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Allen Baerg, left, Juan Pablo Morales and Nate Howard check out a field of soybeans on Baerg’s farm in Windom, Minn. Baerg and others in his community dedicate a portion of the income from their crops to the Foods Resource Bank for Morales’ community in Guatemala. (Photo courtesy of David Ewert)

Allen Baerg, left, Juan Pablo Morales and Nate Howard check out a field of soybeans on Baerg’s farm in Windom, Minn. Baerg and others in his community dedicate a portion of the income from their crops to the Foods Resource Bank for Morales’ community in Guatemala. (Photo courtesy of David Ewert)

Friendship and food security across borders

Ed Nyce
September 12, 2012


AKRON, Pa. – Bob Ewert of Minnesota and Juan Pablo Morales of Guatemala have a lot in common.

Both are hard-working farmers who value family, care about the land and live a faith that compels them to build connections among people. This year, through visits to each other’s communities, coordinated by Foods Resource Bank (FRB), they have become friends.

For years, Ewert has contributed to a corn and soybean growing project in the Mountain Lake, Minn. area, which includes his home community of Bingham Lake. Farmers sold the crops and donated the proceeds to FRB, which in turn help to support Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) agricultural work in Morales’ community of Sibinal. In February, Ewert and his son David visited there with a learning tour.

They learned how those funds will help 105 families grow carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, beets and other vegetables on new one-acre plots by September 2013. In addition to increasing growers’ own consumption of these vegetables, the project promotes sales of their produce through two cooperatives. The additional income strengthens the families’ access to food year-round.

MCC is coordinating this three-year project along with its fish-hatching and flower-growing job creation initiatives in the area. (See the Spring 2012 issue of MCC’s magazine A Common Place for more information – acommonplace.mcc.org.)

In July, Morales, who coordinates an agricultural program supported by MCC Guatemala partner, the Diocese of San Marcos, and Nate Howard, former MCC Guatemala worker from Muncie, Ind., visited Ewert’s home. There Morales learned about large-scale farming and noted the “simple and humble” similarity of farmers in both countries.

FRB is helping people in the U.S. see what they have in common with farmers from Latin America. “It means perspectives may change. We can build on that agriculture commonality,” Howard said.

Every year, groups of farmers or gardeners, primarily in the U.S., participate in local FRB growing projects by designating a portion of sales from produce or livestock to FRB-sponsored programs globally, which are implemented through agencies such as MCC. Others, like Ewert, contribute financially even though not enrolled in the growing project themselves.

“FRB raises resources to support the capability and desire of small farmers in developing countries to grow lasting solutions to hunger,” according to its website.

As one of 15 FRB member organizations, MCC U.S. has received funding since 1999 through an FRB account, similar to a bank savings account. Donors can specify that money be credited to MCC U.S.’ account, or to other organizations’ accounts, an FRB program or to FRB generally.

Over the last five years, individuals and 60 growing projects have contributed more than $1.2 million to MCC and MCC-led programs, according to FRB. Sixteen international programs led by MCC have been supported by FRB growing projects and donors. This mirrors MCC’s 90-year-plus history of addressing food-related issues around the world.

Willard Dick, of Bingham Lake, is a coordinator for the Mountain Lake growing project and a board member of MCC Central States. Like the Ewerts, he attends Community Bible Church in Mountain Lake and is one of several local farmers who support the 5-acre growing project.

Dick said, “In this part of Guatemala, where people live up in the mountains, 10,000 or 11,000 feet high – they don’t have a lot of flat land. If they can raise food for themselves and a little extra, they don’t have to cross borders to Mexico, the U.S. It keeps families together.”

On Morales’s recent trip to the U.S., he explained that people in his community must work very hard because of the challenging landscape. Despite their efforts, it is difficult to escape poverty. Early Spanish settlers forced his ancestors off more fertile, flatter areas into the mountainous ridges.

For Ewert, the trip to Guatemala underscored what he already knew from his days in Ahaus, Honduras, from 1990-1992, when he and his spouse Lynette served with MCC.

Ewert also remarked on commonalities with the people he met. “They want to feed their families, have enough clothes and educate their kids.”

More information about MCC’s partnership with Foods Resource Bank is available at food.mcc.org/frb/. Learn more about MCC’s work on food issues at food.mcc.org or donate.mcc.org/food.

Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