Harvesting hope in Kenya
Aurum Awards 2021: Teresa Mellish (Dip Agr’66)
By Mark Campbell | Photos: Nick Pearce; provided
Like many farmers across Prince Edward Island, Teresa Mellish (Dip Agr’66) has planted her share of seeds over the years. But one that she helped plant in 1980 has had a significant impact among farm families in East Africa.
That seed, Farmers Helping Farmers, is a non-profit initiative that has conducted hundreds of development projects in Kenya to address food security, health and education challenges. Mellish not only co-founded it but has also helped fund it in her role as treasurer and coordinator.
“My motivation for this is justice,” Mellish says. “I was fortunate to be born in Canada, to be well fed as a child, to be educated here and have a job. The women I meet there are the same as me, but they have not had the same advantages. It’s important for me to share what I can.”
That desire to share first took hold in the early 1970s when Mellish and her husband, Ken Mellish, who is also an alumnus, volunteered with Cuso International, a Canadian charity dedicated to ending world poverty. But it was at the 1979 provincial International Family Farm Consultation, which Mellish helped organize, that the idea for Farmers Helping Farmers took root. During the event, a hurricane tore through Dominica, decimating the banana crop of one of the attendees. In addition to raising funds to help reestablish that crop, Mellish and other PEI farmers discussed the possibility of visiting developing countries to see farming conditions first-hand and explore other ways to make a difference.
“We submitted a proposal to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for funding and we chose Kenya and Tanzania because we really connected with their delegates at the event,” Mellish says. “Twenty-two of us travelled to East Africa for four weeks in 1980 and then we brought a group of farmers from there to PEI. That’s how we got started.”
To date, Farmers Helping Farmers has funded projects valued at more than $10 million through contributions from PEI farmers and CIDA. These projects include helping Kenyans grow more and better food, building school cookhouses to address hunger, installing rainwater storage tanks to improve access to water, and delivering programs in cooperation with the Atlantic Veterinary College to enhance dairy production. Funding has also provided communities with access to school lunch programs, mosquito bed nets, cookstoves, seeds, and airtight bags for safely storing maize and beans. Through these efforts, Farmers Helping Farmers has touched the lives of more than 100,000 Kenyans.
Mellish says the overarching goal of the Farmers Helping Farmers initiative is to help communities develop the knowledge and resources to address economic, nutrition, and education challenges through strategic partnerships with families, women’s groups and schools. “We work with each community for five years because we do not want to create any kind of dependence,” Mellish explains. “At the end of those five years, families have a better diet, better income and they are better educated.”
In addition to working with Farmers Helping Farmers, Mellish donates to her local food bank and, with her husband, owns and operates New Perth Farms, which breeds Dutch warmblood horses. She is honoured to be recognized with an Aurum Award for her involvement with Farmers Helping Farmers and hopes it continues to bear fruit for years to come.
“We are just starting to do a strategic plan to guide us for the next 10 years,” she says. “I would like to see us go on pretty much as we are now. The fact that I get to work directly with people there continues to motivate me as does the support we have here in PEI. We are a small organization, but very effective.”