A project beneficiary carryies his lamb home.
By Julia Kayser*
February 15, 2013—Fremont, Michigan, is a small town with a big project. Fourteen years ago, a few farmers and their local churches started a Growing Project with the Foods Resource Bank (FRB). That is, they agreed to combine resources, donate a share of their crops, and raise money to help disadvantaged farmers in other parts of the world. Since then, their project has expanded to involve 20 farmers, 10 churches, several local businesses, and many individuals and organizations.
Gloria Switzer, the leader of a local peace and justice group, is proud to be part of the Fremont Growing Project. “FRB is carrying out its mission of ensuring that food is a human right for all persons,” she writes.
Switzer has traveled with FRB to several countries, including Armenia, where the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) partners with FRB to increase food security. “These trips have changed the way I eat, what food I buy, and my awareness of how many hands my food passes through before it comes to my table,” she writes.
In Armenia, Switzer says, she enjoyed meeting UMCOR’s field staff, whom she called “dedicated, compassionate, and passionate about improving the lives of the most vulnerable Armenians.”
UMCOR’s agriculture team in Armenia provides communities in need with education and agricultural inputs such as livestock and beehives, and asks beneficiaries to “pass on the gift” when their new animals have offspring.
Staff introduce the idea during initial program meetings in the communities. Community members themselves then identify the beneficiaries of the “gift.” This model has met with great success in Armenia.
In fact, when UMCOR staff visited the remote village of Anipemza, they encountered beneficiaries who were going one step further. Instead of selling surplus milk and eggs to augment their families’ income, the villagers were sharing these products with their neighbors.
Why does this program work so well?
“We are certain that the farmer-to-farmer approach is one of the cornerstones of our project’s success,” reports Gohar Grigoryan, who leads UMCOR’s mission in Armenia. “It creates a spiritual link when the harvest grown by a [US] farmer… helps disadvantaged rural families on the other side of the world.”
This relationship is emphasized from the very first meetings with each new beneficiary community. “Throughout the implementation period, Armenian farmers share their gratitude with us, along with hope for a future in which Armenian farmers can assist other farmers in need,” Grigoryan indicates.
The spiritual kinship formed by farmers sharing their surplus across borders goes both ways. FRB’s farmer-to-farmer model fosters the understanding that we’re all in this together.
The Dysart, Iowa, Growing Project has received support from churches and Bible schools, as well as from many members of the local Lion’s Club.
“My goal in life has been to help my family and children to be better off than I have been,” writes Lowell Sanford, the project’s leader. “FRB enables us to help families help themselves wherever they are…. How better to improve someone’s life than to live a part of it with them?”
You can support this powerful ministry of accompaniment by donating to Foods Resource Bank, Advance #982493.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.