November 2013 Trip Report

I left Newark Liberty Airport Thursday evening October 31 and stops included Frankfurt and Vienna, Austria before arriving in Chisinau a little after 3 pm on Friday. It was a more complicated route than I would have preferred, but the one I could get that had the most reasonable departure and arrival times. The only real issue was having only 20 minutes between flights at Vienna – navigating the airport and security, and just making the bus for the ride to get on the plane. The less-than-desirable trip was made up for by the least amount of time in Chisinau airport. From the time the plane landed until I met Michael and Angelica was 15 minutes at the most – breezing thru customs, and having my suitcase arrive moments later.

We stopped at McDonalds for a quick lunch and then traveled to Valdu Lui Isac. Supper Friday evening at Michaels was with his sisters, and then after calling home to let them know I had arrived safely, it was to bed by 9 pm.

Saturday was a day for relaxing – eating, reading, sleeping, catching up with our lives, ect. Michael and Angelica had some meetings that took until early afternoon, and then after lunch Michael and I were able to talk about some of the things I wanted to accomplish on this trip.

Sunday morning I went to church with Michael and Angelica in the neighboring village of Pascani where Michael was serving communion, as there currently is no pastor for the church. I was asked to bring a message, which I did. After a late lunch, an hour to get a quick nap, it was off to church in Valdu Lui Isac where the youth had the evening program.

On Monday Michael and Angelica had a meeting with the youth leaders from the south. Michael has given up his responsibilities as national youth leader, but is responsible for overseeing the southern region. His pastoral responsibilities continue to grow, and he is finding that he has less time for AgriService Moldova than he had anticipated. It is a source of frustration for Michael that the projects cannot be given the attention that they need, as Peter is obviously not the right person to do so. Michael and I spent quite a bit of time discussing the future of AgriService Moldova.

I believe that we need to be praying for someone – a younger person from Moldova, perhaps – that would want to be a missionary in Moldova to carry out the daily work of AgriService Moldova. I would envision someone who would be able to come to the US for a year, and as spend a few months on a dairy farm, a few months on a hog operation, a chicken operation, ect. And be here to see the entire cycle of farming – learning the process from planning, planting, harvesting, ect.

I envision this person to becoming a full-time employee of ASM, being able to attend field days and trade shows in Moldova, to be able to search for the resources here that we can use in our projects, and to be able to help advance the work that we are trying to do. I see this person becoming this, not necessarily being that right now.

I spent Monday morning doing some correspondence, spending some time working on some issues with the farm in New Hope Uganda, where they really need assistance with their project. A family from Lancaster County moved over in June to oversee the farm, and I spent some time with him, Sheldon Hoover, before they went over, to talk about the project and the vision for that farm. I will be continuing to give guidance, perhaps visiting them in 2014.

I also visited the kindergarten, spending quite a bit of time with Helena Pascal, the director, learning of her personal journey. There are currently 25 children coming, with some more who may be able to start coming. Michael said that a number of families that had children who had been coming have left Moldova, so there are fewer children in the village who would be eligible to come than there has been in the past.

The children gave me a warm welcome, and I spent a bit of time with them, playing with them, getting pictures taken, ect. Helena reported other kindergartens are jealous of their program, as their children consistently are at the top of their classes as they move on thru the school system. They not only out-perform the others in the classroom, but also get involved in extra curricular programs, and are generally more helpful doing extra tasks in the school and in the community. Only 3 of the children are from Christian homes, so this program continues to be a vital outreach to the village.

Monday afternoon I spent some time preparing for the evening youth meeting, and then went outside to enjoy the nice weather. I raked Michael’s yard, the first it’s had that much attention. When Michael and Angelica came home and saw what I was doing, they had to join me, and we did a nice job cleaning up their yard. I also spent some time showing Michael how to start a compost pile with the yard, garden and household wastes. Typically the people just burn everything, or throw it in the dump, but this past year I have talked to a number of people about composting as a way to deal with these residues and how that can greatly improve their gardens. There is a growing interest in doing this, and I can see that this could be a topic for a seminar.

