It’s time to celebrate one of the Valley’s own quiet and hardworking heroes!   Peggy Carswell, coordinator of the local non-profit organization, Fertile Ground, was recently awarded the 2016 Women’s Creativity in Rural Life for her work with farmers and tea growers in Assam, India.

Carswell is one of this year’s nine laureates being honoured by the Women’s World Summit Foundation, an international, humanitarian network based in Geneva, Switzerland.  WWSF’s focus is to serve the advancement of women and children’s rights, development and peace.

Over the past 18 years, Peggy has trained hundreds of people in Assam and other states in northeast India in the basics of organic farming.  She’s been instrumental in setting up two resource centres and demonstration gardens, and recently helped establish a 14-bed farmers’ hostel to make it easier for people living long distances from the centre to receive training.

When Carswell and her travel partner Kel Kelly first arrived in Assam in 1998, it was a time of civil unrest and insurgency.  While things are now politically more stable, northeast India continues to struggle with underdevelopment, poverty and tension.

Initially, Carswell worked primarily with small-scale tea growers interested in shifting to organic cultivation.  In 2003, to support the increasing number of tea-growers and farmers reaching out for help, Peggy and a small group of volunteers here in the Valley set up Fertile Ground:  East/West Sustainability Network.

Over the years, despite encountering many challenges, her efforts have touched the lives of many people.  As well as continuing to teach farmers the basics of organic farming, she’s also working with Kel Kelly to promote the principles  of fair trade and helping small-scale tea growers find buyers here in Canada.

Interestingly, Assam is one of only two places on earth (the other being southwest China) where the tea plant is native.  Since the British occupation of Assam, the tea from this state has enjoyed a special status among teas connoisseurs, yet native Assamese farmers make up only a very small segment of the industry and face difficulties entering the tea market.

Fertile Ground’s work has been supported by local and district level Rotary Clubs, World Community Development Education Society, Edible Island Whole Foods, the Assam Foundation of North America and through contributions from individual donors.

Peggy will be formally presented with her award and a US $1,000 prize at Fertile Ground’s AGM on Sunday, November 27th.  The event will be held at Creekside Commons, 2202 Lambert Drive, Courtenay from 2 to 4 pm.  All are welcome.

For more information, to make a donation or to find out about volunteer opportunities here and in Assam, visit www.fertile-ground.org

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