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Interview with Elliott Powell, Sustainable Harvest International

Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) partners with smallholder farming families in Central America to improve their well-being and their surrounding environment through climate-smart farming. We spoke with Executive Director Elliott Powell about the organization and how the Climate Smart Commitment grant will support their work.

What is SHI's mission?

As an environmental organization, SHI draws carbon out of the atmosphere through regenerative agriculture practices and reforestation efforts. It does this by partnering directly with smallholder farming families to implement appropriate solutions that will last for generations to come.

How did the organization get started?

SHI was started 23 years ago on the notion that environmental destruction and rural poverty are inextricably linked — and we believe the solution to this universal issue must also be linked.

SHI's founder, Florence Reed, first noted this important connection as a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1990s, working alongside rural smallholder farming families in Panama. Starting small and grassroots — and with the simple desire to work in partnership with individuals and communities to affect positive change to their local environment — SHI has since grown to operate in four countries (three currently) across Central America, partnering with over 3,000 families and planting more than four million trees.

How will the Climate Smart Commitment grant be used to support SHI's work in Central America?

The Climate Smart Commitment grant has been used to support SHI's work with approximately 50 farming families (around 250 individuals) across the bio-diverse and ecologically rich regions of Central America. Throughout this past year, these families have worked directly with local SHI field trainers to transition from slash-and-burn farming and the heavy use of agro-chemicals to regenerative techniques such as the use of cover crops, mulch, composting, and agro-forestry practices. Depending on the situation of each family and their land, individualized projects also include, but are not limited to, reforestation plots, wood-conserving stoves, vegetable gardens, and improved chicken coops.

What do you hope to see as the long-term impact of SHI's work?

At the individual and community level, my hope is that the work of SHI improves the lives of individuals and their families, as well as their surrounding natural environment for generations to come. I hope the relationships we create today spark an agency in everyone to be positive stewards of the land and for the well-being of each other.

In a broader sense, my hope for the long-term impact of SHI's work is that we contribute to the larger conversation on environmental conservation and food production — shifting the paradigm away from our current food production system to a system that is both far more equitable and beneficial to the environment at the same time.

What can the average person do to help?

We could not do this work without our loyal base of supporters. Whether that is through donations (small and large), hosting a local event, or volunteering to support our staff, it all matters and makes a significant positive impact on our ability to achieve our mission.

I also encourage folks to visit our work firsthand in Belize, Honduras, and Panama. Evaluating impacts firsthand and meeting our wonderful partnering farming families is an experience second to none.