Idaho man trains people in Republic of Georgia
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
In what he describes as a "dream come true," Steve Morgan of Nampa, Idaho, recently spent two weeks in the Republic of Georgia training cheesemakers.
Now retired, Morgan spent 43 years in the business and has a lot of knowledge to share with those in developing countries who want to establish or improve their own production.
His expertise was recognized by Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs, which contracts with the United States Agency for International Development to strengthen agricultural markets and empower entrepreneurs in developing countries.
Sent to train people in a small cheese-making operation, and armed with a full-time interpreter, his trip to Georgia was an exciting and eye-opening experience, he said.
"The first day I was there, the power was out, so we couldn't work," he said.
But that was just a hiccup compared with the steep resource and technological challenges processors there face.
"They're pretty far behind, but they're very, very gracious people and want to learn," he said. "They lack the knowledge and don't have the people to train them."
Another challenge is milk supply and delivery. Morgan was awestruck by the vast differences in the way those factors play out in Georgia and the United States. While processors here send semi-trucks to dairy farms to pick up thousands of gallons of milk, his "field trip" in rounding up supply was much different.
"We drove way up in the mountains, knocked on the door of a house, and peopled carried milk out in buckets and poured it in our container. Then we'd go to the next house," he said. "It was a real eye-opener."
Cheese processing there has been limited to Georgian and Sulguni cheeses, and Morgan was there to train the small processor in making Gouda cheese. He found his host doesn't have the proper equipment to make high-quality Gouda, and he offered suggestions to improve his host's quality, sanitary standards and storage practices.
He was pleased by how well his advice was received, but he got much more in return, including an opportunity to experience Georgia's culture, its cuisine and local wines.
"The people are amazing, how much they want to learn, it's just incredible," he said.
He is looking forward to future assignments and hopes to return to Georgia in May.
He encourages others with agricultural expertise to look into the program.
"There's got to be a lot of people out there ... with knowledge and experience to share and help somebody," he said. "You get to travel and help people. And it doesn't do any good if it stays up in your head. If you've got it, help somebody. Why not?"
Morgan started his career with Olympia Cheese Co., and worked there 37 years. After Simplot bought the company and then sold it to Sorrento, the plant was closed and he went to work at Sorrento's Nampa plant. Through the years, he scaled the ranks from production worker to supervising an expanding company.
After he retired, he became a cheese-making consultant for the University of Idaho.
His trip to Georgia was funded through USAID's Farmer-to-Farmer program, which provides volunteer technical assistance to farmers, farm groups and agribusinesses to promote sustainable improvements in food processing, production and marketing.
Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs is recruiting for similar assignments.
Citizens Network: www.cnfa.org/farmertofarmer, 202-296-3920