Seeds of inspiration sprout from international Extension experience
Mary Michael Lipford Zahed ’21, now a graduate student in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, took her “life-changing” experience in Ghana and brought it back to Virginia Tech.
It all started with a seed of inspiration from Ozzie Abaye.
Mary Michael Lipford Zahed didn’t know she wanted to study agriculture, but Abaye, now the Thomas B. Hutcheson Professor of Agronomy, showed her the impact that agriculture has on the world.
Zahed learned that without basic needs met, people can’t be the best versions of themselves, which led her to take a life-changing position 5,100 miles away from home in Ghana in 2021.
Having returned to Virginia Tech as graduate student in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Zahed saw the opportunity to connect with her mentor about a cross-cultural collaboration.
Kwekucher Ackah, a professor of crop science at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, will visit Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus in August to gather ideas and methods to improve community gardening in Ghana and see how Cooperative Extension in Virginia works.
“This is a chance for me to return the kindness and hospitality of everyone in Ghana, even in such a small way,” Zahed said. “I saw amazing things while living there. The people are wonderful. They are so welcoming and do anything to help someone else. And I want to do the same.”
When COVID-19 hit, Ackah started a Facebook group called Home Gardening Ghana, which has grown to more than 250,000 members and now spans beyond the Ghanian border. He’s focused on fighting food insecurity through urban agriculture and urban community gardening, including home gardening. Ackah wants to expand this work to all of West Africa.
“This visit is going to help me know more about the U.S. food systems and how Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension services are working together to support community garden groups in the region,” Ackah said. “It will also expose me to the various community garden groups, their structures, and how they operate so that we can build on it to improve food security in Ghana and the other African countries, through restructuring of the activities of Home Gardening Ghana.”
Zahed has three goals for Ackah’s visit:
- Cross-cultural collaboration from Virginia Tech and the University of Cape Coast on fighting food insecurity
- Giving Ackah practical tools to expand Home Gardening Ghana upon returning to Cape Coast
- Giving Virginia Tech new ideas of expanding community garden work, especially in the urban sector
“You never want to devote yourself to something that doesn’t matter,” Zahed said of her year-long experience in Ghana. “That was a personal growth year for me. But we maintained our relationship and I hear from at least one of them every day. That experience wasn’t about just me. It is much bigger than just one person and I’m thrilled to be able to help, even in a small way.”