Appalachia

Holler back, Appalachia & The Delta.

hollerLast July I spent five rainy days in Appalachia, in the far west of North Carolina near Boone – and another two days in the Arkansas Delta in the town of Hughes, visiting new projects Heifer International is undertaking here in America. barn

This is pretty country.hydrangea

In the Delta, it’s awesomely fertile country (or at least it was before the advent of agribusiness with its soil-stripping, water-hogging monoculture of corn, cotton, rice and soybeans that requires only one person per 1,000 acres to farm). agribusinessBut this is also hardscrabble America … where poverty prevails, industry has fled, opportunity seems to have vanished, and hope is hard to find.shedIt’s important to see this America.

The only food store in Hughes burnt last year.

The only food store in Hughes burnt down last year.

It matters.Austin

Because 15% — or 46.2 million people– now live in poverty in America; and when I say poor, I mean a family of four earning less than $22,200 a year. And 36% of those poor people are children. The miracle of grapes

But to most of us, they’re invisible.waitressesWhen you’re in a place like Hughes or Ashe, N.C., (or just living with our heads in the sand), it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing that can be done. But Heifer’s crew of Jeffrey, Perry, Edward, Pastor Rob, Bubba, Duncan, Travis and a host of others have a different view.

Edward Rucker, Heifer's charismatic community organizer in Hughes.

Edward Rucker, Heifer’s charismatic community organizer in Hughes.

Biker/gardener Duncan and his wife

Biker/gardener Duncan and his wife tend a huge community garden in North Wilkesboro, NC

Carol Coulter, cheesemaker extraordinaire.

Carol Coulter, Appalachian cheesemaker extraordinaire.

Heifer’s plan is to work within these communities using sustainable agriculture to improve the health, nutrition and income of the people – organizing smallholder farmers (providing land when necessary) to grow fruits, honey, nuts, meats, and vegetables that can be sold in local markets. hopeBasically, it’s about turning these food deserts and manufacturing graveyards into oases of growth. pepperThat endeavor requires education, support, counsel, supply chains, marketing and attitudinal changes – but Heifer and hundreds of activists in the community believe it can be done– and who am I to argue with hope?Angela, Chad and Pastor Rob BrooksAs Perry Jones, Heifer’s USA country director says, “Once an opportunity is given and people have a chance for a dignified, self-reliant life, they lunge into it.” secret

Have hope. Read more from Appalachia & The Delta here:

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/07/18/a-hard-rains-gonna-fall/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/07/24/seeds-of-changesprouts-of-hope-2/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/07/27/down-on-the-farm-sure-looks-like-up-to-me/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/01/bikers-for-broccoli/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/06/a-short-rant-about-food/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/09/despair-hope-in-the-delta/

Categories: Agriculture, Appalachia, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Poverty, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

It’s My Blog’s Day!

Last October, I proposed to Heifer International that I visit 12 countries in 12 months in 2012 to visit their projects around the world…. and they said yes!

Heifer 12 x 12 was born in January 2012, and today— 12/12/12 — I’m celebrating this journey of discovery & inspiration that is almost coming to an end. Thanks for coming along on this wild, joyful ride!!

Categories: Appalachia, Armenia, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Heifer International, Malawi, Nepal, Peru, Photography, Romania, Rwanda, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , | 59 Comments

Thanks4giving!

Guatemala, January 2012.

The following faces have been brought to you by … you.

Haiti, February 2012.

You see, in 100,000 miles of travel to Heifer projects around the world this year, one thing has been utterly consistent.

Peru, March 2012.

People will take my hands, look in my eyes, and tell me to thank you.

China, April 2012.

Thank you for helping them to feed their children.

Nepal, April 2012.

…and send them to school…

Cameroon, May 2012.

….and stand with dignity…

Romania, June 2012.

…and have the chance to create a better life.

Appalachia, July 2012.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m bringing you their thanks.

Rwanda, August 2012.

Thanks for being so compassionate…

Armenia, September 2012

…for being so generous…

Cambodia, October 2012.

… and for your willingness to share your good fortune.

Vietnam, October 2012.

Look at the beautiful things you’ve done!

Malawi, November 2012.

Have a spectacular Thanksgiving weekend!

(And if you haven’t given to Heifer yet, I still love you ( : )

Categories: Appalachia, Armenia, Cambodia, China, Guatemala, Haiti, Hunger, Malawi, Mothers, Nepal, Peru, Photography, Romania, Rwanda, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , | 45 Comments

Despair & hope in the Delta.

Traveling from Appalachia to the Arkansas Delta was a shock to me. I thought I was prepared to see poverty – heck, I’ve been seeing poverty this whole year of travel with Heifer – but there was something about the sheer desolation of the town of Hughes, Arkansas that just about broke my heart.

The Delta stretches across the far eastern part of Arkansas, in the vastly fertile bottom lands of the Mississippi River where giant agribusiness farms of 10,000 acres prevail. Yet in an ocean of agricultural fecundity, Hughes is a food desert – its only grocery store burned to the ground.

Delta folk are predominantly African-American; brought to the region as slaves, they worked as sharecroppers for decades after the Civil War, then as agricultural day laborers until farm mechanization reduced the need for human labor. Now unemployment in the Delta stands at about 40%, prostitution and drug use are rampant, food insecurity of children is about 25%, and even the Blue Devils Hughes football team is a fading memory on a rusting water tower.

