COLUMBIA — Jeff Sims, an Audrain County corn and soybean farmer, knows some kids go home from school not knowing where their next meal will come from. That had a lot to do with why he decided to donate to Invest an Acre.
"We need to do all we can do," Sims said.
Missouri 4-H was one of five Midwestern state 4-H programs to receive a $28,000 grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to help promote Invest an Acre, Missouri 4-H Youth Specialist Steve Henness said.
4-H is a national organization that develops leadership, citizenship and life skills in young people. There are 104,157 Missouri youth ages 5 to 18 involved in community service activities related to the four H's: head, heart, hands and health.
The organization's goal is to make more people aware of the Invest an Acre program and encourage more farmers to pledge, Henness said.
"(The program) fits nicely with what 4-H is and what 4-H does," Henness said. "Generosity is the heart aspect of the four H's and it is important to what we do."
4-H has a role in other programs to fight hunger. Missouri 4-H developed a statewide initiative called Missouri 4-H Youth Feeding Communities and is encouraging 4-H youth and adults to dedicate 10,000 hours to hunger awareness and relief.
Missouri 4-H gave three county programs, Boone, Dade and Barton, $5,000 to continue existing hunger relief efforts and begin new efforts. In addition to promoting Invest an Acre, the 4-H clubs are involved in various activities, including community gardens, school backpack programs, elementary greenhouses, farmers markets and farm to school programs. Boone County 4-H is also planning to get involved in the Empty Bowls Project, where members will decorate bowls as part of a fundraiser for the food bank.
Sims and other farmers participating in the national Invest an Acre program, which began in April 2012, donate a portion of the proceeds from their crop sales to Feeding America, the major food supplier for 202 U.S. food banks. Among them is the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri in Columbia, which began promoting Invest an Acre last November.
"I am so excited about this program," said Theresa Spaedy, resource development coordinator for the food bank. "It is an unprecedented opportunity for us."
Spaedy couldn't say how many Boone County farmers are participating. But she said there's been an excellent response in northeast Missouri, where most of the grain elevators of Missouri's Archer Daniels Midland company — a sponsor — are located.
"We've had farmers who sold grain in December," she said. "Considering nothing was harvested during that time, I have very positive expectations for harvest time."
However, there are farmers who could participate that are not aware of the program, Spaedy said. The food bank and organizations like Missouri 4-H are talking to farmers about the opportunity and encouraging them to participate.
Invest an Acre is a joint initiative of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Archer Daniels Midland, Monsanto and Feeding America. Archer Daniels Midland takes care of getting the proceeds from sales of grains to Feeding America. Monsanto matches farmers' donations up to $675,000 per year, and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation covers administrative costs. In the end, 100 percent of the cash goes directly to the farmer's local food bank to help buy food for the needy.
Though the program's first year coincided with tremendous drought, 170 farmers nationwide, with the help of the one-to-one match, raised $1 million to provide 3 million meals, said Matt Coatar, Feeding America's Invest an Acre program manager.
Feeding America reaches more than 37 million people across the nation, according to its website. That's about 74 percent of the 50.1 million Americans who live in food insecure households. A food insecure household is defined as one that was "uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food" at any point in a given year, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.
That's where farmers like Sims come into the story. He was familiar with the buddy pack program, which provides children dependent on school meals with food for the weekend and school holidays, and wanted to do what he could to help hunger efforts. After his friend, Bobbie Kincade, who is the director of development for the food bank, explained how the program works, he decided to get involved.
"I said, 'That sounds pretty neat,'" he said.
He had some soybeans from a crop and decided to donate them.
That, ultimately, benefits his local food bank.
"When people step up to the plate like Jeff Sims, we get the one-to-one match, every truckload that goes in there helps us pay for the food in Audrain County," Kincade said.
There are 3,880 food insecure people in Audrain County, 1,450 of which are children. Last year, the food bank distributed about 621,000 pounds of food to pantries in Audrain County, she said. That cost a little over $91,000.
The beauty of Invest an Acre is its simplicity, Sims said. Though the program is called "Invest an Acre," farmers can choose to donate specific acres, bushels or dollar amounts, and there is no signature or paperwork involved for the farmer.
"Just tell them what you desire to donate, and then it'll be matched," Sims said. "And that's it."
Any farmer, anytime, any place
Grain farmers, like Sims, who do business with Archer Daniels Midland have the easiest path to participation because the company is one of the formal partners, Spaedy said. However, any farmer can participate in the program anytime they sell grain, not just during harvest season.
Farmers who sell to non-participating, non-Archer Daniels Midland locations can send a check made out to Invest an Acre or Feeding America and a letter to the local food bank, Feeding America in Chicago or an Archer Daniels Midland affiliate. However, they must make sure they specify they are donating as part of the Invest an Acre program to ensure their donation will be matched, Spaedy said.
Other grain elevators have expressed interest since the program began, Spaedy said. By mid-July, she said, she should be ready to promote the program to other elevators so it will be as convenient for other farmers to donate.
While the program is geared toward grain farmers, Feeding America is also looking into ways to include other farmers. Peanut, cotton and dairy farmers are interested in participating, Spaedy said.
The more farmers participate, the more money food banks will have to buy more nutritious foods for the needy — like rice and canned vegetables, which she said are not always readily available.
"What we really expect and hope for is to start seeing more donations coming in September through November," Spaedy said. "That's when we'll have a good idea of what we'll see for the future."
Sims plans to continue participating, and he says other farmers should, too.
"If you're going to donate anything, it's a one-to-one donation and you can't beat it," Sims said. "And, since we're producers of food, it's just a helping hand.