FARMING MISSION: Iowan Teaches In Afghanistan

Denise O’Brien traded in her quiet life farming in Atlantic, Iowa for a bullet proof vest and around the clock security.

“The job was an agriculture advisor for the United States Department of Agriculture the USDA and my assignment was in Jalalabad, Afghanistan,” says Denise O’Brien.

O’Brien used her agriculture skills to help the Afghan’s become more efficient farmers.

“I think by us teaching them some business skills, and by helping them understand markets and market competition, I think we did some good,” says O’Brien.

For the past year O’Brien helped the farmers become more sustainable when growing wheat, cotton, corn, rice and a ton of fruits and veggies.

However, she also had to remember she wasn’t in Iowa anymore-and IED’s and bombings came with the territory.

“I had to be really careful if people were walking by you if they looked like they had a suicide vest underneath if they looked like that or if they were hiding a gun or something,” says O’Brien.

O’Brien says the goal of her year-long mission was to help set up an extension office so Afghanistan’s Department of Agriculture could take over being the service provider for farmers-something the U.S. has done to help the war-torn country get back on its feet.

“We created a system of people dependent on us because we spent a lot of money over there, so the expectation was we were going to be continuing to spend money,” says O’Brien.

But after a year away, O’Brien says she’s still glad she went on the adventure, but is happy to be back home and back farming again in Iowa.

“Being back with my family and my grandkids and my husband of course has been a delight,” says O’Brien.

O’Brien says she plans to keep traveling and is looking forward to sharing her experience in Afghanistan with others.


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