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Farmer John's Haiti looks to solar project to keep operating

Farmer John's Haiti, an agribusiness started by John Draxton, a former North Dakota cattle producer, is facing struggles in getting fuel to run generators to keep its butchershop going. They're raising funds now to switch to solar power as soon as possible.

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Keeping freezers running at Farmer John's Haiti requires generators that run on diesel. Fuel has been hard to come by because of turmoil in the country, so the business is attempting to switch to solar power.
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A Haiti agribusiness with a strong tie to North Dakota keeps pushing to provide meat to the people of Haiti, despite upheaval and uncertainty. But recent spikes in fuel prices and availability have pushed Farmer John's Haiti to make a move to solar power.

John Draxton, originally from Northwood, North Dakota, started Farmer John's Haiti about four years ago to provide sustainable, sanitary meat and jobs to the struggling country. In a recent YouTube update, Draxton said the business has grown to employ 30 people and purchases animals from 200 farmers, providing multiple paths of economic development while selling meat to the people of the country as well as to hotels and resorts.

"I'm very blessed to be a part of this project," he said.

However, the "political mess" of Haiti has made doing business difficult, he explained.

"Half of our business is delivering meat," he said. "We have had cars stolen by gangs, tires shot off, a bullet hole in the side of the truck."

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While none of the drivers have been hurt "by the grace of God," the shootings are far from the only challenges facing Farmer John's.

The electricity for the business comes 100% from four fuel-powered generators. Because the business relies on refrigeration and freezers, Farmer John's needs power 24 hours a day.

Draxton said when the business started, fuel was at $1.50 per gallon. While the price is "supposed" to be $6 per gallon now, he said gangs have blocked ports and made legal purchases of fuel nearly impossible. The only fuel available has been on the black market for $20 to $40 per gallon.

Recent Facebook posts from Farmer John's Haiti show continuing struggles in finding fuel, with multiple people trying to find enough fuel to keep operating. The business briefly ran out of fuel but someone managed to deliver 300 gallons to keep them going for a few days.

"We can no longer continue like this," Draxton said.

While he has told the staff the problems maybe insurmountable, "they will not accept quitting as an option."

Draxton sees switching to solar power as an option that could keep Farmer John's in business. The challenge for that is that it will cost $300,000, and there are no banks at which to acquire a business loan in Haiti.

The business has raised $200,000 and is looking to raise another $100,000 with the help of PUR International, an organization started by a family with North Dakota ties to raise money for worthy causes.

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A long-term mission

Draxton says Farmer John's is "one of the biggest economic impacts I’ve been a part of and that I’ve seen in Haiti” and that the business is sustainable so long as it has electricity. Even through its worst years, it has continued to expand, he said.

He first went to Haiti from North Dakota in 2001 on a missions trip, at which time he met Josue Cesar, who later studied agronomy at the University of Haiti, then got a master's degree in microfinance in Brussels, Belgium. Draxton agreed to help Cesar start the International Farmers Organization for Sustainable Development — IFOSuD. And Draxton formed Friends of IFOSuD to raise money in the U.S. to support the nonprofit.

Draxton started Farmer John's to serve as an example of sustainable agriculture, but he didn't set out for it to turn into the business it has become. He bought some cattle to fatten but learned there was no place to butcher them. Opening and sustaining a butcher shop that could both provide safe meat and a place for farmers to sell livestock became the focus of Farmer John's.

To learn more about the solar project and how to donate, visit https://www.purinternational.org/Giving/Details/solar-panel-system-needed-in-haiti.

Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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