F2F ALOFT Program Volunteer Success Stories: Craig Mauney

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By Ana Maria Greenberger

The USAID-funded John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program provides technical assistance from U.S. volunteers to farmers and agricultural groups in foreign countries to promote sustainable improvements in both food security and agricultural production, processing, and marketing. In the Fall of 2023 the Smith Center was awarded five years of funding to implement the “Agricultural Leaders of Tomorrow” (ALOFT) regional USAID F2F program for Southeast Asia.  The ALOFT program is building off the previous F2F AVOP project that the Smith Center implemented in Cambodia from January 2022 to September 2023 in partnership with the Center of Excellence on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Nutrition (CE SAIN).  

Working with partners at the Royal University of Agriculture in Cambodia, Can Tho University in Vietnam, and the Central Philippines State University in the Philippines, the ALOFT program  provides technical assistance in climate-smart agriculture, agricultural entrepreneurship and agribusinesses, agricultural education, extension and advisory services through short-term exchanges between skilled American volunteers and farm groups, agribusinesses, NGOs, and universities. These exchanges place American volunteers with Southeast Asia host-organizations for two-week assignments to respond to local requests for technical assistance. 

Follow along through our F2F Success Stories as we highlight the experiences of past F2F volunteers and raise awareness about future volunteer opportunities through the ALOFT Program.

This F2F Success Story was written by Ana Maria Greenberger, a current UT graduate student in Agricultural Leadership, Education & Communications and former F2F AVOP Volunteer. Craig Mauney was a past AVOP volunteer and is preparing to return to Cambodia as an ALOFT F2F volunteer this summer.

You’re likely to find Craig Mauney on the hundreds of farms with which he consults throughout North Carolina in his position as one of the state’s longest-standing extension agents. Craig hosts dozens of workshops and conferences every year. If Carig’s not on someone else’s farm or teaching in front of a group of farmers, he’s growing and experimenting with crops on his farm in Henderson County, NC. Craig is an area-specialized agent focusing on commercial fruit and vegetable production with NC State Extension, and has worked as an agent for thirty years and as an agricultural educator for forty years. 

Mauney served as a volunteer in the Cambodia Farmer-to-Farmer program in 2022. It was his first international agricultural advising trip. Craig had visited Cambodia several times prior to that, but only as a tourist. This time was different,Mauney states with great pride, “The main thing I want people to know is, that trip changed me as an educator, it changed my career. I wish I had done this twenty years ago, I would have been a better educator.”

Mauney’s passion lies in cultivating niche crops such as paw-paws, elderberries, shiitake mushrooms, and wasabi. Born and raised on a sprawling 1,000-acre farm in Murphy, NC, and a graduate of Berea College of Agriculture in Kentucky, his roots in agriculture run deep.

Craig is knowledgeable about all aspects of Southeastern agriculture and beyond. While in Cambodia, he was able to share his expertise through visits to several agricultural research technology parks that demonstrated various agricultural practices, high schools with edible food forests and gardens, and teaching workshops to high school students. 

I was lucky enough to travel with Craig and witness him in action. He has a natural ease in his manner and communicates well with people who have a limited working knowledge of English. I observed him troubleshooting  disease issues with crops in a  school garden and you could see his passion for agriculture and teaching others. Craig views all interactions as learning situations so he is both a teacher and a student. “I came back and went crazy about working with cover crops after seeing how important cover crops were to farmers in Cambodia through visiting the various research stations,” he said. “That summer, I came back and did a test plot of cover crops. I now have that experience to share with the farmers I work with in North Carolina.” 

In the U.S., he works with both large and small commercial producers. Craig provides training and technical support to growers in thirty-eight counties. “When I came back, I saw my education and my events improve. I came back and changed my teaching modes, and I have a better feel now of what my farmers need,” he stated. 

On why he loves Cambodia, Craig said, “I fell in love with the kindness and the acceptance of the Southeast Asian people. They are not judgemental.” That coupled with Craig’s love of helping farmers made his trip a success.

“Every educator needs to have one of these experiences and see how agriculture impacts people everywhere. F2F is one of the best programs out there,” Craig explained. “It provides the opportunity for agriculture educators to have intensive experiential experience with growers.”

The overarching goals for the ALOFT program are to help meet host organizations’ specific agriculture technical needs, allowing them to empower youth in Southeast Asia and provide U.S. volunteers with a meaningful international experience that will broaden their perspective of agriculture and other cultures. Interested in serving as a F2F volunteer? Fill out the volunteer request form linked below, and a member of our team will reach out with more information!