Extension agent to lend Polish farmers a hand

January 12, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

The language is different, the culture is different, and the people are different. But Baltimore County agricultural extension agent Richard Curran feels his desire to help others should be enough to make a connection in Gdansk, Poland.

"I enjoy helping other people," said the Westminster resident who left Sunday for his six-month assignment overseas. "That's what being a county extension agent is all about. This is a chance to help someone in a foreign country get ahead under a new democratic form of government."

The trip is part of a federal exchange program working with Polish farmers, business leaders and government officials. While he's in Poland, Mr. Curran expects to help strengthen the country's farm agencies.

Mr. Curran's group -- five extension agents paired with five economists from across the country -- is the fourth and last to travel to Poland in the program that began in June 1991. Each team of two will work in a different province.

"Our main goal is to leave that province in six months with a more viable extension service," said Mr. Curran, 63. "How we go about that is our big question."

Upon their arrival in Poland, Mr. Curran and his partner, economist John Jordan from Clemson University, will have a week of orientation in Warsaw and then travel by train or car to the province of Gdansk.

The pair will spend another few weeks meeting Polish extension agents and agribusiness leaders, before they travel to farms in the area.

"Our final objective, and the most important one, is to meet with the farmers," Mr. Curran said.

He said he and Mr. Jordan will work with the Polish people on solutions for their problems, such as setting up cooperatives for farmers to support each other and get better prices for their crops.

The U.S. extension agents also might try to encourage Polish farmers to create an extension agency advisory council, he said.

Mr. Curran said the Americans want to ensure that the Polish people understand these organizations would be different from those they worked with under communism.

"We have to be careful with the terminology," Mr. Curran said. "These people have been under Communist rule for so long that they are gun-shy. The least thing that they think is like the way it was before, they don't want any part of it."

However, Mr. Curran said he heard from previous groups that the exchange program has been very effective and that the Polish people look forward to meeting the Americans.

"This is one of the best programs offered anywhere in the world," he said. "The results have been so great, and the people really appreciate what we have done for them."

As the last group was leaving, the Polish people told its members that they had "stayed too long," Mr. Curran said.

"They had been there long enough for them to develop a friendship, and [the Poles] hated to see them go," he said, adding that six months seems to be the perfect length of time for the exchange groups to stay.

For Mr. Curran, the trip fulfils a two-year dream to travel abroad and help others in his field. A former president of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents, he said he made many contacts and friends during his term.

One is Richard Rankin, U.S. deputy administrator of the extension service.

"I saw him in Peoria [Ill.] in 1991 and told him that I might be interested" in foreign development work, Mr. Curran said. "When they came up with this program, he called and wanted me to go" in the fall of 1991.

Having suffered a heart attack earlier that year, Mr. Curran couldn't accept.

But he went to a presentation on international work at a national meeting last fall.

"Hearing what they had to say made me much more interested in doing it," he said. "I'm looking forward to going to another country and living under the conditions those people live under for six months.

"This will be something I'll never forget."

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