Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Foods Resource Bank

On October 15th, while Beth was delivering shares to our Oak Park drop off, I attended a Foods Resource Bank (FRB) Harvest Celebration just a couple of miles from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm.

FRB is a Christian NGO that works overseas (in 30 countries on every populated continent but Australia and North America) to help alleviate hunger. Although my proclivities tend toward the secular and humanist, this is an inter-denominational religious organization that has a really good approach to food and hunger.

Basically, FRB, raises cash to implement programs in food insecure regions that help people to create their own food security. First of all, FRB does NOT provide direct food assistance. Simply distributing free food is counterproductive to building food security as it puts farmers already growing and selling food in the area out of business. It's hard to compete with free. In starvation situations, FRB will allocate up to 25% of their aid to emergency food assistance - however their overall goal is to build the knowledge and infrastructure needed for resilient, sustainable, local food systems.

How do they do this?

  • Focus on the specific needs of community being served
  • Develop local assets
  • Invest (modestly) in tools and seed
  • Commit strongly to education, training, and community organizing
How do they raise the funds?

FRB volunteers organize Growing Projects to raise funds. Corn was the crop being harvested at the harvest celebration I attended. For this project, suburban and rural congregations work together, and for the past two years have worked with local farmers to raise a corn crop. This crop is sold at the local grain terminal and the cash proceeds are donated to FRB.

The farmer donates the use of land and his farming expertise to the project.

Once the land is secured, money and donations are raised to supply the inputs needed to raise the crop -GMO seeds, fertilizer,  diesel fuel, herbicide, pesticides, etc.

Why donate cash instead of the crop?

The logistics and high cost of shipping the actual grain to the hungry make this approach unfeasible. FRB says it is almost always best to buy food from nearby when there are emergency food needs. Wow, what a refreshing departure from government food aid program. Besides, the corn raised is not suitable for human consumption.

Anyone see the irony here?

High input industrial agriculture is being used to raise money to support low input, sustainable agriculture in areas of food insecurity.

Why was Jody at the harvest celebration representing CVSF?

Partly for entertainment...

Once people get over their awe of the massive, technological marvel of a modern combine (the grain harvester) watching corn get harvested is a bit like counting train cars or watching paint dry.

There were several farming demonstrations going on. A local sheep breeder did a sheering demonstration. Another had and old fashioned miniature baler and turned a large bale of straw into many small decorative bales.  My cage of hens that kids could feed popcorn, blades of grass, and grasshoppers were a big draw. Plus getting to talk to an actual farmer away from a noisy machine was pretty novel, for kids and their parents,too.

Partly out of nostalgia...

People of a certain age remember when their grandpa or uncle had a farm with animals that they would visit. Or they had  a neighbor that kept hens and a garden and sold them eggs and vegetables. It's harder to connect to one's food as it once was.

Partly for education...

I talked a lot about community supported agriculture and how local foods contribute to the health of our communities and our economy.

Partly as a counter balance...

Even as the combines raced across the fields sucking up bushel on bushel of grain and disgorging it into the semi-trailers, the people visiting my table understood that their current food system is out of whack. Being able to speak to someone farming on another path shows them that things can change and with the support of a community, that change can be for the better.