Mike Benken is delivering a lot more than flowers these days.

The owner of H.J. Benken Florist & Greenhouse in Silverton has been reaching out to Nigeria through a non-profit group, Self-Sustaining Enterprises (SSE). The agency helps establish profit-making small companies that, as part of their business plans, fund philanthropic efforts in Nigeria and other struggling countries.

The group dispatched a contingent of Cincinnati businessmen, including Benken, to Nigeria in April. While there he developed"”on the fly"”a unique solar food dehydrator using whatever basic components were available (cinder blocks, plastic sheeting and the like). Evans Nwankwo, president of Megen Construction and a native Nigerian, and Chuck Proudfit, the CEO of SSE, joined in the business mission.
"They guessed I'd be their agricultural expert," says Benken of the team. Instead, it turned out agricultural advice wasn't needed. "They (Nigerians) grow lots of tomatoes, they all come in at one time, and all go bad at one time.

"We needed to come up with a solution that didn't cost money. I'm no food dehydration expert, but I went online and used the resources there."

Much of Nigeria has no food preservation technology. Limited electricity rules out refrigeration, and canning doesn't exist. "We didn't have the money for Mason jars anyhow," says Benken.

The dehydrator was built in the town of Jos, but plans are under way to spread the technology into villages across Nigeria.

"Mike Benken represents the best of what Self-Sustaining Enterprises stands for," observes Proudfit. "His dehydrator introduces food preservation to a country of 130 million people. This contribution will eventually have a profound positive impact on Nigeria's nutrition levels and agricultural economy."

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