Native a big Help in Russian Agriculture
Zent, Jeff. "N.D. Native a big Help in Russian Agriculture." Fargo Forum, 25 January 2001, A8.
"The older people kind of longed for communism because
everything was provided for them. The young people, they love the
opportunity, the freedom."
--- LaVern Freeh, Humanitarian
Traveling half way around the world to help people once considered
America's enemies has become a way of life for LaVern Freeh.
For nearly 30 years, and in several capacities, the Harvey, N.D.,
native has helped Russia improve its agriculture industry.
Freeh, the son of Germans from Russia, is a retired professor,
university administrator, corporate officer and humanitarian. And
in all of his positions, he has traveled to Russia to help its people
become self-reliant producers from the land.
Freeh's work in Russia started more than 20 years ago, while he
served as Director of International Programs at the University of
He established a training program that allowed Russian students
to attend school at the university and work on Minnesota farms.
It was a considerable accomplishment at a time when relations between
the United States and the then-Soviet Union were tense.
The Department of State heard of his work and, in 1978, recruited
Freeh to expand the program.
"They wanted to see if we could create a farmer exchange program
as a way of breaking down the iron curtain," Freeh said Wednesday
from his Roseville, Minnesota home.
After 18 years at the university, Freeh left the ivory tower in
1980 and accepted a position with Land O' Lakes, Inc. As vice president
of international development, he continued his trips to Russia.
Freeh helped the company break into the Russian market by developing
dairy cooperatives and other agricultural advances.
It was during his Russia assignment that Freeh learned of the Russian
Farm Community Project.
After the fall of communism in 1991, a group of Americans set out
to help build a market-driven Russia.
"The older people kind of longed for communism because everything
was provided for them," Freeh said. The young people, they
love the opportunity, the freedom."
"They never want to go back to communism," he said.
The project's members collect donations and raise money to finance
agricultural improvement projects.
Freeh retired from Land O' Lakes in 1992 and entrenched himself
into the community project.
Project members have helped Russians establish farm credit programs,
training schools, marketing associations, crop processing and distribution
centers, a sawmill, bakery and other businesses.
"It was starting from scratch," Freeh said.
"They had tractor drivers and they had mechanics, but they
had no farmers," Freeh said. "Everybody had a specialty,
but nobody owned anything."
Despite improvements, Russia continues to struggle, he said.
"You can't help all of Russia," he said. "It's like
"The bigger cities like St. Petersburg have done very well,
but as you get further away from the cities, it's a struggle,"
Freeh has written a book about the Russian Farm Community Project.
In the book, Couldn't Be Better Freeh writes about Armand
Hammer, evangelist Robert Schuller and other prominent Americans
who have contributed to Russia's growth.
The book is available through North Dakota State University Libraries'
Web site at (http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc),
or click on cover above for order form..