NORTHWOOD, N.D. - Grain farmer Mark Korsmo says his 2015 crops were bountiful, but with low commodity prices, it won’t be a great year, financially.
Nevertheless, the Grand Forks County farmer from Northwood says part of staying grateful involves work as vice president of a nonprofit Christian organization, created to help struggling farmers in Haiti.
The local group has joined hands with the International Farming Organization for a Sustainable Development, based in Haiti. IFOSuD was born out of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake that killed more than 100,000 Haitians and brought injury and ruin to much of the country.
In the days after the disaster, Korsmo’s friend, John Draxton, then a farmer near Northwood, sought information on the fate of Josue “Joshua” Cesar, a Haitian who Draxton had met on a 2002 church mission trip.
Cesar, an agronomist by trade, miraculously escaped injury by leaving a building in a Haitian village and found safety. Cesar became determined to help fellow Haitians recover from the disaster and created IFOSuD.
In 2011, Cesar traveled to Northwood to enlist Draxton’s help, and created Friends of IFOSuD to raise money for farming and evangelizing activities. Draxton eventually left farming to start a trucking business in the oil patch in Williston, N.D., but kept Friends of IFOSuD going.
The Haiti challenge is daunting. About 60 percent of Haitians are farmers, but are able to produce only 5 percent of their own food. Most produce sugar cane for a Cuban-owned sugar company.
As Midwest U.S. farmers, Friends of IFOSuD wants to help Haitians become more self-sufficient in food production.
As Christians, they wanted to evangelize to people who could easily lose hope.
“All these farmers have is a hoe and a machete,” Korsmo says. “They have no one in Haiti to help them. This organization is able to help them be more productive and be able to feed their families. That’s very exciting.”
Since 2012, Friends of IFOSuD has raised about $370,000 to help Haitian farmers. Of that, about $150,000 has gone toward fixed assets - equipment and four acres of land for experimental plots. They’ve purchased four acres for an experiment and demonstration farm, where they’ll test 23 soybean varieties, in cooperation with U.S. agricultural universities.
The rest has been used for operational pursuits, Draxton says.
Seed, fertilizer buys
IFOSuD fosters the use of high-quality certified seed and is trying to help farmers grow three or four crops a year: corn, beans, rice and vegetables. They have also helped buy fertilizer.
The group assisted farmers in finding rice seed from Taiwan that ripens in three months, instead of the typical six to seven months. IFOSuD has found financing for a woman who wants to buy wheat wholesale to grind into flour for a bread-baking business.
Donations have been used to purchase a 90-horsepower tractor, which breaks up the hard pan of soil for member-
beneficiaries. The soil has been compacted from decades of sugar cane production.
IFOSuD consultants arranged small business loans for people to raise goats and financed a half-dozen demonstration chicken coops so participants can raise hens and sell eggs. Each of the egg-laying operations cost about $2,000 to set up with chickens, feed and equipment, which should generate enough revenue to help families invest in their own egg-laying barns.
“Through these chicken barns, we can provide five to seven families an income of over $2 a day,” Draxton says. “That’s the national average income per capita. Selling those eggs allows them to send their children to school. Everybody believes education is a key to changing the culture.”
26 staff volunteers
IFOSuD has worked with 250 farmers over the past three years, training groups of 50 each. About 150 Haitian students will graduate in the first class next March. IFOSuD has organized a voluntary staff of about 26 educated agricultural students and young agricultural professionals in Haiti.
Some student beneficiaries have increased their grain production by an average of more than 50 percent. They’ve been able to double yields on some crops, as they’ve educated farmers on basics such as seed population and placement.
“One of the biggest satisfactions is seeing the farmers work together,” Draxton says. “When we first started, we learned that the Haitians are good at fending for themselves, trying to survive. Now, however, we’ve seen them work together to accomplish things that their local government doesn’t help with, because there is no local government like we know it.”
Among other things, the groups work together to fix roads or repair canals to get water to fields.
Friends of IFOSuD has broadened its geographical scope in the past few years. It holds annual banquet fundraisers after the region’s grain harvest is complete. This year, they hosted 350 adults for banquet fundraisers in various North Dakota towns, including Grand Forks, Fargo, Kulm, Williston and Mayville.
Mayville’s Lavon Nelson, a financial consultant for farmers, says the Haitians inspire him.
In 2013, the Evangelical Free Church decided to support IFOSuD through its ReachGlobal mission division. It partnered with IFUSuD’s agricultural programs but also provide Bibles, materials and notebooks for Christian education in a system called “orality training,” which teaches Bible stories to Haitians, who often are illiterate.
Wade Bruns, an Oriska, N.D., farmer and a member of the Bethel Evangelical Free Church in Fargo, serves on the Friends of IFOSuD board. He says the ecumenical aspect of the organization stands in sharp contrast to the religious strife that leads to terrorism.
“The linking of arms is very admirable,” Bruns says.
The board has commonalities, even though their beliefs aren’t exactly the same. He says everyone shares genuine interest in the Haitians and wants to help them meet their physical and economic needs, and share the Gospel with them.
In Haiti, Cesar has been working to expand IFOSuD from the Leogane region to the town of Jeremy, about 175 miles away. Jeremy is mountainous and raises different crops than the flat, Leogane area.
“Farmers love to help farmers,” Draxton says. “From their hearts, they seem to recognize the struggles of farmers and connect with that struggle.”
Bruns adds there is a greater purpose, too.
“It’s easy to get consumed by the capital requirements, the stresses, and making profits in farming,” he says. “I step back and realize none of this is really mine. Scripture says God owns it all. He charges me to be a good steward. Part of that is being thankful, being generous, sharing with the neighbor down the road or across the Gulf of Mexico.”
For Korsmo, helping farmers in Haiti reinforces feelings of thankfulness.
“Even though we don’t make as much money as we’d like to, there’s millions of things to be thankful for,” he says. “When we think about how much we have compared to the people we’re trying to help in Haiti, it’s easy for us to be thankful regardless of whether we made money or not this year.”
For information, visit theIFOSuD.org or IFOSuD on Facebook, or send checks to Friends of IFOSuD at P.O. Box 282, Northwood, N.D., 58267.