On a sunny Sunday September afternoon, Bob Braden welcomed fellow farmers, church members and others to tour the Hearts to Harvest growing project. The project involves a 40-acre corn and soybean plot that the Scott County, IA, group helped establish to raise awareness and money for Foods Resource Bank (FRB).

In 2006, FRB and its members — largely Christian relief organizations like Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Lutheran World Relief (LWR) — carried out 51 overseas programs in 30 countries, reaching approximately 470,000 needy people. Rather than handing out food, FRB funds programs to help recipients grow their own food.

For example, FRB programs have helped farmers in western Kenya learn to produce their own maize, amaranth and bean seeds to enhance plant performance; have built rain basins in West Africa to irrigate small portable gardens; and have taught Honduran farmers to use red worms for turning coffee hulls into fertile compost.

The money to fund these projects — $2 million allotted this past year — has to come from somewhere. And that's where farmers like Bob Braden come in.

In 2006, Braden rallied a committee of seven farmers, a banker and two non-farmers who are members at St. Ann's Catholic Church, Long Grove, IA, and Faith Lutheran Church, Eldridge, IA, to start an FRB “growing project.” Beyond establishing a small corn and soybean plot from which proceeds could be donated, Hearts to Harvest sold sponsorships for corn rows for $25, collected cash donations and solicited local agribusinesses to provide inputs and other support. Today, there are approximately 200 similar projects operating in 19 states.

“I think being part of something that is growing gets people excited about giving,” says Braden. “This is not a one person thing. If it weren't for everyone working together it wouldn't have happened.”

All totaled, the Hearts to Harvest project in Iowa collected $17,000 in 2006, of which $10,000 was designated toward FRB's seed project in Kenya. The remaining $7,000 was designated evenly between CRS and LWR.

This past year, Hearts to Harvest pledged $11,000 toward an FRB-funded project in a small Bosnian village devastated by war. The project will help local farmers build a milk-buying station and ensure its milk meets quality and health standards. The total cost of the project is $49,888; approximately 70 village households and 550 people will benefit.

“The amount that can be done for $50,000 is amazing,” says Sarah Van De Walle, a Dixon, IA, young farmer involved in the project with her husband, Bart, and father, Scott Rochau.

Although skeptical at first, Van De Walle says she has been struck by the effectiveness of efforts like the Kenya seed project because it helped farmers produce more grain and opened the door for improving nutrition with meat, milk and eggs and access to fertilizer. “FRB just does a small thing, but it can really have a snowball effect on those communities,” she says.

Organizers say FRB projects not only help fight hunger abroad, they also teach non-farmers about modern agriculture. “All of a sudden, everyone in a congregation starts praying for rain — like farmers do — because everyone is invested in growing the crop,” says Joan Fumetti, an ordained pastor and FRB regional field staff member who helps growing projects get started.

“Urban church members are delighted to bring their children and grandchildren out to the country on a beautiful fall day to learn where their food comes from,”says Fumetti. “And farmers light up when city folks come full of questions and interest in a way of life they cherish.”

Beyond what's collected via the community growing projects, FRB has also received financial support from the U.S. government and businesses, including U.S. Agency for International Development, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, UPS Foundation, Monsanto Fund, John Deere Foundation and Pioneer Foundation.

To learn more about setting up a growing project or other ways to contribute, contact:
Foods Resource Bank,
www.foodsresourcebank.org
Donations can be mailed to:
Foods Resource Bank
75 Remittance Drive, Ste. 6539
Chicago, IL 60675-6539