Monday evening I spoke to the youth. It was one of the larger gatherings that they have had for a while, and I mixed things up for them a little, rearranging the room and how they were sitting, before sharing with them. I believe that God spoke in a very real way to many of the youth, as a number of them came to me afterwards and said how much the words spoke to some of the struggles they were facing. Michael was very happy with the meeting, and I find that more and more, God is using me to bring words of hope and encouragement to the people of Moldova. This is a large part of this work, using our skills in agriculture to share the message of God’s love.

On Tuesday, Michael and I traveled to Chisinau, where we stayed with Valeri and Maria Belous. We first visited Dancu, to look at the fields, evaluate this past year’s project, and talk about the future. We spent about 6 hours with Dimitru, the best and most productive time that I have ever spent at Dancu. We left Dancu with Michael being greatly encouraged. He has been very discouraged about the ASM projects, their success, and where we go from here.

The No-Till project wasn’t a 100% success, but did well in spite of being planted 2 weeks later than ideal and a late weed problem. The field yielded 2.1 tons/hectare. Dmitri’s best field did 3.2 tons/hectare, with average yields being 2.2 tons/hectare.

Dimitru stated he now sees that a Cover Crop and No-Till system demands better management, but he definitely saw the benefits of this program. He noticed that the cover crop protected the soil, keeping the moisture during the hot, dry beginning of the summer, and the sunflowers in the No-Till field grew very well during this period. A heavy, mid-summer rain brought an abundance of weed growth in a field with a history of heavy weed pressure. He acknowledged that he made a poor choice of variety of sunflower, as it gave us no post emergence herbicide options.

His weed situation was not unique in Moldova this year. This rain brought an excessive mid-season burst of weed pressure. And the continuing problem with reliable herbicide was very evident through out the country. There were many examples of fields where one jug of herbicide worked well and a different one had little or no effect.

I saw a different Dimitru than I had in the past, one that joked, laughed, and looked like he was enjoying life. He relinquished his responsibilities as overseer in the Baptist Union, because recognized that he needed to spend more time with his family, and pay attention to the farm, and to the ministries in the community. It seemed as if the weight of the world was lifted off his shoulders, and he was energized and enthusiastic about the possibilities of the farming project. He stated that he has already seen the resulting improvements on the farm, particularly the dairy, since he has been there to be directly involved.

The dairy is currently milking 14 cows, being at the low point in the cycle, with most of the current milking animals due to freshen early next year. He also expects to have a full 40 head milking by early next year. They have an abundant supply of excellent corn silage, alfalfa hay and grain. There continues to be a great demand for their cheese, and He would like to explore the possibility of making ice cream. I brought up the idea of him coming to the US to visit operations here to learn about ice cream making. He would also be an excellent speaker at a future banquet.

The farm had an excellent sunflower harvest, selling 280 tons, but prices have dropped from 5 lei to 3.4 lei/kg. He sold the crop, since he doesn’t have adequate storage. He sold now because storage costs are so high, that he risked losing too much to wait. Also, the facility docked him 28 tons, they said for moisture, but mostly just because they can. It is obvious that a grain storage system needs to be investigated.

As we discussed where the project is headed in the future, Dimitru expressed the desire to have us use his farm as a demonstration farm. He would like to be able to hold seminars there, and have a field day this summer demonstrating what we are trying to accomplish. This very much fits my vision of changing our approach to this project. By focusing our energies at one location, we can do a much better job, and by being able to communicate directly with him through Slavic, things will get done in a proper and timely manner. With Dmitri’s commitment to the farm, I believe that we can accomplish what we would like to.

Wednesday morning Michael and I met with Ghena Russo to talk about doing seminars for Invest Credit in March 2014. Ghena will be surveying their clients about topics for the seminars. We will need to be finding someone experienced in Tomato/Cucumber/Pepper production in greenhouses.  Ghena also was very interested in our No-Till project. The economist in him recognizes the value of decreased tillage costs, and then got excited when I talked about the improved soil benefits when combining no-till with cover crops.

He is having a meeting with a friend who is a close personal friend of the Minister of Agriculture, and will try to gain an audience with him to promote this concept. It also could open the door to do some more sophisticated research and demonstration work. This could also allow us to have easier access to getting experimental products into Moldova.

