Family Volunteering Offers Rewards, Lessons Beyond the Classroom

When Claire Orner first learned about the opportunity to volunteer with Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer Program in Guatemala, she was immediately interested. Claire, along with her husband Rusty, and two sons, Walker (16) and Ashton (13) are passionate advocates for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. For nearly 20 years, the Orners have been stewards of Quiet Creek Herb Farm & School of Country Living Inc., a 30-acre organic farm in Pennsylvania.

A few years earlier, the family had spent four months volunteering in the mountains of Jamaica, helping community members grow yam, allspice, scotch bonnet pepper, sweet potato, cassava, beans, basil, tomato, sweet pepper, and callalou. Through this experience, Claire wrote, “Our sons authentically realized that serving and sharing with people is important,” so, “they jumped at the opportunity to serve in Ixil area of the Western Highlands of Guatemala.”

“During my assignment in Guatemala,” Ashton stated, “I hope to learn more Spanish. I also would like to help teach the children and others there about farming.” Walker shared many of his brother’s goals: “I hope to be a positive force in the community in which we are serving. I want to teach skills I have learned at Quiet Creek and Conserve School. I would like to learn culture, Spanish, and farming techniques from people we meet.”

The Orner Family departed for Guatemala on February 9, 2015. The purpose of Rusty’s Farmer-to-Farmer assignment was to train producers in organic farming techniques, while Claire focused on assisting producers to gain greater access to adequate amounts of nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate foods. Walker and Ashton both assisted in teaching environmental activities to seventh through ninth graders at the Agros school—where students played the roles of plants, sun, soil and water and learned about the effects of conventional and sustainable farming methods on soil health. Together, the Orners also led educational activities for Agros technicians and Ixil farmers about the soil food web, cultivating oyster mushrooms, and picking snow peas. The trip was an entire family commitment. 

As their two and a half weeks in Guatemala come to a close, the Orners felt they learned just as much they taught the Ixil community. Claire wrote, “[The experience was ] incredible and amazing…life-changing for all four of us.” 

As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food.  Read more articles on this topic at Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer blog.