Last hay delivered to Eastern farmers

BY JOSHUA LEWIS | BALTIMORE, MD | April 17, 2000


BALTIMORE, MD (April 17, 2000) -- A Church of the Brethren tractor-trailer recently delivered the last

load of hay to drought-stricken farmers in West Virginia, bringing to close a relief effort that saved

scores of farms.

"The faith community responded as a whole," said Stanley Noffsinger, director of Emergency

Response Service Ministries for the Church of the Brethren. "It wasn't the Methodists, it wasn't the

Brethren, it wasn't the Lutherans, everybody doing their own little thing. It was truly a faith

community effort to accomplish a much bigger task."

In all, nearly 30 train carloads of much-needed hay were delivered to farmers in the eastern United

States to feed their livestock.

"Basically we initiated this thing back in July," said Tom Smucker, executive coordinator for

Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), "and then it grew and grew and grew into a very neat

ecumenical response."

MDS was the "hub" of the relief effort that became Family Farm Drought Response, Noffsinger

said.

MDS has conducted similar programs in the past, Smucker said, "but not near to the extent that

we've done it this time. This is a lot larger. I think it was identifying the need of the farmers which

was well-documented in the news media, and then under the umbrella of Church World Service,

we called a meeting, came together, and made it happen."

Each of the church agencies had contacts and relationships with farmers in certain areas,

Smucker said.

"Hay is the traditional way for agriculture-based communities to respond to the needs of each

other. It's just one of the many ways. It's taking abundance from one area to help those who are

needing assistance somewhere else," Noffsinger said.

And while hay shipments have ceased, help for family farms should continue, Noffsinger said.

An online information clearinghouse for family-scale farmers has been established to serve as a

beacon of promise for farmers struggling against natural disasters. A Farm Disaster Helpline Web site and toll-free

phone number (1-888-800-0118) have been developed to tell farmers how to get help. The

Helpline currently focuses on mid-Atlantic farmers in an eight-state region stretching from Indiana

to Delaware, but developers of the Helpline said they hope to expand it to a national scope. Grants

to establish the new Farm Disaster Helpline came from Farm Aid and Family Farm Drought

Response.

"It is clear that there is more work to be done with assistance to family-type farms," Noffsinger said.

Where that assistance comes from and what form it takes has yet to be determined, he said.

Hay relief in the near future should not be required in the east because of good rainfall, Smucker

said. "Now Iowa and Illinois - that's a different subject. They have had a really, really dry spring," he

said.

"And just because it has rained in the east, there are still a lot of mental and financial concerns that

farmers are dealing with," he added. "This has left a pretty deep scar in a lot of farmers'

checkbooks."

Likewise, around the country, farmer's worries are far from over.

"There is going to continue to be a need for both changes in our farm policy and for varying forms

of emergency disaster relief as well," said Kathy Ozer, director of the Washington, DC-based

National Family Farm Coalition.

For dairy and livestock farmers, hay is a critical component of relief, she said.

For grain farmers, aid must come in the form of reserve commodities, if such a program is

available, or in payments, Ozer added.

She cited 1999 as a year requiring differing forms of relief.

"We had part of the country with no crop. And then we had another half of the country with record

crop-but no price. So they needed assistance to make up for the economic disaster," Ozer said.

"So, what we're facing going into these next few months remains to be the need to change our

underlying farm policy, and that's what we're going to be pushing."

An added benefit of the Family Farm Drought Response is that it has brought a heightened

awareness of the plight of family farmers, Noffsinger said.

Members of the faith-based community must decide how to best support family farms in the future,

he said.

"We're doing what we're doing as a community of faith because it involves people, people who are

giving their lives and their energies to feeding people, and they are hurting," he said.

Posted April 17, 2000


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