Vern blog
CTI has collaborated with skilled volunteers since we were founded in 1981 by engineers and scientists who sought to use their expertise to fight global hunger. On our design team, you’ll a find a creative and quirky bunch of seasoned experts from a variety of fields. Take Vern Cardwell, an agronomist who spent 45 years teaching at the University of Minnesota, before retiring and becoming a daily fixture in CTI’s lab. Vern’s work and wisdom have impacted so many people, and he’s been instrumental in the development of our groundnut tools and grain thresher. We recently spoke to Vern about why he volunteers and what drives him to spend his retirement working to fight global hunger.

Why do you volunteer?

I taught a course on world food problems for 15 years at the University of Minnesota and I’ve had the opportunity to work with farming communities around the world. I’ve lived through the horse drawn equipment era to the modern 1000 hp tractors and so I recognize that big machinery can do a lot of things, but big machinery isn’t going to solve the problems of small farmers.

When you arrive on some of these African villages and you look across the skyline, you can’t see a power pole anywhere, there’s no electricity. You look around and there are no motorized vehicles other than the ones you came in. You ask to see their tools and they show you a machete and a short handled hoe. It’s a lot of backbreaking work. When you talk to the women, who are doing most of the work, and they very matter-of-factly point out, “We have our periods of hunger, where there isn’t enough food for our children, and there are deaths in our family.” That gives you a sense of urgency to do something to improve on the situation.

I retired in December of 2012 and I started working as a volunteering in January. I’ve been putting in 20-25 hours a week ever since and have made 5 trips to Malawi and one to Tanzania. 

What drives you to care about global hunger?

All we have to do is think about where we came from. My grandparents left Russia at the time that the Bolshevik revolution in 1914. They didn’t have enough money to come directly to the US, so they ended up going first to Argentina. Grandpa worked on a wheat farm to earn enough to get to Tampa. When they got to Tampa, grandma was rejected. She had to leave. She and several others in their group went to Cuba. After about three months grandma was able to come to the US and meet up with grandpa again.

But by the grace of god, I could have been a Russian, I could have been an Argentinian, I could have been a Cuban. But I am an American. Each of us, we are all in this country, immigrants. We may have been born here but our forefathers came from somewhere else. And the fact that we have what we have is a tribute to their hard work, but it’s also a tribute to the bounty that this nation has in terms of natural resources.

Africa is the dry continent. The oldest soils in the world are in Africa. The soils have been weathered; they have been leached and are low in natural fertility in many areas. And so our bounty is not because we’re so much smarter, but because we have a rich geographic area that has above normal precipitation, and 25% of the world’s class one land. We take it for granted and we shouldn’t.

Does that make you feel a sense of responsibility?

Hunger and poverty are the responsibility of everyone. It’s not just nonprofit groups or church groups. Our corporate leaders have a responsibility, our government has a responsibility, and each of us individually has a responsibility. Sometimes it’s giving gifts to support and other times it’s working with legislatures. It is only going to be through collective efforts that we we’ll see the kinds of improvements that are needed, where the tools, infrastructure, political and economic conditions in these areas provide the resources for the villagers where they have a voice in their future. Then their lives will begin to improve.

Published in blog
SteveWebCTI has collaborated with skilled volunteers since we were founded in 1981 by engineers and scientists who sought to use their expertise to fight global hunger. On our design team, you’ll a find a creative and quirky bunch of seasoned experts in a variety of fields. Take Steve Clough, a metallurgist and a top notch welder who helps CTI with equipment design and prototyping.

How does a kid from Detroit grow up to be a world record holder in motorcycle land speed racing and PHD metallurgist who helps fight global hunger in his spare time? Read on to find out:

Where did your creative spark came from?


I was born and raised in the Detroit area until 6th grade when we moved to a small farm 50 miles outside of Detroit. When you’re a farmer, you get involved in fixing and making things.

My whole life, I’ve liked building things.

When I was a little kid my dad had a pile of wood in the corner of the garage and some hand tools that I was always free to use. As a teenager, I was into building hot rods and drag racing motorcycles.

Where did your life take you?


After high school, I enlisted in the Air Force to keep from getting drafted during the Vietnam War. I spent four years in the Air force before getting into Michigan Technological University in 1970. I worked straight through the summers and got my PHD in metallurgical engineering in just about six years. I spent much of my career in surface analysis, which is an analytic technique to look at the surface, chemistry, and metallurgy of materials. Eventually, I started my own company, and then retired in 2011.

