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UPDATE: Olando started with 2 acres of farm in 2017. In his most recent trip in October 2019, Olando saw that the village of Usula had greatly expanded the farm. “My village is empowered by farming. Many young people have taken the vegetable farming to the next level. Now there are more than 20 acres of vegetable farm!”
Besides farming vegetables, Olando is planning on training a team of locals to set up a village credit union so farmers can set up farm shops for further growth of his village.
Combining his accounting degree at TESU with his passion for farming, and his desire to serve and give back to his home community, Olando is changing his hometown for the better.
For Samuel Olando, giving back is a way of life.
Having grown up in the small farming community of Usula near Lake Victoria in Kenya, Olando found a passion early on in farming and the education that comes along with it.
When he and his family moved to the United States in 2008, Olando soon realized that he needed a U.S. degree in order to obtain employment. After researching his options, he determined that Thomas Edison State University would provide him the best path to reach his goals.
“I enjoyed the flexibility the University offered as well as the diverse student body with whom I could engage,” Olando explained. “Everyone was in different stages of their lives so I enjoyed learning how my peers had overcome challenges and missed opportunities to earn their college degrees.”
After graduating with his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in accounting in 2013, Olando found employment almost instantly with Home Front, a non-profit agency serving the greater Trenton area. In August 2016, Olando secured a job with the Mercer County Finance Department.
Aside from his day job, Olando’s family put their farming skills to work upon moving to New Jersey.
“Every family farms in Usula, so being able to bring that knowledge here with us was a gift,” he explained. Farming for Olando is a family affair and they have found success in growing vegetables and beans on a community lot in Lawrenceville, N.J. In their time farming in the U.S., Olando and his family have continued to learn about best practices and ever-changing technology through networking with other local farmers to grow vegetable and beans in their community lot.
Driven by his passion to give back to Usula, Olando went so far as to take a leave of absence from his full-time work to move his family back to Kenya for 8 months from late 2017 to June, 2018 to share his increased knowledge of farming with others. During this time, Olando and his family farmed nearly two acres of land with kale and other produce. Their farm provided business opportunities in order to empower local women, and the family donated food they’d harvested to those in need. Samuel’s family also served the community by fixing bridges and paths, caring for local children and their pets, and encouraging youth by speaking at schools.
Through earning his bachelor’s degree, Olando believes the knowledge he gained helped to make him a better farmer.
“I don’t believe you can be a good farmer without being a good accountant first,” he said. “Farmers need to have good record-keeping skills in order to account for what they have planted throughout the year. A good farmer also needs to know how to account to sell the produce and to plan for the following year.”
Looking toward the future, it is Olando’s hope to inspire his hometown through his family’s service. He is planning to go back to Usula in the near future though his own non-profit, OKOKAFRICA and continue to serve his hometown by farming, building a library, setting up a local farmer’s market and providing mentorship to local youth.
“I wanted to achieve a dream, to be educated and informed in life so that I can be a better citizen in any society,” he said. “I want to prove that life offers us opportunities wrapped in challenges so we need to unwrap them by taking a risk.”
Olando’s non-profit Okoka is now OSF Okoka Smart Farmers Group. Having stepped out of his previous role of the sole fundraiser of the organization, Okoka has transformed into a community-owned non-profit group. A friend of Olando’s developed an app so customers can purchase vegetables from Okoka farmers using mobile money. Farmers then deliver goods directly to the customers to ensure freshness and there is no waste.
“The new model is working very well,” commented Olando. “We have evolved to so our farmers can empower themselves. We get together every week to support each other. We want to be smart farmers – we can’t farm the same way as before. For example, we are constantly thinking, ‘how can we maximize one acre of land and use the best water and irrigation system to maximize our yields?”
Okoka is now farmer-owned, and farmers are being trained and held accountable. They no longer depend on outside donations.
Using his passion for farming and accounting experiences, Olando continues looking for better ways to make an impact in his hometown community.