Iowa Public Television


Faith-Based Initiative Helps Hungry People Feed Themselves

posted on February 17, 2006

On the Asian trade front, the U.S. seems poised to resume negotiations with Japan over beef – now armed with a 475-page investigative report on the "infamous", ineligible shipment of veal sent to Japan last month.

The report concluded that the mistakes leading to a shipment of veal containing backbone with tissue, a substance prohibited by Japan, resulted from human error and a lack of understanding of which products were eligible for shipment to Japan.

The idiosyncrasies of trade issues are often cumbersome and very difficult to negotiate – but advocates say worth the trouble. For example, many claim some trade negotiations have the potential of reducing world poverty and hunger. Despite the best efforts of many programs -- hunger continues to be one of the most serious issues on the planet.

In America's Heartland, though, a faith-based initiative is working to feed people by helping them produce their own food. Volunteers combat poverty and hunger by cultivating "Fields of Hope." John Nichols explains.


Faith-Based Initiative Helps Hungry People Feed Themselves

This 45-acre field typifies the 2005 growing season in central Iowa. While a midsummer dry spell scorched its potential for optimal yields, it's still expected to produce 170 bushels per acre.

But the operation also is yielding something much more profound. Thanks to the volunteer efforts of more than a dozen rural and urban churches, its crop actually will help hungry people thousands of miles away feed themselves. The project is called, "Fields of Hope."

Steve Johnson, Fields of Hope Volunteer: "I feel great about the project but what I feel greater about is the ability to replicate the same types of projects beyond Alleman, beyond central Iowa, beyond the Midwest. I think it's a great opportunity to reach out and help people feed themselves."

"Fields of Hope" began last spring began last spring, when mission-minded farmers planted 45 acres of Round-Up Ready corn near Alleman, Iowa.

Local businesses extended favorable prices or donations of seed, fertilizer and other inputs, while churches, community organizations and individuals donated funds to cover other costs.

The harvested grain will be sold and the proceeds used to purchase supplies or livestock and build infrastructure in developing nations where food is in short supply.

"Fields of Hope" is one of 200 similar initiatives covering more than 6,000 U.S. acres this year. The operations, known as "growing projects," are the most visible components of a faith-based organization called Foods Resource Bank.

Serving 500,000 people in 32 countries at an average cost of less than $3.50 per person annually, the organization bills itself as "A Christian Response to World Hunger." But rather than engaging in traditional disaster relief operations, Foods Resource Bank forms partnerships between churches, agricultural businesses, and citizens hoping to improve food self-sufficiency in developing nations.

Joan Fumetti, Foods Resource Bank: "There is a place for relief. Of course, that has to be done but that's not a long-term solution. Foods Resource Bank is about addressing issues of human hunger but of human dignity as well. There is a lot of dignity in the self-sufficiency of being able to grow your own food and feed your own family."

Prior to planting "Fields of Hope" last spring, volunteers developed a business plan for the operation. Production costs were estimated at $400 per acre. Multiplied by 45 acres, the entire operation was estimated to cost $18,000.

Churches, community organizations and individuals then pledged $30 per row to cover expenses of the 600-row project. And "Fields of Hope" posted an impressive return on their investment.

Steve Johnson: "We're going to average 170 bushel an acre and that is actual dry 15.5 coming off the field. So, in essence we're going to have a pretty good year. The majority of the corn was marketed at $2.08 per bushel and was delivered today to a local co-op. And we felt that the $2.08 was pretty reasonable. We fixed not only futures but we were able to fix that basis in mid-June."

But the returns don't end there. Like the growing project it oversees, Foods Resource Bank relies heavily on in-kind and cash donations. Since all administrative costs are covered by donations and grants, 100 percent of the funds raised by "Fields of Hope" will be used to help hungry people feed themselves.

Joan Fumetti, Foods Resource Bank: "Usually a dollar investment in the spring can become two, two and a half dollars at harvest because of the donated inputs. One hundred percent of that money goes to programming because administration comes out of different funding sources and we have had since 2002 matching funds from the United States Agency for International Development. We hope that continues because that makes a big difference, it doubles the amount of program we can do."

Pastor Barb Bullock, Salem United Church of Christ: "We, on the committee, talked about a program in Central America..."

Growing projects often designate their funds for a certain FRB program. In this case, "Fields of Hope" members directed their proceeds to an effort in Guatemala.

Steve Johnson, Fields of Hope Volunteer: "We think the money will probably go towards greenhouse and technology and research that is going to be important to those farmers in Western Guatemala. I think also some of the irrigation practices -- we're understanding that they need some sort of a permanent irrigation structure so they can more efficiently move water to irrigate crops. They're on extreme slopes that they actually farm and most of the land had been deforested 40 years ago so to restore that land and to improve technology allowing them to be self-sufficient.

Pastor Barb Bullock, Salem United Church of Christ: "Bless all who are homeless and hungry..."

"Fields of Hope" culminated in a harvest celebration, complete with an ecumenical service, close encounters with livestock, and combine rides.

For many of the urban volunteers, the opportunity to sample rural life was one of many learning experiences taking place at "Fields of Hope."

Jean Williams, Des Moines, Iowa: "Oh, the farm folks have been so welcoming and so hard working and it was really a pleasure to make their acquaintance."

Pastor Barb Bullock, Salem United Church of Christ: "Working together as a bunch of churches, you know, we all see things just a little bit differently for different reasons and we worship a little bit differently, but we can come together and be God's people working to help feed people that just don't have any other way to get that kind of help. So, you know, God is there."

For Market to Market, I'm John Nichols.

Tags: charity faith Guatemala hunger news poverty rural