I’ve got two vintage 1955 Indian motorcycles, one of which I race — land speed racing in Utah. I established land speed record for my class of motorcycle in 2013 and raised the record in 2016. I’ll be going back this summer to attempt to break my record again.

So, I have hobbies that I’m deeply involved in, but after retirement, I was looking for something to do, not only fill time, but to feel like I’m paying back.

My wife is a registered nurse at the retirement community where the founder of CTI, George Ewing, was living. She and George had become good friends and he was always showing her his latest inventions. One day she came home and said, “George is going to be on TV tonight and we have to watch.” I watched the story on George, and looked at the CTI website and knew wanted to get involved, even if it just meant sweeping the floors.

What inspires you?


I enjoy doing something for somebody who’s not going to be doing anything back for me.

I never knew of efforts like CTI’s to work with very poor farmers. I was more aware of what you read in the news of big programs using automated equipment, but none of it helps the small individual farmer. I probably never even realized how many people are farming on 1, 2, or 3 acres and producing barely enough to feed themselves. I think CTI’s approach is having a big impact by taking these complex machines that we take for granted and turning them into simple machines that are affordable and reliable.

The volunteers I work with primarily are Don and Vern. I think the world of both guys. They’re able to contribute something I’m not and I contribute something they’re not. So, it’s a team effort to try to solve a problem and create a solution that’s lasting and valuable.
Published in blog
Wednesday, 15 December 2010

An Open Mind and Heart

Written by  Andrea Brovold, Africa Co-Chair/Volunteer

One month ago, CTI volunteer, Andrea Brovold, and Executive Director, Roger Salway traveled to West Africa to share CTI’s new thresher and winnower prototypes with farmers in Mali and Senegal. While most of us were preparing food for our yearly Thanksgiving Day feast, Roger and Andrea were helping women in rural Senegal with their daily six hour ritual of threshing, winnowing, and grinding their family’s meal by hand. Here, Andrea shares her impressions from the trip that would test her physical and emotional limits, and leave her with unforgettable memories and lifelong friends.

Upon arrival to the Kuer Ali Guey village in the Kaolack region of Senegal, we were welcomed with open arms.  Awa, President of the Women’s Association said “Andrea, you look like you are a peaceful volunteer”.  It was the warm reception of Kuer Ali Guey and the surrounding villages and organizations from the very inception of this project that the rest of the trip would live up to, even surpass.  Come to think of it, while there were parameters in which we were expected to work towards, per NCBA/USAID along with objectives and outcomes to strive towards, my expectations–as per the opening title–were  “Going in with an open mind and heart”…and little more.

Quickly, I found that the universal language of love and compassion transcends any boundary or constraint, personal, professional or otherwise.  Put simply, the more you are willing to give of yourself, the more response and progress one will find.  Many village visits, meetings and relationships were forged due to our determination to serve.  And serve we did.  The thoughtful technologies of CTI, coupled with the sensitivity to cultural and individual differences, advanced this month long journey to a caliber of unexpected proportions.

 Some dialogue that we observed from various sources were “If you could visualize our interest, it would be as tall as a skyscraper!”, Ahmed Dame Cisse from Lat Mingue village; “You have a friend here…in me”, Dougal Guey in Kayemon village; and “C’est bon C’est bon C’est bon!”, a farmer from CARITAS. Most touching for me was a departure from a life-long friend I made despite the language barriers “I have left my heart with you”, said Therese, wife of CARITAS Geo-Scientist Renee with whom we dined at a Thanksgiving Feast to help us feel at “home” in their home.  Touching is the fact that each of these people are tickled by what our simple technologies can provide–a way and means for a better life–and touching is the fact that I have been blessed to have had the chance to help secure that opportunity.

Recently, at our December board meeting, I explained my obsession with taking photographs of doors. Each of us have had doors closed, only for others to be opened, and until CTI and pursuing my Masters in Development Policy with a concentration in Africa, it seems that there was a less definable period in my life.  Many “doors” and opportunities have been presented to me within this organization that I think so highly of, and I have been keen to act on those opportunities. Beyond that, I feel that it is my job to continue to open similar doors for the people CTI serves, those who are equally deserving, but without the ways or means. It is unconscionable to me to think that what CTI is able to provide will not be visible to most rural communities.  So I, like each of the equally passionate and eager volunteers at CTI, happily forge an exodus towards a goal of creating and supporting sustainable environments that will provide future generations with tools, education and kindred roots.

