Denise O'Brien, the organic farmer from Iowa who founded the Women, Food and Agriculture Network, or WFAN, in 1997, has accepted a one-year appointment as a technical adviser on agriculture in Afghanistan, with the U.S. Office of Foreign Service Operations. She left Iowa on February 24 for a month-long training in Washington, D.C., then leaves for Kabul.
"At this point in time, I don't know what my tasks will be," says O'Brien. When she arrives, she will meet with the Province Reconstruction Team and discuss her work plan for the year. "I'm excited about working with the people in Afghanistan on reconstructing their country," she says. "Afghanistan in the past has been an agriculture exporting nation. It will be important to listen to the people and follow their lead in order to use my specific skills and experience."
This isn't the first time she's represented U.S. agriculture overseas
O'Brien was one of a small group of U.S. women who attended the 1994 International Conference on Women in Beijing, China, to speak out on behalf of women in agriculture. In 1997, she and others formed Women, Food and Agriculture, or WFAN, a nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to link and empower women to build food systems and communities that are healthy, just, sustainable and that promote environmental integrity. Today, WFAN has more than 1,300 members across the US. The organization provides networking, information and leadership development opportunities to help them be more effective in their work.
O'Brien won the Democratic primary for Iowa secretary of agriculture in 2006 and ran for that seat but was defeated in the general election. Her campaign is recognized as a key factor in the increased dialogue across the state about organic and sustainable agriculture and healthy food systems. Denise and her husband, Larry Harris, own Rolling Acres an organic farm that markets produce through community support agriculture or CSA, near Atlantic in southwest Iowa.