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Young hands grow global green thumbs

CHERYL TEVIS 01/11/2011 @ 3:07pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

In underdeveloped countries, it’s not unusual for children to tend and harvest crops. More than 1 billion people are chronically hungry; 70% of these people are rural.

But it’s a head-turning sight in Conrad, Iowa, to see middle school youth working a small garden plot on the edge of town.

For the past two years, 6×6-foot vegetable plots on the edge of a cornfield have served up a winning recipe for engaging youth to share their resources.

“When we went to the garden, sometimes it was almost overpowering to see all the weeds,” says seventh-grader Jay Borgman. “But it was fun to be out with our friends and know we were helping to reduce world hunger.”

The youth, who attend Sunday school at the First Presbyterian and United Methodist churches in Conrad, are participants in a growing project for the Foods Resource Bank (FRB).

Launched in 1999, FRB brings together farmers, churches, and agribusinesses to grow crops and to send the proceeds so farmers in developing countries can obtain seed, tools, drip irrigation equipment, animals, and technical know-how.

Land is donated or rented. Local farmers plant and harvest the crop with donations for seed, fertilizer, fuel, and other inputs coming from agribusinesses. If in-kind donations fall short, churches, community groups, and individuals absorb the remainder of the costs.

In 2009, more than 200 U.S. growing projects in 25 states raised over $2.3 million to support 62 food security programs in 35 countries.

FRB proceeds are sent to overseas programs run by church-affiliated relief agencies, including Lutheran World Relief, Catholic Relief Services, and Church World Service.

The youth garden project is an offshoot of Conrad’s A-maize-ing Grace Growing Project, launched in 2003 by farmer Arlyn Schipper and others. Today, this growing project encompasses nine churches. Schipper now serves on the national FRB board.

Don Linnenbrink leads the youth. “Arlyn said he’d like to find a way to involve youth,” Linnenbrink says. “Two years ago, we started with six kids from my Sunday school class at First Presbyterian. We grew a garden and sweet corn. We had no idea where we’d sell it.”

They started at the farmers’ market in Conrad. Then they approached Hometown Foods in Conrad.

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