Main Street, Hughes

But as Perry Jones, Director of Heifer USA reminded me, “This is the before photo. We’re just getting started here, and things are going to change.”

Sweet girls of Hughes saying, “Take my picture! Take my picture!”

Heifer’s Seeds of Change program will focus five years working in 9 counties in the Arkansas Delta to create community food enterprises (and jobs) growing healthy, local, organic food and linking small-scale farmers to larger and diverse markets in nearby Little Rock and Memphis, where local food is sought-after and valued.

That sounds good on paper, but it’s the people making it work who turned my feelings of despair into something approaching optimism. Perry himself is a fire hose of positivity. Having spent 14 years working for Heifer in Bolivia, Jones still believes he has the “best job in the world” and that “if you give people the chance for a dignified, self-reliant life, they’ll lunge into that opportunity.”

Gardener William Eldridge

And indeed, we saw some of that lunging. William Eldridge, a local gardener, introduced himself to us on the street while I was taking photos and was eager to drag us over to see his garden.

Edward Rucker, Heifer Production Manager in Hughes.

Edward Rucker, Heifer’s Production Manager, grew up in the area and is recruiting local growers like William, assisting them with farm trainings and marketing, and searching for a place to establish a Farmer’s Market to sell local produce. The East Arkansas Enterprise Community, established in 1995, is partnering with Heifer to offer technical and financial assistance to these local growers and to help dispel negative notions that keep people from farming. Notions like working the land is tantamount to slavery, or that giving up government assistance to work is too big a risk (any income can cause essential benefits to be taken away). These are real issues and can only be resolved with proof that success is possible.

Local sweet potatoes, a high value crop in the Delta.

And that’s what Perry and his team are out to do: create a model of economic, social and environmental health in a place where it has never existed. Like in the new Hughes Community Garden, overseen by Reverend W.E. DuBois — 90 years old and “retired” from teaching agriculture in the nearby community college.

Reverend W. E. DuBois and his garden

It’s been said that the darkest hour is just before the dawn, and I’m praying that’s true. It’s high time for a Delta dawn.

Categories: Agriculture, Appalachia, Farming, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

A short rant about food.

The good stuff…

Something’s wrong with the way we eat in this country. Or maybe it’s just what we eat in this country. Because we’re packing away a whole lot of this:

Soybeans as far as the eye can see…found in almost every processed food in America.

And not nearly enough of this:

The food we eat in America is not just a personal choice; it’s systemic and entrenched. Most farmers (and all agribusiness) grow what U.S. farm policies favor, and the majority of government support goes to five commodity crops: corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice — and not one fruit or vegetable. Despite the fact that two-thirds (yep, you heard right) of Americans are overweight or obese, and new USDA guidelines call for more vitamins and minerals in our diet, our fertile country does not produce enough fruits and vegetables to meet those guidelines.

In fact, only 2.5% of total U.S. cropland under production is devoted to growing the fruits and vegetables that could keep us from being so overweight and malnourished at the same time. And people who are poor suffer disproportionately from this malady since the cheapest food is often the worst for you, while the cost of unsubsidized fruits and vegetables has been kept comparatively high.

But what we’re saving at the grocery store, we’re paying out in health care — $147 billion annually on obesity-related illnesses every year.  And down the road, 50% of all children of color are expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime, thanks to a deadly combo of fats, sugar, processed food and inactivity.

Obviously, we need to change what we grow and how we eat — but as we all know, changing bad habits can be really hard (and I’ve got the bitten nails to prove it). I’d love to see the mega-farmers and corporations that control 70% of all harvested U.S cropland and earn $5 billion a year to grow one of the commodity crops, divert just 1% of those acres into growing fruits and vegetables. That would immediately increase fruit and vegetable production by 33% — and hopefully encourage more people to grow and eat the good stuff.

Small is beautiful.. and healthy.

Then, we could work really hard in our own communities to support local food movements like Heifer is doing in the Appalachia region of western North Carolina and the Arkansas Delta. If there is one thing I’ve  noticed in my travels around the world is how utterly removed most of us Americans are from the land, animals, and food we eat. That seems sad to me – and disrespectful. So before I leave the beautiful hills of Appalachia, let me tell you some of the cool things Heifer is doing to promote small farms and big gardens, and reawaken the long tradition of fresh, homegrown food that has been the backbone of Appalachia for centuries.

The Farmer Incubation Grower program provides land, equipment, markets, and training to limited resource folks so they can become the next generation of knowledgeable farmers– co-supported by nearby Appalachian State University, which has committed to buy locally 15% of the food it serves its 14,000 students. Wow! New Meat Processing Facilities (like Heifer is creating with Pastor Bubba!) will allow cow/calf operators to capture some of the $60 million regional meat market with grass-fed, hormone-free beef. And Aggregation/Distribution centers are being planned to handle all the glorious, locally-grown produce and get it to stores and restaurants at its peak of freshness. (I could include  the concentric circles-crazed Logic Model of Heifer‘s own Jeffrey Scott that explains all this, but it gave me a huge headache so I’ll spare you.)

Suffice it to say that building a robust regional food system that can create jobs, improve health and nutrition in our homes and schools, and help end poverty and hunger is a pretty appetizing thought.

Dig in!!

p.s. These are all my opinionated opinions (you bet!) and don’t reflect Heifer’s views or policies.

Categories: Agriculture, Appalachia, Farming, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com. The Adventure Journal Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,254 other followers

%d bloggers like this: