For the last 26 years, I have proudly worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2009, I made a life- and career-altering decision to leave my job as the team leader in Program Allocations and Management Support with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Washington D.C. and volunteered to help support USDA’s efforts in Afghanistan.
My husband, William Rhodes, and I – both agricultural experts – learned there was a need for people with our experience to help rebuild the country’s agriculture, which has been ravaged by nearly 30 years of war and continuous drought. We both decided to lend our skills to support USDA’s mission in Afghanistan. In December 2009, I became an agricultural advisor for a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and Agribusiness Development Team (ADT) in Paktya Province in Afghanistan.
As part of a civilian-military effort, I lived and worked on United States and allied military bases throughout the province. Along with the 1-45th and 2-45th Oklahoma ADTs, I began assessing the agricultural operations and practices at the village-level to provide targeted technical assistance to Afghans.
During my first year, I helped establish Paktya Women’s Development Center Greenhouse along with members of the Oklahoma ADT. Through this project, we provided valuable training Afghan women and girls on proper greenhouse farming and gardening techniques.
Understanding and applying these techniques is important to the success of the country’s overall agricultural sector. Greenhouses help extend the season for vegetables and fruits, improve fruit tree production and help with proper nutrient applications. They can also improve pest management, water applications and can increase the market value of produce.
By participating in this training, women not only learn greenhouse techniques, but also take their newly acquired knowledge back to their villages and teach women who were either unable or not allowed to attend the training.
So far, the greenhouse training has been very well received. The plan now is to expand training for Afghan women to include food canning and processing, solar cooking and drying, and future garden production, all of which will help increase economic viability of women.
I believe so strongly in these projects and the entire USDA mission in Afghanistan that I have volunteered to stay in the country for another year. I’m currently the USDA Senior Agriculture Advisor with Regional Command Southwest in Helmand Province.
Beyond the role of USDA, enough cannot be said of the military service members we live and work with every day who risk their lives to protect ours. For me, this includes my son , who will soon also be deployed to Afghanistan to support and defend our country. Ultimately, all U.S. civilians and military service members serving in Afghanistan have a shared mission – helping bring a brighter future to the Afghan people.
To learn more about the USDA’s efforts in Afghanistan, please visit our website.