We briefly met with Eugen Tataru, a man that I have been in contact with since April of this year, who is the president of Moldova Dairy Farm Service Agency. We are working at developing a working relationship to provide necessary resources to the growing dairy industry in Moldova. He had an unexpected from the head of the Irish Department of Agriculture, so we postponed our meeting until Thursday night.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the headquarters of the Baptist Union where Michael was dealing with some issues with the accountant. I made some phone contacts with people I know in the US seed industry about what it takes to start importing into Moldova. One of my contacts from the alfalfa industry has started getting their alfalfa into Ukraine, and is getting his man there in contact with me.

Thursday morning we traveled to Iablona to meet with Nicolai about his No-Till project. Again, I was thankful for being able to have an extended time with Nicolai. He was able to tell me how he started his involvement with the work there. He also invited his colleague, Slavic Aftinescu , the director of the home, to have coffee with us and we learned the history of Tabita Caritas , it’s inception, and how it came to be built in the city of Iablona.

The No-Till project at Iablona was a moderate success in spite of all of the delays and setbacks we experienced. Planting was later than we would have liked, due to the delay in getting the supplies and the planter to Iablona. And Nicolai did not have the sprayer field-ready when we got there, and his tractor broke after planting, while trying to spray the glyphosate later. Along with a defective herbicide, we didn’t get control, except for where Nicolai double applied. A second herbicide application was made, and by the time that it was applied, and the cover crop and weeds were controlled, the ground had dried out completely, so the corn never germinated properly.

There was a section of the field that had been planted into onions the year before that was tilled and didn’t have any cover crop. The corn germinated well there, as the ground did not dry out as quickly. That part of the field did extremely well, producing 13 tons/hectare, or 150 bu/acre.

The rest of the field was replanted 3 weeks later with Nicolai’s planter, which seemed to do a decent job. It was necessary to make a third herbicide application, as they received a significant rain a few weeks later, and the corn was not tall enough to shade out weed growth. The replant did very well; given it was planted 5 weeks later than ideal. The only issue Nicolai faced is that the replant corn went down just prior to harvest due to a storm with heavy winds, and it made harvest a challenge. Also, the stalks were still green at harvest, with the ears not as dry as desired, but Nicolai was able to spread the corn out to get it dry enough to put into his new corncrib. Yields from the second planting were over 7 tons/hectare or over 80 bu/acre – still above average yields, and they have the best corn harvest that they’ve had in years. So the farm has an abundant supply of grain for the hogs in the coming year. Nicolai disked the field and has wheat cover crop planted into about half of the field. It was planted the end of October, and with the recent rains and warm November, is looking good.

Another outstanding success was the watermelons. I decided to purchase fertilizer for the watermelons as a way to make up for what I was expecting to be a less-than-desired yield in the corn. I out-lined a way for Nicolai to apply the fertilizer in an efficient method, being able to get the maximum benefit with a minimum amount of fertilizer. And the result was that they had a record watermelon harvest – selling 80 tons of watermelons for $5,000 from the 3 hectares.

Along with the high yield, the watermelons had excellent quality, being tested at a state laboratory to make sure that the quality was not compromised with the addition of the fertilizer. There continues to be a strong belief in the country that adding nitrogen is not a good thing. While there needs to be a lot of education about providing a balance fertilizer program that addresses much more than nitrogen, the addition of 16-16-16 had a huge payoff. Again, there is a great need for quality products in the country.

People were stopping to take pictures, as they had never seen so many watermelons. They asked if Nicolai if he brought watermelons from another field to make it look so good. They said it looked like it rained watermelons. They had 4-5 nice watermelons per plant, instead of the usual 1 or 2.

There also came a point in the season when it was costing more to harvest and sell the remaining watermelons, so Nicolai decided to feed the remaining 20 tons to the hogs. Because they had no grain from 2012 to feed, they were using waste from a sugar beet factory. The pigs didn’t like it very well, as it had a sour taste, so mixing the sweet watermelons with the sugar beet waste made a feed that the pigs liked, and grew very well on. They have enough hogs to butcher for their needs, he was able to sell 34 market hogs to a local butcher, had 30 pigs to sell, still have some small feeders, and will start farrowing again in January. The income from the hogs this year was 10,000 euros. So this has been an exceptional year for them, helping to make up for the past several years of drought and crop failure.

