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Couple commits part of farmland to fight world hunger

Associated Press

Shirley and John Howe examine harvested corn Nov. 10 with their church's pastor, the Rev. Walter Malkewitz, right, on their farm in Elvira, Iowa. The Howes donated use of 20 acres for a growing project coordinated by an organization called Foods Resource Bank

Associated Press

ELVIRA, Iowa -- Even after their east central Iowa farm suffered through drought this summer, John and Shirley Howe are the first to concede their farm has been good to them.

After learning about a program that supports developing nations' agricultural communities, it didn't take them long to think their land might be of service.

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"We just felt it was our time to give back for all the good the Lord and the dirt has done for us," John Howe explained.

The Howes donated use of 20 acres for a growing project coordinated by an organization called Foods Resource Bank, or FRB. The organization bills itself as a Christian response to world hunger that donates profits from similar growing projects across the United States.

The Howes became involved in the Elvira-Clinton growing project organized by the Elvira Zion Lutheran Church and the First United Methodist Church in Clinton.

Stirring things up

Steve Witt, a friend of the Howes and fellow member of the Elvira church, heard about the FRB from a friend involved in a project in Wheatland.

"It was in the back of my mind that this was something we could do here," Witt said.

He brought an informational video to show church members. The Howes' son, Joel, was one of the members who became interested.

Joel Howe borrowed the video to show his parents, not thinking they would be inclined to volunteer their land, which he and his brother, Jeff, farm. But the video touched the Howes, and they wanted to help.

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"I told Steve, 'You really stirred things up around our house,"' Joel said.

This was the Elvira-Clinton project's first year, but the FRB has been establishing growing projects for six years.

This year, about 190 projects occurred nationwide. The FRB sponsors development in more then 30 countries, said Joan Fumetti, Eastern Iowa FRB project manager.

Of the 14 states with growing projects, Iowa has the most, with 34 this year, and the number is growing, she said.

Fumetti, also the coordinator for Wisconsin and northwest Illinois, said she will focus more outside of Iowa because projects are expanding rapidly there on their own.

"We are a small-town state. Iowans are made for this," she said.

The Elvira-Clinton project found many people were willing to contribute.

"Any time you asked anyone to help they jumped on board quickly," Witt said.

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People often are impressed when groups from different religious or urban and rural backgrounds work together for a common good, Fumetti said.

"We are at a time when so many people from different groups can't get along, but we just all came together," Shirley Howe said.

The Elvira and Clinton churches joined for the harvest celebration in October, complete with hay rack rides, games and food.

People enjoyed seeing the combines at work. Visitors from age 3 to a retired farmer of 93 enjoyed combine rides, Witt said.

The Rev. Walter Malkewitz of the Zion church said this project was a learning experience for him. The celebration was his first opportunity to ride in a combine after serving 10 years as a rural pastor.

Urban lesson

Fumetti, a former Lutheran pastor, said the FRB projects are an opportunity for people to gain a better understanding of farming.

"I've learned to sweat it like a farmer, especially when it's their first year and there's a drought," she said.

This year, weeks went by without a drop of rain on the Howes' farm, and people began to worry.

Malkewitz said their partner church's mostly urban congregation was regularly praying for rain.

"I think it was an eye opening experience for the city church when it didn't rain," Malkewitz said.

"You could say (the drought) was a bad thing, but it did a lot of good too. I think it really opened their eyes to how the farmers are at the mercy of the rain."

Harvest bounty

Despite the conditions, the Howes' plot had better-than-expected yields ending with 165 bushels per acre.

"In August, we counted ears, and we thought it would be 140 (bushels per acre) at the most, so that turned out better than we expected," John Howe said.

So far, the Elvira-Clinton project has not chosen a specific overseas project to sponsor, but they are happy to know their work is headed for a good cause.

"I can't say the number of phone calls a day I get from people asking me for donations for this or that. This, you really know where it is going," Shirley Howe said.

The Elvira-Clinton project plans to continue next year. And, whether the Howes donate their land again or not, they plan to stay closely involved with the program, she said.

Members of the Elvira church felt a project, such as this, was a mission cut out for them.

"Promising to plant, cultivate and harvest faith is in the language of our mission statement," Witt said.

On the Net: Foods Resource Bank: www.foodsresourcebank.org

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