Pulaski farmer spreads knowledge worldwide
John Malcheski assists countries in the food production process
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
Egypt, Armenia, Nigeria, Macedonia, Guinea, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Serbia - John Malcheski of Pulaski has visited them all with one mission - to improve the food production systems of these nations.
"It's been a great learning experience for me," said Malcheski, a dairy farmer and cooperative ambassador. "It's a matter of exchanging ideas with these people. They know how to farm. People will ask me, 'Are you going there to teach them how to farm?' That's where we learned how to farm. Our ancestors are from there."
Malcheski's missions are sponsored through a USAID (United States Aid for International Development) program. He became involved in the program following the fall of communism in 1989.
"Our government was very concerned that there may be tremendous food shortages in the Eastern Block," said Malcheski, a member of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Pulaski. "How were they going to manage food production? Congress expanded the Farmer-to Farmer program. I was part of the first group in Poland in 1990."
Fourteen years later, Malcheski is still helping people around the world. He recently traveled to Guinea in West Africa to assist the vegetable grower unions.
"They need help in setting up a federated system so they can do a better job marketing their vegetables, and buying inputs, plant food and seeds, and crop protection products," he said.
Malcheski works in the most rural areas of these countries. The contrast between life in
the major cities and the rural areas is shocking, he said.
"In Nigeria, for example, you fly into the capital, Abuja," he said. "The city has nice hotels like we have in Green Bay. There are nice hospitals and schools. You travel 10 miles outside the city and turn on a gravel road. You go a few more miles and turn on a one-lane dirt road. You can go drive 20 minutes and travel 150 years back in time. It is almost unbelievable."
Despite the limited resources, the people produce good products, said Malcheski. He pointed to the production of casaba in Nigeria as an example. Casaba, a melon which grows on a vine similar to that of a cantaloupe, is harvested by a group of women in the rural area Malcheski visited.
"They soak it overnight, and clean it off the next day," he said. "Then they shred it using a washboard with nail holes in it. They put around 30 pounds in a sack, take a stick, and wrap the bag around the stick as tightly as possible to squeeze the juice out. They set it on these 50-pound stones overnight. The next day they get wood and a frying pan. They heat the casaba to dry it with the heat. They make sure they don't burn it. It stays a perfect white color."
"These ladies did a heck of a nice job," he continued. "To market it we encourage them to develop a logo because that product was so perfect. They raise casaba to bring better teachers and equipment into their schools for their kids."
Malcheski sought ways to help the casaba production process when he returned from Nigeria. Friends helped him build a press from an apple press screw, 12-inch tube and a welded plate, which was delivered to Nigeria. They also built a shredder using a fish scaler and a five-horsepower motor. Unfortunately, the shredder is still in Malcheski's garage.
"We assume that what a woman does in five hours, we can do in five minutes with what we built," he said. "It's been a bear to get this little machine to these ladies. We are hoping a contact with an import license comes through for us. We built the machine for nothing, but it might cost us $600 to get it there. It's crazy."
Malcheski would like to make Haiti a future destination. Assumption is partnering with St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Green Bay to recruit volunteers and raise money to support medical missions in Haiti. Malcheski sees the need for improved nutrition in addition to medical care.
"How do they sustain themselves without proper nutrition?" he asked. "I wish I could get connected with people there to help them with their long-term needs. They need medicine plus food production assistance. There has to be a way to do it."
"There are people in Haiti walking an hour for water," he added. "They need well drilling equipment. They need to pipe water in there. Then you will be sustaining life and agriculture."
Stewardship for Malcheski also includes supporting Catholic Relief Services. John, and his wife, Reeny, parents of nine, make monthly donations.
"I've worked in a lot of countries, and I have found that Catholic Relief Services does an excellent job," he said. "I'm very confident when I give them money. I know that 10% or
less goes for administrative costs. The rest goes to help countries in times of catastrophes."
A longtime friendship also strengthened Malcheski's belief in Catholic Relief Services. Twenty-five years ago, Fr. George Kunnath from India visited Malcheski in Pulaski to learn about agriculture.
"He picked up all he could about how our food production system works," said Malcheski. "We've stayed in contact with him. India lost 25,000 people in that terrible earthquake (2001). He runs a school for the blind and handicapped. He needed some help, so the Holy Name Society at our parish raised $13,000 for the school. Amazingly, all the kids were outside for morning exercise at the time the earthquake destroyed the building. They didn't lose any of the kids. He told me about the tremendous amount of help he received from Catholic Relief Services."
Malcheski's 500-acre dairy farm now belongs to his sons, John and Scott, but he still works on the farm daily. Another son, Steve, owns and operates an adjoining farm. Malcheski plans to continue assisting other countries. He hopes USAID explores other sites.
"It's something we should be doing a lot more of in our Central American countries," he said. "They need as much help there. People will often say about the people in these countries, 'they may be poor, but they're happy.' That's true, but they know there is a
better life. They want better education. They want healthcare. They want things just like anybody else."