Support for the center has been dropping in the last years, so Nicolai has not been receiving a salary from them. 6 years ago he decided to get into the window and door manufacturing and installation business as a way to support himself. They had made windows and doors when they built the center, so he knew what he needed to make this a successful enterprise. Their quality and workmanship is superior, and their prices are better than other manufacturers in the area, and their installation service is so much better than the competition that they are now getting contracts to do large jobs in Chisinau, such as re-doing all of the doors and windows at the main hospital in Chisinau.

3 years ago they made the decision to move the manufacturing and installation business to the center at Iablona. With the $3,000 savings of rent they were paying for the facility in Balti, Nicolai has invested that money in improving the facilities at Iablona, repairing the buildings, installing a good fence around the farm buildings, and stoning the parking area, among others. His heart is truly for the work of the center, and he putting the profits into the work there, and it is showing in all of the improvements that have been happening the last couple of years.

One of the other things he did this year that shows his heart and commitment to the center is that he donated his proceeds from land that he owns to the center. He received 700 kg of sunflowers and 2,600 kg wheat as rent payment – a typical arrangement to pay the landowner in crops rather than cash. He pressed the sunflowers for cooking oil, and had the wheat ground into flour, which he gave as food for the residents. He is also feeding the meal and the bran to the hogs. In total he donated well over $1,000 worth of his own resources to the project.

He also expressed his gratitude for the support of ASM. We are the only ones who are supporting the work of the agricultural side of the project. People have naturally responded to their work of quality care for the elderly who have no family or other options for their care, other than the miserable care they would receive at a state facility. With the needs of the center being so great, the farm has been trying to operate with very little resources. Our involvement with that part of the project has enabled them provide needed food for the people, and with continued success, will be able to provide some financial support as well.

And then it came time for me to tell him that we could no longer continue the No-Till project at Iablona. I explained that the high cost of transporting the planter, the damage done to the planter during transportation, the lack of being able to effectively monitor and in general manage it properly was bring us to the point where we needed to discontinue the project there.

I stressed that we wanted to continue to support the work of the center thru helping them financially with the inputs, and giving advice to what they were doing. I also expressed that it was my heart that we could increase our support, to enable them to do an even better job than they have in the past.

At first Nicolai was disappointed, but as we talked, he realized that this would give him greater freedom, that he could make the decisions on timing of fertilizing, spraying and planting based on what he felt was appropriate for the season, not having to wait for us. He is very much interested in the concept of cover crops and no-tilling, having seen some success in spite of the challenges we’ve faced the past several years. He believes that he may be able to use some of his own equipment, we may have to make some modifications and adjustments, but it is worthy of his efforts.

So we started to lay out what next year could look like. We will plan to meet again in March, when I come to do the seminars with Ghena at Invest Credit. Nicolai was encouraged by how we will be able to continue working together in the future. He again thanked us for our support, and I was grateful to be able to be here at a time when we could talk without the interruptions and pressures of being there during the busy season.

Thursday evening Michael and I had supper with Eugen Tataru. He is very interested in establishing a partnership with me to bring seeds and equipment into the country. He does not appear to be the typical Moldovan, looking for grants and handouts, trying to impress US agencies with window-dressing, make believe businesses. He is a direct, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-he-sees-it type of an individual. He believes that the way to success is hard work and personal responsibility. He believes in making a fair profit and providing better service at a better price than his competitors.

He wanted to meet again before I returned, but I don’t know if that will be possible, as I have other commitments on this trip that I won’t change just to make it work. Overall, it was a very productive meeting.

On Friday morning I met with Michael, Valeri Belous, and Slavic Duman for an ASM Board meeting. The reason that I wanted to meet was to discuss the future of ASM Moldova. Michael has been discouraged, not having the time to devote to ASM that he feels is needed, feeling that the projects weren’t going well, that we were wasting precious resources just keeping the structure in place, while drawing suspicion because of the way that we were transferring funds to the kindergarten, and placing Michael in jeopardy. Some of these things must be discussed in person, but this is the pressure that Michael was feeling.

