A new Brethren effort has been put together by denominational staff and districts to respond to needs of farmers and communities following a summer of extreme drought. The drought has affected a majority of states in the central US.
The cooperative project teams the energies and resources of several denominational programs with Church of the Brethren districts. Involved are Brethren Disaster Ministries, the Advocacy and Peace Witness Ministries, and the Global Food Crisis Fund, along with district executive ministers and district disaster response coordinators from the areas most affected by drought.
The Church of the Brethren drought response will be carried out in two parts, reports Roy Winter of Brethren Disaster Ministries:
— A Farm Relief Initiative will support congregations and districts in providing relief and direct support to the most at-risk farmers in their communities. A grant of $30,000 from the Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) has been given to start up the Farm Relief Initiative.
— A Community Food Security and Nutrition Initiative supported by congregationally based community gardens and other similar efforts will concretely address food insecurity, environmental degradation, and poverty. A grant of $30,000 from the Global Food Crisis Fund has been given to start up this part of the effort.
On the national level, Brethren Disaster Ministries also is connecting with the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) drought response. Brethren Disaster Ministries associate director Zach Wolgemuth is one of those serving on an NVOAD task force to bring attention to the drought and help coordinate response among cooperating organizations and members of Church World Service. For more about the NVOAD response go to http://nvoad.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=143:national-voad-declares-2012-drought-a-national-disaster-calls-for-coordinated-action-&catid=37:main-page-stories
Worst drought in decades
“The United States continues to experience the worst drought in decades,” explains the grant request from Brethren Disaster Ministries. “During the hot dry summer, the US Department of Agriculture declared natural disaster areas in 1,584 counties in 32 drought-stricken states…. The declaration–which covers roughly half of the country–is the most widespread natural disaster in America. The past 12 months have been the warmest the United States has experienced since the dawn of record-keeping in 1895, according to the National Climatic Data Center.”
Church staff fear that results for rural America will be devastating, including loss of livelihood for many families and businesses that are based on agriculture or other food production, food processing, farming, and ranching.
For the rest of the country, the drought and resulting crop shortages are expected to raise food prices sharply over the next year. Many of those with marginal incomes may join the millions of Americans already struggling to put food on the table. The drought likely will increase in the number of children who go hungry–which at present represents one in four children across the nation, according to the grant request.
Recent rains in the Midwest have brought some short-term relief and may have salvaged grazing resources, but are too little too late to help this year’s crops, particularly corn and soybeans.
Farm Relief Initiative
This initiative will provide relief and support to smaller scale farmers (including livestock, orchard, truck farmers, etc.) who have lost significant farm revenue because of the drought, and are experiencing serious financial hardship to the farming family. Small grants will be given through Church of the Brethren congregations to support farmers left at risk by the drought.
A second goal is to encourage congregations to find creative ways to support and minister to people left in the margins in their communities.
The initiative will be administered by Brethren Disaster Ministries. Grant proposals must come from a congregation, not an individual. Proposals must be approved by the district office and Brethren Disaster Ministries before a grant is made.
Initial grants of up to $3,000 per farm will be awarded and a second grant of up to $2,000 may be considered as funding is available. Grants may support a broad range of needs for a farm family including seed, feed, family needs such as utilities and food, education for farmers, and repair of drought-damaged land. Grants will focus on farms that have suffered severe drought, and farming families who have little insurance benefits and significant loss to their livelihood.
Look for more information about the Farm Relief Initiative to arrive at church offices in an upcoming mailing. Information packets and proposal forms will be provided to congregations and will be made available online at www.brethren.org/us-drought . In the meantime, congregations may contact their districts for more information, or request information from Brethren Disaster Ministries at 800-451-4407
‘Going to the Garden’
“Going to the Garden: A Community Food Security and Nutrition Initiative” is led by the Advocacy and Peace Witness Ministries based in Washington, D.C. It will facilitate, educate, and empower the formation of congregationally based community gardens and other similar efforts to concretely address food insecurity, environmental degradation, and poverty.
“These projects will act as a point of education regarding local, regional, national, and international food systems and policies as well as an opportunity for theological reflection and strengthening congregations,” said an announcement from the Advocacy and Peace Witness office. “As congregations we come together regularly to worship and for fellowship. With these same communities many of us seek to reach out to our neighbors with the love of Jesus. Through the Going to the Garden initiative, Advocacy and Peace Witness Ministries hopes to build on this desire to reach out to our communities through working for healthy and sustainable food, strengthening communities through mutual service, and caring for God’s creation.”
The Global Food Crisis Fund grant of $30,000 provides initial financial backing. The Advocacy and Peace Witness Office will be the primary implementer and direct contact for participating congregations. Part-time consultants may be recruited to help provide technical support for garden projects.
Congregations may be asked to provide matching funds to receive a grant for a garden project. Matching funds will be encouraged, but not necessarily required. It is anticipated this may result in up to 30 congregations receiving grants of $1,000.
“Through a recent survey conducted by GFCF summer intern, Jamie Frye, we have learned that at least 20 Church of the Brethren congregations have community gardens at present,” reported GFCF manager Jeff Boshart. “This model, as opposed to a Food Bank matching funds initiative of the past decade, seeks to encourage a more personal, relational touch. It also recognizes that hunger is often a symptom of poverty and not a cause.
“Through personal relationships with individuals and families involved with community gardens,” he added, “congregations have the opportunity to learn about and engage some of the root causes of poverty in their own local communities.”
Going to the Garden is expected to:
— Work alongside congregations to create or expand community gardens, assisting congregations with support and initial organization, empowering church members to be engaged.
— Develop a handbook out of the process of working collaboratively with churches and communities, in order to assist similar processes in other locations.
— Create local projects with the following components: a model for food security, affordable produce, rainwater collection, composting, a theology of church and community engagement, nutrition education, and education about environmental stewardship, land renewal, and food policy.
“We are eager to hear feedback on areas that can be included in this initiative,” wrote Nathan Hosler of the Advocacy and Peace Witness office. “We envision a program that is flexible and able to address the particular issues that each community and congregation wishes to engage. With this in mind we look forward to hearing about the ways we can work with congregations to develop local projects.”
Interested congregations should contact the Advocacy and Peace Witness office, which also welcomes suggestions of people who have skills to support this work, and suggestions of helpful resources. Contact Nathan Hosler at email@example.com or 202-481-6943, or by mail at 110 Maryland Ave. NE, Suite 108, Washington, DC 20002.