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Young hands grow global green thumbs

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

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

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

“Everybody likes the idea of
locally grown produce,” says store manager Chris Scott. “We took a picture of
the kids and put it on a poster next to the vegetables they brought to the

Local churches helped
advertise the produce and its ecumenical cause. The kids sold produce after
church services.


The 2009 project raised
$3,400. Members of each growing project designate where their funds will be
donated. “We wanted to send ours to Madagascar, but there was a war going on,
so we sent it to the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Borgman says.

Last year, middle schoolers
at the United Methodist Church in Conrad joined the growing project, bringing
the number of kids up to 21.

Jay Borgman admits that
pulling weeds was the least favorite part of the project. Her mom helped Don
Linnenbrink gather kids for the weekly weedings.

“We just made phone calls to
the kids wherever they were, and we ‘d see them coming on the horizon on their
bicycles,” says her mom, Sharon Borgman. “It was a great time of fellowship for
the kids.”

Store owner Lyndon Johnson
asked them to grow enough garden produce to stock four other stores in Hubbard,
State Center, Gladbrook, and Waterloo.

Schipper and Linnenbrink, a
livestock production specialist at Mid-Iowa Co-op, highlighted the success of
the growing project at the Iowa Grocery Industry Association’s annual meeting.

Bridging Urban/Rural Gap

FRB donations go a long way
in the developing world. For instance: $100 in cash will help feed a family of
five for three months. FRB’s administrative costs are less than 10% and are
paid by its members (church-affiliated relief agencies) and special grants.

“The programs we support
give small farmers access to needed resources so they’re able to produce food,
develop markets, basic cooperative structures and storage facilities,” says
Joan Fumetti, FRB director, Dubuque, Iowa.

An FRB growing project also
provides a platform for bridging the gap between U.S. farm producers and urban
consumers. Nonfarmer participants typically are invited to experience harvest
from the seat of a combine, and they enjoy a potluck harvest lunch celebration.

This fall, Steve Lee gave
rides on the combine during the 20-acre Fields of Hope growing project harvest
celebration near Polk City, Iowa. The proceeds are financing a program in

In October, Zambians Justin
Kadyeni and farmer Donalia Lungu arrived in Des Moines, Iowa, to attend the
World Food Prize event. Kadyeni, program manager for the Reformed Church in
Zambia-Diaconia, Eastern Region, supervises and trains field Extension staff.
They traveled to O’Fallon, Missouri, to celebrate an early Thanksgiving meal
and Mass with the 10,000-member Assumption Parish. Its growing project partners
with farmers Paul and Rosie Guetterman and Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in
Bucyrus, Kansas. The project has raised $247,980 since it began in 2005.

“The entire community
welcomed us,” Kadyeni says. “We spoke to the children, and they had lots of
questions. FRB members wanted to know how our projects are doing. It was a
fantastic time.”

Assumption Parish lay
pastoral associate Sarah Beams agrees. “Their visit brought our growing project
full circle,” she says. “It wasn’t just a video or a PowerPoint. We could see
and hear how people’s lives were being changed.”

Farmers Visit U.S. Projects

Twelve visitors from seven
countries with FRB-supported programs attended the 2010 World Food Prize event
and traveled to U.S. growing projects.

“Agriculture is made up of
diverse practices, but farmers are unified by the stake we all have in a
domestic and global food system that works,” Fumetti says. “It’s not a handout,
but a hand up that gives dignity to the labor of farmers.”  

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