We spent some time in prayer, and I asked for their prayer for finding the right person to work for us in Moldova. They didn’t have anyone that immediately came to their minds, although they would think and pray about finding that person. Dimitru at Dancu came to my mind when we were visiting with him, but I wasn’t sure of his availability due to his other responsibilities, and his lack of English would greatly hinder communication. Two others brought up his name, and it might be possible that he could fill this role in the short term – a year or 3, until another person is found.  At this point a seed has been planted, and I will be following up with Slavic to see how this develops.

One of the issues is the transfer of funds for the purchase of supplies. I discussed this with Nicolai, and with Slavic. It is possible for us to directly transfer funds from our account in the US to their respective accounts. And both Nicolai and Slavic showed me how they kept records of all of their transactions, so that there is transparency in what they are doing and we can be assured that our funds are being used for what we desire. It seems like this is an avenue worth pursuing.

That leaves the kindergarten funds the biggest issue to be addressed. Michael believes that it is also possible for us to directly transfer funds to their account from our account. He will continue to investigate this avenue and let us know what our options are. If we can do this, it will take away suspicions of money laundering thru ASM. Helena Pascal keeps very detailed records of all of the expenditures of the kindergarten, and could continue to provide us with those details.

One of the challenges facing Michael is the need to continually tell people what to do. He is not able to simply tell them that they need to send a report on a certain day of the month, to do this or do that. They don’t do things of their own initiative, but must be instructed each time for each task. With all of the other demands on Michael’s time, this has placed another unneeded stress on Michael’s life. This will continue to be an issue, and it is why it is important that we search for the right individual to carry out the work of ASM here.

If those issues are resolved, then Michael was questioning the need to have the ASM organization here, paying for his salary and for Tatiana’s salary. The board decided it would be wise to continue the organization for a time, even if there is not a lot of activity, since there seems to be the possibility of God increasing the work being done here. It would be a bit of an ordeal to dismantle what we have established, and to then try and re-establish something in the future seems to be foolish, even if there would be a saving of resources right now. Of course, they await any guidance from the US ASM board.

Both Valeri and Slavic said that they hadn’t expected that there would be much need from them as members of the board of ASM, which they were thinking it was just their signatures that we needed. We spent several hours together, and they were willing participants, thanking me for our work here. I was also able to share the work with Valeri during my stay with him and Maria, so he is quickly getting a grasp of what is happening, and I will be communicating directly with Slavic about the project at Dancu. So I will be able to keep them in the loop easier about what is happening, and they are happy to give their wisdom and guidance to the work here. I was also able to bless them both financially; their personal needs are great, and the demands of their ministries at times overwhelming.

On the way back to Valdu Lui Isac Friday afternoon, Michael and I talked about him and Angelica coming to the US for our banquet in March. Both he and Angelica are reluctant to leave Adrianna again, as they have been away from her so much this year. She is struggling with a challenging year of school, and they really don’t want to be away from her during this time.

I had planted the ideal with both Dimitru and Slavic about coming to the US to get a little idea of some of the things we are talking about, and to speak at a future banquet. Michael suggested that maybe we could have them come for the March 2014 banquet. I will contact Slavic to see if this is even a possibility. This is something that we should decide in the near future, so that we can make plans for this event.

Michael also shared that there is a church from North Carolina that visited them, and is interested in helping support the kindergarten. They were able to purchase some sports equipment for the kindergarten, and they also now have a trampoline that has quickly become a favorite, and they have times when they invite the children fro the village to come for a special time at the church, using the equipment that was provided to them. The group from NC is considering how they can support the work here, being surprised at how much it costs to run the program, thinking this is a poor country so it can’t cost more than $100 per student. They have a similar program at their church, so this is very much on their heart. Michael will get me in touch with their group, so that together we might be able to keep this important ministry going.

