Despite a less-than-robust U.S. farm economy, a growing number of American farmers and agribusiness suppliers are gladly sharing their resources with the world's less fortunate.

They are participating in a program that provides sustenance to recipients and satisfaction to givers.

In 2002, its third year, this program generated $500,000 to buy food, seed and tools for hungry people and poorly equipped farmers in underdeveloped nations. The goal: to help people feed themselves.

The program is coordinated by Foods Resource Bank (FRB) of Kal-amazoo, MI, a Christian organization that helps local farm communities create “growing projects.” Such a project involves landowners, farmers, agribusinesses, grain merchants, dealers, churches and non- farm citizens. There were 54 growing projects across the U.S. in 2002.

Landowners donate acreage or rent it at a nominal rate. Participating farmers furnish time, equipment and expertise to plant crops, control pests and harvest. Agribusinesses and dealers donate inputs or offer them at reduced rates.

Churches and/or individuals make cash contributions to help pay for other production costs.

After the crop is harvested, it's sold through a local elevator and proceeds are sent to FRB. At the direction of its members — comprised of mainstream Christian denominations — FRB approves programs for ag production in the world's poorest communities.

Then seed, tools and other items are bought as logistically close to the need as possible to avoid costly, cumbersome shipping from the U.S.

“All revenue generated by a community growing project goes to help people feed themselves,” says Norm Braksick, volunteer executive director of FRB and a retired CEO of Asgrow Seed Co. “Our low administrative costs are paid by our members and special grants.”

In 2002, FRB received grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation ($1.4 million) and the U.S. Agency For International Development ($500,000). Some money goes into matching funds and can double that raised by the growing projects.

Farmers, agribusinesses, local clergy and people from Mendota, IL, recently launched such a project. It's co-chaired by producers Steve Beetz and Andy Wujek. “Our area has been blessed with good crops compared to many parts of the world and this project is a way to share our blessings,” says Beetz.

“As a starter, three farmers donated loads of their grain, valued at $2,000. During the winter we publicized the project in our local paper. And we have familiarized elevators in the area with the program so they can help explain it to farmers who want to get involved,” Beetz adds.

By late January, the Mendota group had rented an 18-acre tract at a reduced rate, was lining up growers to do the farming, and locating agribusinesses to supply crop inputs. They also asked local churches for contributions to pay for fuel, insurance and other inputs.

A growing project at Centralia, MO, entering its second year, has expanded to 60 acres of corn and beans. Part of the land is rented at a reduced rate, part is leased from an individual and part is donated.

In 2002, 12 farmers contributed labor and equipment. Seed dealers and ag suppliers donated inputs. Various individuals and several churches contributed cash.

“Even though it was dry last summer and yields were down, we netted $8,400,” says Brian Schnarre, a participating farmer.

For more on the program, call 269-349-3467, visit www.foods resourcebank.org or e-mail Braksick at norm@foodsresourcebank.org.