This past weekend, the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) held their annual conference in Little Rock, Arkansas. Several of our Heifer staff were able to attend and have generously shared their reflections. The first is from Linda Meyers, communications team member, who participated in the pre-conference field trip to our Learning Center at Heifer Ranch.
|Photo by Linda Meyers, courtesy of Heifer International
When I was asked to join a field trip to Heifer Ranch I jumped at the chance. Get out of the office for an afternoon on a beautiful, unseasonably warm and sunny January day, and learn more about the great work Heifer does and share that with other people – sounded like a fun day to me.
I’ve been at Heifer International since October, and have learned so much I didn’t know. Today was going to be no different. SSAWG (Southern Sustainable Agriculure Working Group) conference attendees took part in a pre-conference field trip to Heifer Ranch to learn about Community Supported Agriculture.
I had been to farmers’ markets before but before I came to Heifer I never put much thought into it. I am realizing every day the importance of these small farmers and their sustainable farming practices, and love the idea of CSAs.
What is CSA? (You may already know the answer to this, but I didn’t before my field trip.) Heifer Ranch’s Ryan Neal explained that Heifer grows the produce, and has a group of investors that pay a predetermined amount every year, and share in the bounty (or lack thereof) of the farm’s output. If the week’s output is good, they get a lot of produce, if it is bad, their produce is slim. It’s a gamble, one that small farmer’s live with all the time, but being a part of such a venture seems pretty positive to me. It is a great way to support small farms and get a steady supply of fresh produce as well.
After Ryan’s presentation on Heifer’s CSA, the group took a hayride to see the Ranch and to have a closer look at a field filled with crops, the greenhouse, a trailer that’s really a refrigerator that somehow helps with the air-conditioning (technical talk that went a bit above me). Heifer representatives talked not only about the CSA, but also about the education done at the Ranch, the global village, and Heifer International’s work across the world.
I had the chance to talk with a couple of field trippers during our stop at the field. Beth Blackwell, an enforcement agent at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry from Southeast Louisiana, knew Heifer’s work well and had this to say: “I wholeheartedly believe in Heifer’s mission. You can throw money at a problem but if you’re not teaching them, they will never get out of the situation they are in. Heifer Ranch is great! It gives people who don’t have to do this type of work a better appreciation for those who do.”
Beth wants to be able to teach the farmers she deals with in her job, as well as her parents, how to use every bit of their land to make all the extra income they can.
“Farming isn’t like it once was,” she said, “and every little bit can help. There is land between the tree rows that can be used for extra crops or even goats or other livestock.” She was excited to learn about options like this at the SSWAG conference and see it in action at the Heifer Ranch. She even mentioned that this is an important element in Heifer projects around the world.
Lois Swords, from Atlanta, Georgia, has been donating animals through Heifer for 12 years. “I’m thrilled to be here to see this. I gave a Heifer gift in honor of my aunt in Virginia and sent her a card. She wrote back to me, excited to tell me she was a member of the Church of the Brethren, which started the whole thing. Having a face, live and in-person, even the videos on the bus on the way out, has been really informative. I see now how worldwide Heifer International really is, and what organization it takes to make it all happen. Seeing how truly complex it is has been really amazing. It’s not just getting online and ordering honeybees; it’s so much more.”
It was, to say the least, very refreshing to talk to people who believe in Heifer’s work and were as excited as I was to spend a day at the Ranch, learning, networking, and feeling a part of the mission to end hunger and poverty across the globe.