeable agricultural professionals whose aim is to encourage and facilitate organic farming in Armenia and help farmers improve the quality of their products, thus enabling them to compete in local markets and secure a higher standard of living. These objectives are achieved by creating farmer groups and cooperatives, introducing new technologies, and organizing seminars and research projects.

Considering I knew almost nothing about organic farming or farming at all, for that matter, I wondered how I would be able to assist Green Lane. It turned out, my knowledge of English and enthusiasm for helping underrepresented communities was enough to make a change in this organization within a short period of time.

Aside from everyday assignments, my main project involved composing, editing and translating material for inclusion in an annual report in English, which was two years behind schedule due to lack of English-speaking staff. What is a 20-page report in English good for, you ask? Aside from documenting the organization's growth and progress, it helps establish credibility and an international idenity. Considering Green Lane works with a number of international organizations and is mainly funded by foreign sponsors, an interactive report in English would help communicate with current and potential stakeholders and spark interest in the organization. Granted full creative freedom in composing the report and making it visually pleasing, I enjoyed the process more than you may think. But I still wanted to get in the field and see farming communities for myself.

So I did! Well, kind of. On a sunny Wednesday, Mr. Vardkes, the head of a farmers cooperative in Lukashin, stopped by the office to drive me to his village and introduce me to the cooperative's operations. I spent the next 24 hours trying to make sense of contradictions and gradually letting go of expectations about this visit. To my initial surprise, Mr. Vardkes was not driving a soviet zhiguli, but a Mercedes. Yes, a farmer came to drive me to his community in a Mercedes! His daughter Lilit, a second year student at the Yerevan State Institute of Economy, was in the car as well. During the hour-long drive to the Armavir Marz, where Lukashin is located, Mr. Vardkes debriefed me on the village's unique history. It turns out Lukashin was founded in 1925 when an American orphanage in Dilijan sent over a hundred orphans following the genocide to settle there. Today, the village population is comprised of the descendants of these settlers, whose main source of income is local agriculture.

Judging from the car I was in, I was beginning to picture a mansion in an idyllic location with marble statues and fountains. Thankfully, we arrived in front of a modest Armenian home surrounded by nothing but dirt roads and the smell of cow dung. The location was beautiful and the scenery breathtaking. The remainder of the day was spent preparing lunch and dinner with the women of the family, chatting with the village girls over coffee, and watching a comedy show with grandpa.

I almost forgot, we managed to interrupt the unconditional local hospitality with a few hours of work. Mr. Vardkes walked me over to the cooperative offices where we brainstormed ideas for a project he wanted to launch with the help of the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan. More specifically, the embassy's Democracy Commission Small Grants program provides up to $24,000 to help fund democratic initiatives in different regions in Armenia. After a thorough discussion with member farmers, we settled on a program to promote and protect human and minority rights, more specifically, those of the prominent Yezdi population in Lukashin. While I would not be able to write the proposal and complete the application during my short month in Armenia, I enthusiastically offered to help from the States. I will be working on this assignment during the next couple of months.

I spent the night at the grandparents' house, buried under layers of comfy blankets and listening to birds chirping on the roof. The following morning, Lilit and I hopped on a marshrutka back to Yerevan and promised to stay in touch after I return back to the States. We have.

My impressions of Lukashin were reflective of my overall experience in Armenia - a combination of surprises and glaring contradictions, feelings of happiness and moments of sadness. I was as elated to be home, at the same time feeling constant nostalgia for the Armenia of my childhood that no longer existed. My initial surprise at the omnipresent Western luxuries casually juxtaposed with equal amounts of poverty and dispair was quickly countered by the realization that Armenia does not evolve in a vacuum. Instead, it is a product of long-standing traditions pulling it one way and foreign influences pulling it the other.

As evident from my short count of Lukashin, regions outside of Yerevan are not immune to globalization either. They continue to adapt foreign customs to their daily lives while maintaining the authenticity that has prevailed in the country for centuries.

Now if only there was a healthy balance between tradition and modernization, an opportunity for one to complement the other. In my opinion, Green Lane is helping achieve just that. It makes use of advances in agricultural science and technology to help Armenian farmers grow crops unique to their land, while establishing a platform for self-governance and sustainability.

The organization not only promotes democracy in remote regions of Armenia, but also within its office walls. Team members are valued for their presence and contributions to the organization and, therefore, work with great enthusiasm and drive. Green Lane and similar organizations are at the forefront of progress in Armenia, serving not only as leaders of change but also as prime examples of innovative thinking and democracy in the workplace. For this and other reasons, I am excited for the prospect of returning to Yerevan and continuing to work with Green Lane Agricultural NGO.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home