I had a lot of reflective moments during this trip, and I also blogged our adventures, seemingly because it would have been impossible to re-create most of these experiences after the fact.  But what resonates loudest in my mind are the moments that rendered me speechless (something that rarely happens).  It is these silent moments, personal exchanges, accepting smiles, joyous laughter and dancing that are impossible to prepare for, which allowed me to reflect most authentically and honestly that I am truly the most fortunate woman in the world.

We are called to do certain things in our lives, and it is what we do with that time that matters most.  Cliché perhaps, but I enjoy very much a quote I once heard, “In the end, it is not the amount of breaths you take it’s the moments that take your breath away.”

Published in West Africa
Saturday, 01 August 2009

Wooden Grinder Nears Market

Volunteer LeAnn Taylor, practicing the Wood Grinder assembly

Over the past year we have had several parties express an interest in our wooden grinder. In each case we have been able to send to them our engineering drawings of the grinder. In all cases, these drawing have not been able to fill the needs of those interested in this break-through technology. For some, the electronic transfer has not been successful; for others, a lack of exposure to three dimensional  presentations was not understood; for still others, the use of “English units” was an impediment.

Thanks to the outstanding work of Brigette Blesi, all of these problems have been overcome. Brigette has taken an existing wooden grinder and broken it (not literally) down into its individual components. A template was then made for each of the seventeen wooden parts with dimensions given in both Metric and English units. Brigette then identified each of the 97 fasteners, by number, and researched the closest metric part size that corresponded so as to complete the Bill of Materials.

The next step was for Brigette to establish the step by step assembly procedure. Anyone who has ever had “nice” things to say about assembly instructions now can claim that they know someone who has written one of these procedures. Every piece of wood, every fastener, every metal part s could be translated into action????

TaDa!!! Enter our guinea pig…otherwise known to her friends as LeAnn Taylor. LeAnn will be taking a wooden grinder down to El Salvador this month to determine if the wooden technology will expand our impact with the bakers of El Salvador. LeAnn used Brigette’s instructions and her part identification techniques to reassemble the grinder, not once, but twic e. Well done LeAnn! Now she can teach our colleagues in El Salvador how to make a wooden grinder.

Major kudos to Brigette for all this exacting and accurate work! We are one step closer to getting our wooden grinder accepted as an alternative, cheaper and more sustainable technology.

Published in Volunteer

Long-time CTI volunteer Kathleen Graham was invited by the Nairobi-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) to bring her Ewing Grinder Pilot Project to farmers in far western Kenya.  Excited about the opportunity to test the Ewing III grinder in Kenya and with a variety of crops, Kathleen traveled to Homa Bay on the shores of Lake Victoria with six grinders provided by the Graham Service Fund.  There, she worked with ICRISAT’s collaborator from the Kenya Ministry of Research, Mrs. Nasambu Okoko, a manager of the Kisii branch of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) to conduct a grinder training workshop.  Participants in this two-day workshop included representatives from farmers’ cooperatives in neighboring districts and local agents of the Ministry of Agriculture.

CTI’s goals in this Pilot Project are been to discover the acceptability of the Ewing III grinder among Kenyan farmers who are seeking to add value to their crops, and to learn whether this grinder is useful in processing the crops of far Western Kenya: millet, sorghum, soybeans, cow peas, and “green gram” (which looks like a small mung bean).  Mrs. Okoko noted that the introduction of ground nuts (peanuts) to this area is recent, and the participants were curious and enthusiastic about the production of nut paste, which is the Ewing grinder’s most common use.  While nut paste is a staple in Uganda and Southern Sudan, it is a new product in much of rural Kenya.  The participants reported they had recently seen nut paste introduced in local markets and were keen to add it to their own income-generating activities.

The three primary objectives of the workshop, held at the Homa Bay Agricultural Training Center, were to make all workshop participants Ewing grinder “experts,” to prepare all workshop participants to comfortably train others to use the grinder, and to teach workshop participants who received a grinder how to incorporate it into their communities for laborsaving and/or income generating purposes.   All participants demonstrated proficiency at basic grinder assembly, processing several crops, disassembly and cleaning the machine.

After the training, each participant applied for the six grinders to be deployed to their respective communities.  Each was asked to speak on behalf of their proposal, and Mrs. Okoko assisted Kathleen in determining grinder placements because all requests could not be accommodated.  Each group that received a grinder agreed to provide Mrs. Okoko with feedback regarding the grinder’s use and acceptability.  At the end of one year, groups who have done so will have the option to buy the grinder at a reduced price.

