Academic journal article Human Ecology Forum

Cornell Cooperative Extension in Poland - Learning What You Never Knew You Never Knew

Academic journal article Human Ecology Forum

Cornell Cooperative Extension in Poland - Learning What You Never Knew You Never Knew

Article excerpt

When a once-Communist country converts to a free and capitalist society, the transition brings new values, new rules, and a whole new mind-set. Mary Misek, a program leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Lewis County, saw this firsthand. She spent 1995 in post-Communist Poland as part of the Polish/American Extension Project (P/AEP). The U.S. Department of Agriculture established the program in 1989 to help the former Soviet bloc nation make the transition to a free market economy.

"Poland had been associated with the Soviet Union," Misek says. "The people looked east, not west. They were taught their own language and Russian, not English or German. And many ideas that we take for granted were totally foreign to them."

One of those unfamiliar ideas was working cooperatively with farmers - a population estimated at the time PAE/P was established to be more than 30 percent in Poland, compared with only 2 percent in the United States. The Polish counterpart of the U.S. Cooperative Extension System - the Polish Agricultural Advisory System - was established 75 years ago. During the Communist era, it was an organization ruled from the top down. Misek says that the advisory staff funneled information to the farmers, but they failed to consider, or even ask, what the farmers wanted.

"The feeling behind the Polish/American Extension Project was that the fulcrum needed to change," Misek says. "The Polish agricultural advisers needed to find out what the farmers needed to succeed and then provide that support."

To help restructure the Polish Agricultural Advisory System and to foster farmers' independence, the P/AEP provided teams of two from the United States to travel to the Polish provinces. When Misek went in 1995, she stayed six months in the rural province of Elblag, where she taught water quality, family farm business financing, and agritourism.

When her time was up, Misek was invited to remain in Poland. She accepted and worked another six months as an adviser to the Polish 4-H Foundation based in Warsaw. She traveled throughout Poland conducting educational programs. The adults and youth in the provinces often participated in Misek's programs to learn fundamental communication and leadership skills for a new social and economic structure. …

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