by PAT McSPARIN // Fall 2010
Teaching and farming have gone hand-in-hand for Glenn Brown (Ed.Sp. ’93) for decades. Before joining the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2001, Brown was a dairy specialist for the University of Missouri Extension in St. Joseph, Mo. He was also running his own small farm near Cameron, Mo., and working for the USDA’s Export Verification Program, a safety inspection service, when he realized something was missing.
“After I left Missouri Extension, I felt that I really wasn’t helping individuals,” Brown says. “I was sitting in front of a computer, probably doing some good somewhere for the system, but I couldn’t see the impact of what I was doing.” Brown said he learned of the position in Iraq through the USDA and was intrigued. “It’s kind of weird to describe it, but it was like a spiritual thing,” he says. “I just felt inside that I really needed to do it. I can’t put any more reason on it than that. I felt I should do it. I asked my wife, and she said if you feel that strongly about it then you need to follow up on it, apply for it and see if you get accepted.”
Brown did get accepted. He traveled to Iraq and completed training with the USDA, then was placed on a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to help Iraqis rebuild the physical and institutional infrastructure of its agriculture industry. During a 16-month voluntary assignment to Iraq with the USDA, Brown learned that the reward can far outweigh the sacrifice. As a PRT member, Brown helped The Green Mada’in Association for Agricultural Development (GMAAD), an agricultural cooperative that provides valuable training and technical assistance to farmers in four townships in Mada’in Qada, east of Baghdad.
The not-for-profit co-op gives members access to low-interest credit lines to purchase agricultural equipment, seed, fertilizer and supplies. “(GMAAD) is very similar to American farm co-ops,” Brown says. “Members have to pay an annual membership fee, and they can buy products at a discount off of the regular market price because they’re trying to buy a larger volume. The co-op buys what the farmers want and what the members need.”
Brown says the quality of the Iraqi education system surprised him. “At first glance it may not seem like it, but I made some good friends there, and they held Ph.D.s from places like the University of Nebraska,” he says. “One was a very good soil scientist from Iowa State University. These guys (were educated) in the U.S. 30 years ago, then they went back to Iraq and went through Saddam’s regime, which was devastating to everybody.
“But they held on and kept going, and now that they’re finally able to do things, I think we’re going to see a lot of improvement. And it’s going to be from the educational system and the young people.” While Brown was impressed with his Iraqi counterparts’ level of education, he says they still needed help from the USDA. “There’s a need for anybody with agriculture background of any kind,” Brown says. “They’re making major decisions on million dollar projects for irrigation, for packing houses, milking systems, all kinds of variety of agribusiness, and a lot of times they were taken advantage of because they didn’t understand the agriculture part. The biggest problem we saw was a lack of any agri-business experience. There wasn’t anybody who could run a company.”
Brown explains that Hussein’s administration allowed advanced education, but the government strictly controlled how Iraqis could use that education. “They lost a generation of people and farmers because the government subsidized everything. They didn’t allow them to have their own products being sold. The government would pay for the seed, and they’d pay when it was harvested. They’d do everything for them,” he says. “It was very much a communistic system for agriculture. They weren’t allowed to succeed or fail. Like American farmers, they want to get the most they can for their product.” Brown says Hussein’s regime held them back, but he says success is in the making. According to the USDA, the GMAAD has more than 800 members and is growing by 10 percent every month.
Teaching and learning
Brown says his work with Iraqi farmers was successful due in part to his studies at UMKC. “I learned in the adult education class I took (at UMKC) that the environment must be conducive to teaching,” he says. “That’s where learning happens. That’s when ideas are exchanged and knowledge is passed along. And that’s a beautiful thing when it happens.”
Yet the teaching and learning went both ways, Brown explains. “(Iraqis) taught me a lot of things about the heat and the lack of water and how to survive in that environment,” he says. “It was a tremendous experience.” He says he also learned a great deal about farming in these hostile conditions. “Everything has to be irrigated because they don’t have the rainfall,” Brown says. “They really have excellent soil, they just can’t get the water to it. And in some areas we were in, like in east Baghdad, the water was very salty; the salinity is very high in it. They do things like put phosphoric acid and sulfuric acid into the water coming out and that pulls out the salt so it’s less harmful on the plant. It was pretty amazing. I’d never seen that.”
But Brown says the most important thing he learned in Iraq wasn’t about farming. “They taught me a lot about being grateful,” he says. “They have been through so much that we can’t even begin to imagine and taught me a lot about caring for and helping each other. “We misinterpret so much in the media today because we think they’re just killers and they just care about extremist religious points of view, but that’s a very, very small minority. Most of them are just beautiful, caring people who are so grateful for what you do for them and with them.”