In addition to grinder training, Kathleen instructed participants on some basics of food processing, nutrition, hygiene, and record keeping.

Published in East Africa
Sunday, 16 November 2008

Thank You, Volunteers

Volunteers are the heart and soul of CTI.  To recognize their hard work and dedication we held a Volunteer Recognition Event earlier this month at the Biosystems and Bioproducts Engineering Department of the University of Minnesota.  The turnout was impressive (over 40 volunteers!) and we wanted to take this opportunity to again mention how much we value their hard work.  Our volunteers – who are engineers, food scientists, volunteer travelers, Board members, Information Technology providers, art and design experts… the list goes on – make CTI what it is! They champion projects, develop technologies, support our work at home and overseas, and keep CTI moving forward.  Thank you!

As another way to reognize our volunteers, we will begin regularly featuring short biographies of different volunteers in our Post Harvest.  For our first segment, we’d like to highlight our 2008 Volunteer of the Year, Ruth MacDonald.Ruth is the one to thank for our beautiful 2007 and 2008 Annual Reports, as well as our new website that will be coming out in early 2009.   She has volunteered many hours of her time and expertise to create these beautiful publications, and is revamping our website as part of her capstone project for her Masters Degree in Scientific and Technical Communications at Metropolitan State University.Ruth was introduced to CTI by volunteer Steve Clarke shortly after her involvement with the Peace Corps took her to Mali in 2003.  At the time, Ruth and her husband Mike were searching for groups to volunteer with and, after seeing the need in Mali for simple, appropriate technologies to assist the people in processing their crops, were drawn to CTI’s mission to create just such solutions.

Ruth majored in Biological and Pre-Medical Illustration at Iowa State University and went on to work as a medical photographer and forensic photographer (among other things) before heading to Mali with the Peace Corps.Ruth now works at American Medical Systems as a technical writer, and enjoys biking, camping, and working in the garden where, her husband says, “She really gets into compost.”Thanks for all your hard work, Ruth!

Published in Volunteer

Jim Sentz, a CTI volunteer, visited Uganda and Zimbabwe during the fall of 2007.  This multi-faceted tour was planned with respect to Jim’s previous professional experiences in Africa, and more recently as a CTI Volunteer and former Africa Committee Chair.  His agenda was to observe economic and humanitarian development activities as pursued by Christian missions, international organizations and local entities.  He wanted to better understand the potential for CTI technologies and how they may contribute most toward economic and social development in the region.  A Kenyan travel guide perhaps expressed it best in his suggestion to “experience the people.”   Jim expressed “it is a challenge for us to more fully appreciate and consider the perspectives of those whom we would assist, if we are truly going to help enhance their economic and social welfare.”

In Uganda, Jim visited with both Baljit Singh of JBT (the machine shop that manufactures the Ewing grinder in Kampala) and AT-Uganda representatives (an NGO) with respect to production and distribution of the Ewing grinder.  He also explored further contacts at Makerere University in Food Science & Technology and Engineering departments with specific reference to groundnut processing, and solar dehydration technologies and to gain a better understanding of their small-scale technology industry.

In Zimbabwe, Jim visited with Tunga Rukuni, Director of University of Zimbabwe Development Technology Center (DTC), and his staff with particular reference to their evaluation of Omega VI and Ewing III grinders provided by CTI in June 2007.  Jim also discussed grinder production issues in Zimbabwe, grinder competition, promotion and distribution and the over arching impact of exorbitant inflation amid collapse of their economy.

Published in East Africa
Saturday, 15 December 2007

Profile of a CTI Volunteer

Erv Lentz, a member of CTI’s Board of Directors and very active shop volunteer was awarded our “Volunteer of the Year Award” at the October Board Meeting. When asked to send in a few comments for this bio Erv sent a four-page history! Clearly Erv is proud of his life – and he should be.

College life, sports, ROTC, leadership of many volunteer organizations, entrepreneurship, engineering, corporate creativity, energy, initiative, family, faith – all come forward to mark a well-rounded volunteer. Around CTI Erv can be found on any given day making “something” in the shop, or fixing a shelf in the office, or shopping for a needed tool, or sharing experiences. Erv’s contributions to CTI’s mission and governance are huge. In recognizing him as volunteer of the year we join the thousands of people who have benefited from Erv’s touch to say, “Well Done. Thanks!”

Published in Newsletter