Seeds of change
Leaders from Heifer International and the U.S. Department of Agriculture gathered Monday in Hughes to celebrate Heifer’s commitment to working in a USDA StrikeForce area.
Heifer International recently launched the first phase of the Seeds of Change project, which aims to improve the income of small farmers in areas of Appalachia and the Arkansas Delta. The project also aims to make healthy foods more accessible to hungry families by creating sustainable food systems.
The meeting was held in the gym at Hughes High School.
Welcomes were given by U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, St. Francis County Judge Gary Hughes, Hughes Mayor Lawrence Owens and Hughes School Superintendent Jimmy Wilkins.
Tamidra Marable, program manager for Heifer International, said, “We’re very excited to be here today. There is a true recognition of a need for collective commitment.”
She said initiatives often fail because “everyone is so focused on just their piece. Today, we say that we are focused on the whole.”
She said the agenda includes the entire community.
“With the collective focus…we have great potential of bringing people together to address, comprehensively, the concerns of our rural community, while shaping a common vision of successful, thriving communities.”
Robert Cole, director of the East Arkansas Enterprise Community, and a former employee of USDA, also spoke.
“USDA has been in Hughes a long time,” said Cole. “But it was kind of like Tamidra said. We were doing our thing. We did not have a plan. People came to us and wanted a house, we made them a housing loan. Farmers came to us, we made them a farm loan. The cities came to us, we gave them water and sewer. Developers came to us and we made loans. But we did not have a plan. This is going to be different.”
He said Seeds of Change is a good name, because when a seed is planted people begin to see change.
“We are going to have a difference with Seeds of Change,” Cole said.
Perry Jones, director of the U.S. Country Program for Heifer International, told the high school students attending the meeting that a lot will depend on them.
“I’m very happy to see the young people this morning. Every single thing we’re going to be talking about is for you,” said Jones. “We’re going to bring a lot of resources to this region, and try to do some great things here, but it’s all going to depend on your stepping in to some of these opportunities, helping us understand what your dreams and aspirations are, and helping us build a Hughes and a Delta and a state of Arkansas that you would like to see.”
He said the program is set to continue for five years, and that a big part of the program will be to “grow what we eat, and eat what we grow.”
Pierre Ferrari, president and CEO of Heifer International, was another speaker.
“Our mutual commitment is to improve the lives of all here, and complete a new legacy,” he said. “As you know, a good job, and wholesome food, should not be luxuries in this country or any other. These things should be the foundation of everyone’s life. All children deserve nourishing food to eat. People everywhere deserve the right to support themselves without exploitation. And every acre of farmland on the planet should be well-tended for future use.”
He said everyone has a responsibility for the generations to come.
“As the economy has stagnated, it may seem like new ideas and opportunities have stagnated as well,” he said. “While our politicians debate policy ideas to remedy the problem, the problems continue to deepen, and they are harder than ever to escape. We do not accept that poverty is inevitable. As a matter of fact, our mission demands to end poverty and end hunger.”
Also speaking was Pearlie Reed, Assistant Secretary for Administration with the USDA, who has roots in the Delta, being a native of Heth.
“Basically, what we are doing, we are pulling all the USDA resources together and giving priorities to farmers and communities,” Reed said, “to focus on accomplishing what we really need to accomplish, to help the people, to help the resources and to help the land.”
He said the word, “agriculture” brings many things into play.
“It’s our food and nutrition service, our conservation work, our forestry work, our food safety work, and the list goes on and on,” he said. “You can’t think of anything that underpins rural communities that USDA is not a part of…And we want to be sure we do everything we can to help these communities.”
He said the partnership with Heifer International is “unique.”
“It’s a unique partnership and a great opportunity for the public and private sector to come together and do good. And we couldn’t do it without that collaboration. We need to do everything we know how to do to partner with that group to accomplish a lot of those common goals.”
Ferrari and Reed then participated in a signing ceremony for the partnership between USDA and Heifer International.
The Heifer International Seeds of Change program will be working in St. Francis, Woodruff, Monroe, Cross, Crittenden, Lee, Phillips, Prairie and Lonoke counties. Most of these counties are also part of the USDA StikeForce Initiative.