The Greenhouse Garden Project is an economic development program in the Dominican Republic (DR) sponsored and funded by Everett and Dajabon Rotary Clubs, along with Friends of the Dominican Republic. Matching funds from two Rotary Districts (in the US and DR) is complemented by funds from The Rotary Foundation (international). Its purpose is to construct enclosed greenhouse gardens (300 square feet) with wrap-around training in agribusiness and entrepreneurship. The project is implemented with partnerships that provide microloans, training, technical assistance, and for constructing and operating shade gardens to produce vegetables that generate nutrition and income for low-income farmers (campesinos) and their families. The program model begins by offering training through INFOTEP, a local non-government organization that specializes in agriculture education. They work in nine villages that the program targets offering training in three areas: agricultural production, organic farming, and financial management skills. The participants who complete these courses become eligible for a loan for the construction of their own enclosed shade garden. Upon construction of their garden, the participant begins vegetable production with seeds and technical assistance provided by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Everett Rotary Club is the international partner and Dajabón Rotary Club, which manages the implementation, is the Rotary host partner. A steering committee made up of the two Rotary Clubs and the project partners oversees the program, adopts policies, manages problem-solving, and coordinates resource allocations. Members include INFOTEP (training), Ministry of Agriculture (technical assistance), BanFondesa (lending), and ADETDA (marketing/sales). The project has constructed 12 greenhouse gardens in nine villages to date and has provided agricultural training to more than 200 individuals in these sites, multiplying the project benefits well beyond the model gardens constructed and launched. Four additional gardens are targeted for completion in the first half of 2023. Integration of the Peace Corps in this project includes:
Project funding from Friends of DR
Consultation and fund development by RPCV Ed Petersen and Rotary Club of Everett members
Program evaluation by Washington State University, led by RPVC Anthony Gromko
Support from DR Peace Corps program
How was the Partnership started?
John Epler, RPCV DR (1960s) (representing Peace Corps in the Rotary-Peace Corps Partnership) led a guided tour of DR in June 2015 to visit Peace Corps and Rotary sites. Everett Rotarians Ed Petersen (then Club President), Julie Herber, and Greg Lineberry (all representing Rotary in the Rotary-Peace Corps Partnership) were in search of a new global service project. The Friends of DR (FDR) Community Challenge Fund Manager, John Epler, and his wife escorted the group and connected them with the Peace Corps/DR Country Director. They visited local Rotary Clubs, including the one in Dajabon, a remote region in northwest DR near the border with Haiti. The Dajabon Rotary Club shared their concept for a Greenhouse Garden program, for which they had no funding. Everett Rotary returned three months later to launch the program.
Who identified the need?
John Epler, RPCV in DR and Ed Petersen, RPCV Venezuela, began the conversation of a project in DR. Ed asked John to be a guide for a tour of DR, which was scheduled in June 2015. The three Everett Rotarians, along with John and Jean Epler, met with four Rotarians from the Dajabon Rotary Club in Dajabon to discuss their interests in partnering on an international Rotary project. At that meeting, they discussed several concept papers for possible projects. The Greenhouse Garden concept, designed to address poverty and to take advantage of existing climate and growing conditions, was one of these. For the Everett Rotarians, this economic development opportunity was exactly aligned with their interests and by October 2015, they returned to start collaborating with Dajabon Rotary. With the need identified, over time, Friends of DR, under the leadership of Kim Herman and John Epler, became a funding partner.
How was the atmosphere of the collaborative experience?
This is a highly positive collaborative experience! In fact, Kim Herman says, "Everything about this project is positive." Benefits of the Partnership include the snowball effect partnerships Rotary has created with other Rotary clubs in DR, the Peace Corps/DR HQ staff, the Friends of DR, and other service organizations. “The foundation has been laid in Dajabón for other kinds of benefits,” Ed Petersen says. “We have access to future grant opportunities in education, health, and the environment. The project has built a platform that opens opportunities to do more.” Ed and his colleagues have visited two or three times per year since 2015 (16 total trips as of February 2023). Each garden is owned and operated by a participant who has received entrepreneurship training. Participants and their gardens are embedded in rural villages as role models.
A support system for project participants is provided by local partners who are dedicated to the ongoing success of current and future greenhouse gardens. Partners include the Ministry of Agriculture (technical assistance), INFOTEP (training), BanFondesa (access to capital loans), and ADEPTA (marketing and sales). DR government views the greenhouse garden model as a valuable addition to its agricultural development program. The Dajabón Rotary Club, which manages the project implementation, is deeply committed to long-term project success. Upon completion of the project, the club will own and manage a revolving loan fund to support the project. Finally, the Peace Corps/DR HQ has pledged to support the growth of this economic development project upon its re-establishment of Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) placements in Dajabón (expected in 2023). A further benefit is program sustainability, which is evidenced by a growing number of new projects planned by Rotary and Peace Corps in the Dajabon area together with a new Revolving Loan Fund established by the Greenhouse Garden program.
What advice would you offer to someone who wants to replicate this project in their club/country/group?
Contact National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) to ask if there are affiliate “Friends of groups” working on projects in other countries.
If there are Rotary Clubs in their area, would they be interested in partnering on joint projects?
Be open and willing to discuss possibilities and alternatives, which could be adapted to other countries.
Don't have a set format for development; be open-minded to a solution benefiting both organizations and the country's culture and development needs.
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About Everett Rotary Club: Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders united in a worldwide network to provide humanitarian service and build goodwill and peace. Chartered in 1917, the Rotary Club of Everett is one of three Rotary clubs in Everett, Washington as part of 35,000 Rotary clubs in 182 countries globally. In 2022 the Rotary Club of Everett provided $274,000 in scholarships to students from the Everett area. The club also supports low-income college-bound students in the Everett School District’s AVID program. Club members represent a broad spectrum of business, governmental, charitable, and public service occupations and support service projects in the Everett area and around the world. The club meets at noon every Tuesday in person or through zoom meetings. For more information, visit the club website: www.everettrotary.com.
About the Friends of the Dominican Republic: FDR is a nonprofit affiliate group of NPCA with the mission of "… connecting our Peace corps community to promote appreciation of and service to the people of the Dominican Republic.” FDR is made up primarily of RPCVs who have served in DR. Through two of their primary programs, they provide small grants to support projects and programs involving current PCVs and the Dominican people with whom they work. They do this through the Community Challenge Fund and the Program Support Fund – both are supported with donations from their members and others. Each fund has a different emphasis and they are designed to complement each other. A description of each program can be found under the “Programs” drop-down tab. If you are a RPCV who served in DR, you can register and become a member here. For more information, visit their website: www.fotdr.org.
A brief history of the Community Challenge Fund, which the Epler Family started in 1998 and incorporated with FDR. John Epler and Kim Herman connected through their professional capacity. The Challenge Fund started out working only with PCVs, but has expanded to include local community-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community leaders, based on different levels of funding on a project-to-project basis. They have completed 151 grants benefiting DR since its inception. Visit the FDR website for more information about the Community Challenge Fund, including sample projects.