Lessons From the Farm: Growing Through Risk

Written by Melissa Coy on August 25, 2016 in Lessons From the Farm

This week our Development Research Associate Melissa Coy and Outreach Coordinator Kirstie Hibbard are taking over our blog and social media, sharing reflections from their recent Vision Trip to visit Plant With Purpose’s program in Dominican Republic along with friends from Mission Lutheran Church in Laguna Niguel, California. 

Stick around to hear more! And follow us on Instagram (@plantwpurpose) for additional posts!


In my role as the Development Research Associate, I am accustomed to thinking in terms of systems, equations, causes, and outcomes. The basis for this analytical frame of mind comes from my degrees in International Relations and Economics. A common topic of class debate was, “What is the most effective solution to poverty?” From my self-designated corner of the library to the impassioned debates with classmates and sure opinions of professors, the solution to poverty seemed to be an all-inclusive prescription.


When I started working for Plant With Purpose, I brought this perspective with me. Sitting in my cubicle in our air-conditioned office it was easy to speak about our work in clear-cut terms: this three-part approach of environmental restoration, economic empowerment, and spiritual renewal, is the most effective solution to rural poverty. During my recent trip to the Dominican Republic, the theory became a reality. The nicely designed Venn diagram of transformation came to life in the chaos and humidity of this Caribbean nation.

AndresCacaoOn our itinerary, was a visit to the community of Zumbador. The group piled into Chico’s bus, accented with frilly curtains, and drove along a windy road through rural Dominican Republic. Once there, we waited as community members finished their weekly Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) meeting. We were warmly welcomed by the community and quickly whisked away to see the cacao tree nursery. The enthusiasm of the community was overwhelming, and a frenzy of introductions and stories ensued. Out of the commotion, direction was set as Andres, a VSLA member, lead us to his farm, which he described as, “a child of the savings group.”

Unsure of where we were going, we followed Andres up muddy switchbacks to a small plateau where his own cacao seedling tree nursery stood shaded by giant plantain leaves. Each seedling was an investment in his farm, his family, and his community. Overlooking the watershed and the three rivers that run through the community of Zumbador, Andres shared his story. He had not always planted cacao–the chocolate producing tree–and only started doing so with the encouragement of Plant With Purpose agronomists and much consideration.


For subsistence farmers, introducing a new crop or applying a new agriculture technique is risky especially when the results are not immediate–cacao takes almost three years to produce once planted. Andres’ neighbors thought he was crazy. But Andres took a risk and looking around his farm you could see ripening cacao pods. Those same skeptical neighbors are now buying cacao seedlings from Andres and he teaches them how to tend to their trees. Andres is not keeping his success for himself but is instead sharing it with his neighbors and the community.

“Things like this are not happening everywhere. We are doing what God wants us to do here. The poor are helping the poor. This is the path we are learning from God.”

Andres, his wife Sonia, and their seven children are thriving in the rural community of Zumbador but the change does not stop there. Several of Andres’ children are attending university in Santo Domingo and one is even studying to become a doctor.

AndresSQWhen I think about poverty from a distance, it is easy to think in terms and statistics rather than faces and families. Yet it is people with personal stories where true transformation takes root. Any type of change takes courage and vulnerability. To know that you are enough even when the odds are against you, is a heroes mindset. Not allowing fear to hold you back is something I saw again and again. These farming families are embracing risk and seeing transformation because of their hard work and trust in Plant With Purpose. They challenged me to assess the risks in my life, knowing that if I push through, growth will also take root. In the Dominican Republic, I met the most courageous people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. And because of their courage, hope and dignity can now be found throughout the community of Zumbador. These acts of faith and strong results are proof enough of Plant With Purpose’s effective solution to poverty—a solution that I’m excited to have a small role in making happen.

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