Coalition of Iowa churches sells corn to aid poor

CONRAD, Iowa - Twenty acres of corn growing northeast of Conrad stretches all the way from the flatlands of Grundy County to some of the poorest areas in the world.

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CONRAD, Iowa - Twenty acres of corn growing northeast of Conrad stretches all the way from the flatlands of Grundy County to some of the poorest areas in the world.

The cornfield is part of this year's Growing Project contribution from Amaizeing Grace, a coalition of area Christian churches, farmers and agribusinesses, to Foods Resource Bank, which uses the money to support agricultural development programs among the world's poorest people.

Amaizeing Grace will sell its 20 acres of corn and supplement the proceeds with donations from other cornfields and monetary contributions to help finance Foods Resource Bank's self-help development programs in impoverished villages and rural areas around the globe.

The aid is coming at a time when organizers of foreign assistance programs complain that high costs of grain, food and transportation are choking off aid to poor people in need.

Started in 1999


Foods Resource Bank is made up of 15 mainline Christian denominations or their agencies that support small farmers and agricultural food security programs in some of the world's poorest areas.

Foods Resource Bank was started in 1999 to help small farmers feed themselves and their families, boost their meager incomes and provide educational opportunities for their children.

Two-thirds of Foods Resource Bank's programs are in sub-Saharan Africa, but the organization also works in Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South America.

Projects funded by the foods bank, and the other organizations it works with, supply seeds, livestock, tools, knowledge and other elements that help poor people help themselves.

Arlyn Schipper, a farmer from Conrad and a national director of Foods Resource Bank, said Amaizeing Grace hasn't decided where the money raised from this year's corn crop will go, but he knows the money will be well-spent.

The bank, he said, doesn't ship grain or food overseas, because it is more cost-effective to sell the crops here, seek other donations and contribute the money.

Also, buying food and goods in poor countries helps promote local economies and employ the people there.



In 2007, the foods bank held projects similar to Amaizeing Grace in 20 states. The projects raised more than $2.6 million to support 52 overseas programs in 32 countries.

Foods Resource Bank said the programs benefited 395,000 people at an annual cost of $5.27 a person.

Corn and soybeans are the popular growing projects in the Midwest, but the foods bank also has sold pumpkins, ornamental gourds and shrubs, hay, winter wheat, popcorn, beef and dairy cattle, hogs and honey.

Church origin

Schipper said Amaizeing Grace is unique because it comprises nine congregations in three communities and rural areas in the Conrad, Eldora, Grundy Center and Marshalltown areas.

Its first year was 2003, when Presbyterian churches in Conrad and Marshalltown got involved with the foods bank.

Other area churches heard of the project, Schipper said, and joined forces.

Last year, Amaizeing Grace had 74 acres of corn in two plots farmed by Keith Sheller and Ron Saak. The plots yielded 189 bushels an acre and, with other donations of corn and money, raised $62,000 for the foods bank.


Kerry Carson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Conrad, said most of the money came from grain sales, including corn that local farmers delivered to one of Mid-Iowa Cooperative's eight branches, where the corn was set aside for the project.

"One of the benefits of the project is that it has allowed us in the church community to work together," Carson said. "We really never did before, but (the foods bank) became the reason for us to talk and work together."

Dorothy Sheller of rural Eldora said other combined church projects have been spun off from Amaizeing Grace.

Harvest festival

In past years, Amaizeing Grace harvested its donated cornfield as part of a harvest festival.

As many as seven combines picked corn, 10 semi-trailer trucks hauled it to a local elevator and school buses shuttled visitors to and from the field so they could ride in a combine.

Lois Kruse of Conrad said this year's festival will probably be held in November because the corn's development has been delayed by cool, wet weather.

Schipper said he thinks this year's corn yield will be 15 percent less than a year ago because of adverse weather.

"There's been too much rain and planting was too late," he said. "We're hoping for a late frost date. If not, it could be pretty sad, but we have faith."

Examples of help

Carolina Hernandez Canales of Christian Medical Action in Nicaragua is coordinator of one of the agricultural projects that Foods Resource Bank is helping. Hernandez recently visited Schipper's farm.

"I like to see how people get their funds to support the projects," Hernandez said in Spanish.

The foods bank project Hernandez coordinates is a demonstration farm for crops and animals in northern Nicaragua's autonomous region.

The area is inhabited by Miskito Indians, an indigenous people who live on communal lands.

Sixty Miskito producers there are receiving technical assistance for improving their handling of livestock and growing crops from improved seeds. They want to diversify food sources and sell commercially.

"The indigenous tribes have been abandoned for years, without assistance from the central (Nicaraguan) government," Hernandez said. "They have very little knowledge about how to grow and sell their crops. They all grow the same crops at the same time. So, when one has crops to sell they all do, and the price is low.

Soil conservation practices have begun and new crops like food beans that conserve the soil are being introduced. The bean leaves also provide a nutritious feed for livestock, she said.

No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used in the programs because the Miskito can't afford them and because of the dangers of misapplication, Hernandez said.

Another project funded by FRB covers 32 communities and is introducing improved seeds and better cultivation practices for rice and beans.

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