2012 Shriver Award Winner – Florence Reed
By Erica Burman on Monday, July 16th, 2012
“A farmer in a remote village in Honduras is providing us with organic coffee, providing winter habitat for our song birds, stabilizing our global climate, preserving the forests that are the source of most of our medicines, creating oxygen to breathe and protecting the coral reefs from siltation as a result of deforestation. So if a poor farmer in Honduras can do all this for us, what can we do for him?” -Florence Reed
Every year the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) presents The Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service. The award was named to recognize the tremendous contributions of the first Peace Corps Director, Sargent Shriver, in the founding and development of the Peace Corps. The Shriver Award is given to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who continues to make a sustained and distinguished contribution to humanitarian causes at home or abroad or is an innovative social entrepreneur whose actions will bring about significant long-term change. (See past winners here.)
This year’s recipient is Florence Reed. Reed believes that when people work together, things change for the better. This belief led her to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama in the early 1990s where she served as an agro-forestry extension agent. Her experience in the Peace Corps as well her work in several other non-profit organizations, led her to found Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) in 1997.
“Sargent Shriver was a relentlessly energetic and innovative advocate for encouraging change in ways big and small,” says NPCA President Kevin Quigley. “This is the spirit that infuses the Peace Corps, and through the Sargent Shriver Distinguished Humanitarian Award we honor RPCVs who embody this spirit. Florence Reed, the founder of SHI, which empowers individuals in Central America to build more sustainable futures, is an ideal recipient.”
A panel of five judges, including past Shriver Award winners, unanimously selected Reed from a group of 23 nominees.
The Sustainable Harvest International Harvest Story
Upon finishing her Peace Corps service, Reed sought to build upon the tremendous potential to create significant and permanent change throughout Central America. As Reed described in her acceptance speech:
“During my years in the Peace Corps I got to see a lot of what I had learned about tropical deforestation in college. I saw how the farmers practice of slash-and-burn farming leads them to cut down and burn more forest every year, eroding away more of the thin topsoil each time the cycle is repeated. What really came home to me during my years in the Peace Corps, however, was that the farmers did not want to be doing this. They were anxious to find alternatives that would allow them to boost production while growing on the same land year after year. Seeing the failures of short-term, limited efforts to help them make the transition to sustainable farming practices, led me to realize that what they really needed to successfully and permanently make this transition was long-term, regular technical assistance. As I got ready to end my Peace Corps service, I really wanted to get a job with an organization that was focused on filling that need and was shocked to find that no such organization existed.”
She started Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) with one donation from a Swiss tourist she met in Panama and a tiny office in a spare bedroom at her parents’ house. In Honduras, she met with a group of villages that wanted to implement sustainable techniques. Reed then cultivated interest in the project among a group of concerned university professors, small business owners, a member of the New Hampshire – Belize teachers exchange, and non-profit executives. They formed a Board of Directors and Sustainable Harvest International was incorporated as a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization in May 1997. By then, SHI’s first two field trainers had begun work in rural Honduras.
Sustainable Harvest International (SHI), is dedicated to working with rural Central American communities to implement sustainable land-use practices. As president of the organization, Reed divides her time between overseeing programs in Central America and gathering resources in the United States, bringing together farmers and donors to create a better future.
Since founding SHI, Reed has led the organization’s growth from a budget of $50,000 in the first year to $1.5 million today. Starting work with two extension agents in Honduras, she later created new programs in Panama, Belize and Nicaragua eventually helping each country program to become an independent affiliate or subsidiary of SHI. Collectively they have helped more than 1,500 families to become self-sufficient stewards of the environment and trainers of more families. They have also planted more than three million trees and converted nearly 20,000 acres of degraded land to sustainable farms thus protecting 100,000 acres of tropical forest from slash and burn.
Upon accepting the award in Minneapolis before her fellow RPCVs, Reed said, “It is a tremendous honor to receive the Sargent Shriver Distinguished Humanitarian Award and one that I feel Sustainable Harvest International deserves. As for myself personally, I just consider myself very lucky to be accepting this award as the Founder and President of the organization whose staff, volunteers, donors and program participants have been improving our world for the past 15 years. I am grateful for all they have done to further SHI’s mission and to my family for all that they do to help me continue my work.”
Congratulations to Florence Reed and the friends, supporters and staff of Sustainable Harvest International.