Global Programs

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Erika Brown reflects on her El Salvador experience

You don’t have to be a farmer to volunteer! Erika helped the young entrepreneurs that make up Las Tablas Cooperative design a logo and social media strategy during her assignment.

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Erika Brown is a marketing and communications professional. She might seem like an unlikely volunteer for a program that sends American farmers and agribusiness professionals on short-term agricultural development assignments that promote sustainable growth and agricultural development worldwide. But she’s a great example of the range of assignments Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers take on.

Erika spent two weeks in El Salvador last month working with Las Tablas Cooperative to develop a plan to increase the visibility of their coffee, a critical step in accessing bigger markets and ultimately increasing their profits. 

Read her reflections below and remember, you don’t have to be a farmer to volunteer! NCBA CLUSA is currently recruiting for nine Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer positions for its “Coffee Systems” program in El Salvador, Honduras and Peru. These assignments range from web design to anti-child trafficking work in three sub-sectors: co-op development, sustainable coffee production and horticulture enterprise. Learn more.

When I close my eyes, I can still see the massive mountain range that seems to have no beginning or end. I can feel the truck bumping around on the unpaved, rocky dirt roads. And if I keep my eyes closed long enough, I can hear the quiet movements of a small community tucked away in the protected forests of Santa Ana, El Salvador. These are only a few of the vivid sensations that enveloped my senses as I traveled toward Hacienda Las Tablas, a small coffee cooperative outside of Chalchuapa, El Salvador.

Only a short time before I had been called to volunteer for Farmer-to-Farmer, an NBCA CLUSA, USAID-funded program aimed at strengthening agriculture business for farmers in developing countries. The recruiter asked if I might be interested in sharing my marketing expertise as a volunteer in El Salvador. Given my interest in international development, my professional experience in crafting marketing strategies, and my passion for El Salvador (my mother’s home country), I felt as though the universe was nudging me toward this experience.

Once in the field, I facilitated multiple conversations with the local community to better understand their needs, challenges and goals. They shared how coffee prices have lowered in recent years, how the market is saturated and how they needed help creating a logo, brand and marketing strategy so they can be more competitive. Throughout these dialogues, one theme dominated. Ultimately, these community members want to create opportunities and a sustainable path forward so they can provide for their families and keep them together.

Ultimately, these community members want to create opportunities and a sustainable path forward so they can provide for their families and keep them together.

Immigration is a hot topic in the U.S. and abroad. Regardless of where we are born or what challenges we may face, we all ultimately want the same things out of this life. However, how we accomplish these goals is up for debate. In the case of Hacienda Las Tablas, they are aiming to achieve this by moving the needle forward from within the resources of their community and through volunteer assignments like mine.

The days following our initial discussions were full of research, planning and writing. With any good marketing strategy, you are selling more than a product—you are selling a feeling and a story. When a consumer buys their favorite product, it is because the brand appeals to their desires. For example, a product may be environmentally friendly or perhaps it’s made by a local artisan. My job was to identify the special something of this cooperative and craft motivation for a consumer to make a purchase. I also needed to build a strong and memorable brand identity so the story could come through visually.

Along with INgrid Design, a creative agency in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, I put together a logo and a tailored marketing strategy that achieved all of these objectives and more. I also trained community members, some of whom may not even have high school diplomas, on best digital and outreach practices. I feel like in my own small way, through my skilled trade, I made a huge impact in a community that is ready to rise to the challenge ahead and win.

As I conclude my two-week Marketing Strategy Volunteer assignment, I am humbled by the grandness of the terrain, the people with whom I worked to create sustainable change, and the opportunity to help those who need it most.

Are you interested in watching Hacienda Las Tablas grow? Follow the small coffee cooperative @HaciendaLasTablas on Facebook!

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