Feeding the world one meal at a time
By Jennifer Carrico
More than 255,000 soy-based meals were packaged at the opening day of the Iowa State Fair with the help of the Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Food & Family Project.
These organizations, along with GROWMARK, organized and funded the Meals from the Heartland event, along with the help of the Iowa State Fair and state fair goers.
“I think it is a tremendous, tremendous statement that we are the breadbasket of the world here in Iowa and we are helping those folks less fortunate than us,” said Iowa State Fair General Manager Gary Slater.
The event, which was possible with the help of 1,500 volunteers, included members of agricultural organizations, farmers and even Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.
ISA Director of Communications and External Relations Aaron Putze said this event was one of many that focus on the long-term initiative of the ISA and its members to engage consumers about what farmers do to feed the world.
“Tell me and I’ll forget, but show me and I’ll remember,” Putze said. “That is what Iowa’s farmers want to do—to show consumers what it will take to produce 70 percent more food by the year 2050 to feed 9 billion people.”
Putze said the agricultural commodity groups as well as farmers across the state need to engage the 98 percent of Iowans who aren’t involved in farming by sharing how their food is grown.
Meals from the Heartland is a Des Moines, Iowa-based nonprofit organization that has packaged more than 32 million meals for the hungry across the state of Iowa and all around the world since its beginning in 2008.
Dave Bradley, executive director of Meals from the Heartland, said the meals packaged during the fair would be sent to Haiti, where Haitians are still struggling to recover after a devastating earthquake in 2010.
“These packets are accepted around the world and the soy protein is the secret sauce that makes them so nutritious because of their high protein content. A lot of food-insecure nations are short on protein,” he said.
Ingredients for the meals are sourced through local suppliers and companies with vegetables and rice coming from Illinois, soybean meal from Cargill or ADM and vitamins from a company in Iowa.
Bradley said his organization has about 100 food-packaging events per year, with a signature event being held over Labor Day when 15,000 volunteers help package more than 5 million meals.
“We feed 125,000 children in nine countries and we feed people locally too, with over 375,000 meals being served in the Des Moines metro area,” he said.
The key to the meals is good nutrition and the soy protein adds a great deal to the packages. Meals from the Heartland officials have developed about eight different recipes with how these meals can be used. The shelf life is about two years to get the best nutrition from them, but the packaged meals will hold a usable nutrient value for three to four years.
“We couldn’t do this without the thousands of volunteers who are willing to help us out. With a small staff, we rely on 30,000 volunteers throughout the year to package these meals,” Bradley said. “Farmers and people in rural Iowa love to help those who are less fortunate than them.”
Iowa farmer Randy Van Kooten has seen the good the meals provide firsthand with his trips to Nicaragua.
“I was really touched when during a recent trip to Nicaragua, a young farmer and father of six children came up to me with tears in his eyes and told me we had helped save his family. That made me feel good about what we do,” Van Kooten said. “It is even overwhelming to see where our soybeans can do good in other countries.”
He said the event at the Iowa State Fair has given farmer-volunteers the opportunity to connect with others about where their food is produced.
“With more and more people being removed from the farm, it’s important for us to show the general public where their food comes from,” he said.
Van Kooten said his international travel and knowing how much more food is going to be needed in the next 40 years have made him look at his own farming operation and how he can raise more grain.
“Each year we have better farming production than we did the year before, with better genetics and better farming practices,” he said. “When you travel the world to see how people in other countries benefit from American farmers, it just makes you want to strive to do even better.”
Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at jarrico.com.