Sowing New Seeds in Guatemala, and Washington

When I got off the phone
with fellow Scholar Joseph Bornstein (OR ’07) a few months ago, I was re-energized.
Amidst policy debates in Washington, I often feel like I am focused on problems—poverty, environmental
degradation, access to quality education, war and conflict, hunger. But hearing
about Semilla
(New Seed), the nonprofit
organization Joseph co-founded in Guatemala, was the chance to explore
innovative and exciting solutions.
When I learned that Joseph would be in the States this month, Julie Curti (WI
’06) and I decided to host a discussion for DC Trumans and friends.


More than 30 folks gathered to hear about the challenges facing communities
and ecosystems in Guatemala and the impact of Semilla Nueva. Our diverse
backgrounds and perspectives made for an engaging and inspiring discussion. To
set the stage, Joseph illustrated the detrimental effects of current
agricultural methods on people and the land in Guatemala. Most use subsistence farming
methods that deplete soil quality and remove necessary nutrients. These crops
do not provide adequate nutrition for families, nor can the lands withstand the
extreme weather of the region. Joseph then explained how, with innovation and community
collaboration as key pillars, Semilla Nueva is working to raise
farmer crop yields and rejuvenate the agro-ecosystems upon which communities
rely for sustenance. Joseph also explained how, through this work, Semilla
Nueva is aiding the efforts to stop deforestation in one of the world’s
most important forest regions and prevent further land degradation.


An engaging conversation followed. Familiar with the agricultural methods
and technologies in Central America, Kyle Gracie (PA ’03) asked about the
history of terracing and biodiversity in Guatemala and how innovations in corn
seed would contribute to public health and ecosystem stewardship. Marissa
Duswalt (TX ’09) provided insights from her experience at the US Department of
Agriculture. With experience at the World Bank, Jennie Hatch (ME ’09) sparked a
conversation about foreign aid and development practices.

Concluding the event, Joseph reminded us all that Semilla Nueva’s efforts
were entirely grassroots. In sharing our ideas and our support, we were helping
to grow Semilla Nueva’s impact on communities and ecosystems in Guatemala. And,
for many of us who work here in Washington, we were also rooting new ideas for
addressing challenges and finding solutions.

Julie and I look
forward to sharing the impact of Semilla Nueva and growing the network of
supporters. We will be hosting another event in the coming weeks, and we hope
other Truman Scholars can join! If you would like to learn more about Semilla
Nueva or support its work in Guatemala, visit Also feel free
to contact fellow Truman Scholar Joseph Bornstein (OR ’07) at

Christine Curella (NJ ’07) works at the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency and loves organizing events with Truman
Scholars in the Washington, DC area.


Truman Scholars
who joined for this event included Jon Cardinal (NY ’07), Steven (SJ) Cohen (DC
’07), Julie Curti (WI ’06), Marissa Duswalt (TX ’09), Kyle Gracie (PA ’03),
Jennie Hatch (ME ’09), and Kelsey Yamasaki (HI ’07).

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