Saturday morning Michael had a meeting with some believers from Greece about the possibility of their support of a summer camp. This year they had a group from the US come and help them hold a camp. They had about 170 youth at the camp, with quite a large number of youth making commitments. They would very much like to be able to purchase a property and build their own facilities.

I spent the morning and early afternoon preparing my message for Sunday evening and writing this report, among other things. In the afternoon, for a couple of hours, I raked Michaels lawn again, which I had done last Saturday. It was much easier this time, as last week was the first time it had ever been really raked properly. Michael exclaimed that never has the lawn received such care and attention. I said the lawn wasn’t any different from him – it likes to have it’s back scratched once in a while too. It really does make a difference in the lawn’s appearance, and Angelica was pleased with how things looked. They continue to make improvements that make their place attractive, which I believe is important, as they are hosts to so many people. I also spent some time looking at how to design a chicken house/garden shed/composting area/patio. This would be a great project for a few ambious young men from the US to undertake.

Late afternoon and evening I spent with a young man, Viktor Bercaru, from the church here in the village. In my past couple of visits I got to be friends with him, and really felt the need this time to spend some quality time with him. He is the kind of young man that Moldova needs, strong in his faith, and with the desire to see Moldova become a better country. He is trying to decide if he returns to Bucharest to finish his degree as a computer technician. His real passion is web design, logo designs, improving Internet applications and company marketing appearance. He has been building an Internet business, and has the potential to do quite well with what he is doing. This is the type of person that I am envisioning becoming a part of the work here – only with the same passion and desire to be a part of agriculture.

Sunday evening I brought the message at church, and it seemed to be well received. Afterwards we had supper with Sasa, Helena and Emma Pascal – Helena’s the director of the Kindergarten. Helena’s brother Andrie – the pastor at Valdu Lui Isac was there also, along with a nephew and his wife who were visiting from North Carolina. We had a great time, and Helena and Andrie repeated their thanks for our support of the kindergarten. The kindergarten was Andrie’s vision of how to help very needy people in their village, and Helena is the one who has tirelessly made it happen.  I am hoping that along with the folks from NC we can continue to help this important ministry continue.

And Angelica gave Michael 4,000 lei that Ion Semeret’s wife just gave her as the final payment for the sprayer. Michael said that this spring Ion returned to the church, and asked for forgiveness and has regained his membership in the church. He has stopped drinking, and is working to repair the damage to his reputation as a reliable and honest man. This is something that many people have been praying for these last few years. Michael said that Ion is providing a much-needed service of spraying in the community, so this has been another well-utilized investment of ASM resources to improve agriculture in Moldova.

Monday morning Michael took me to Chisinau for the return flight. Before I left, we met with Peter. I thanked him for his service to ASM, and then informed him that we were changing directions with how we were proceeding with the projects, and we would no longer need his services. This was well received; I don’t think it came as a huge surprise to him with how things are going. We need to pay Peter for October and some travel expenses in August and September. With his many shortcomings, Peter still did some good things for us. I was impressed with the scouting reports that he turned over to Michael for this year. He actually did a pretty good job reporting on field conditions.

Peter has been too busy to do what we had hoped he could become for ASM. Also, he has a reputation for being disorganized, and sloppy in much of what he does. He is a smart man, and does have quite a bit of understanding of what needs to be done, just doesn’t have the gifts to carry them out.

Things went well for him at his farm this year, with more corn than he had storage for, so he had to build more storage. He currently is milking 17 cows, with about that many replacements. The dairy is doing ok. He also started raising quail. There is quite a growing demand for quail, both for meat, but more so for the eggs. He now has 200 females laying eggs now, and can sell the eggs for 25 lei – about $2 – a dozen. He is planning to expand that number, and there seems to be a future for him in this area.

At this time ASM’s planter is at Dancu. The manure spreader, sprayer and fertilizer spreader is at Iablona. I did not address the future of these items, and will do so in future trips to both projects.

So I left Michael much encouraged about the work that we are doing, and what the future looks like for ASM. There is much that we need to do to solve some of the issues and concerns that he has, but I am confident we can find the solutions. So again, it was a tremendous trip, that re-enforced the importance of the work that we are doing there, and that God will show us the way for us to continue His work there.


Leslie D. Yoder