Sunday, March 15, 2015

Making It Happen: IWD 2015

Each year, March 8th marks International Women's Day. It is a day to come together (regardless of gender) to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality. Even in 2015, women all over the world (yes, even here in the United States) face major hurdles that not only result in the loss of their potential contributions to society and our shared economy but also violates their basic human dignity and respect for the lives they lead. March 8th is used by governments, organizations, and individuals as day to share how far we've come but also how very far we still have to go. This year, as in previous years, International Women's Day has had a theme: Make It Happen.

That message was heard loud and clear in Des Moines, Iowa – that's for sure!

International Women's Day supporters and allies joined for an evening celebration at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in downtown Des Moines on Tuesday, March 10th. The presenters included: Kim Reynolds – current Lt. Governor of Iowa; Dr. Deborah Turner – Vice President of International Programs at Outreach Inc.; Patty Judge - former Lt. Governor of Iowa; Catherine Swoboda - World Food Prize Director of Planning; Laura Krouse – owner of Abbe Hills Farm in eastern Iowa; Hannah Owusu-Koranteng – community activist and founder of WACAM in Ghana; and Barbara Lawton – former Lt. Governor of Wisconsin. Each gave a remarkable and amazing account of how their vision and their leadership has worked and continues to work to build brighter futures not only for women but also for their entire communities. Also in attendance was a 2015 International Woman of Courage award recipient and peace activist Majd Izzat al-Chourbaji who stood against the Assad regime in Syria to work with women and advance human rights. Ms. al-Chourbaji received a standing ovation from the entire room!


The event is about to begin!
The evening's speakers (left to right): Catherine Swoboda, Dr. Deborah Turner,
Hannah Owusu-Koranteng, Barbara Lawton, Patty Judge, and Laura Krouse.
2015 International Woman of Courage award recipient Majd Izzat al-Chourbaji
receives a standing ovation from the room.
Iowa Oxfam Action Corps volunteers

Most definitely – these women have been and continue to be making it happen in a big and much needed way!

In addition to the formal event and presentations given by the speakers, there were several local and international organizations and co-sponsors present to share the work they do for women's empowerment. Without their support, the event would not have been possible and without their presence, the event would have lacked a critical element of community. Together, we're making it happen.




#makeithappen #internationalwomensday #IWD2015 #womensday #paintitpurple #oxfamamerica #oxfamactioncorps 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Reminder: It's Time to Become an Action Corps City Organizer!

Hello Everyone!


Let's talk about Action Corps: it is awesome. Period. No two ways about it. And luckily, it is once again that great time to join this amazing group of individuals as an Organizer!

Check out our page for more information about our locations in 16 different cities, the job description, and the application! And look below at what other Organizers have said about their experiences...

"This is leadership in practice. You can't just read a book on leadership. You have to put it into practice." --Jill Mizell, Researcher, New York

"Oxfam Action Corps has given me a ton of confidence... Gaining knowledge and being able to speak to people about the issues." --Amy L., Business Operations Analyst, Des Moines

"This has become one of the best parts of my life... I can't express enough how satisfying it is to be organizing with people who are just as committed and dependable and passionate. It is so great to have the support from the Oxfam America staff, and I've been really impressed by their accessibility, competency and friendliness." --Isaac E., Educator, New York City

Ready to join them? Apply to be an organizer or if you aren't ready yet, consider volunteering with any Action Corps in efforts to help Oxfam fight hunger and social injustices! Remember, Oxfam is here to Right the Wrong so come join us! 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Make a Difference in 2015!

With the New Year now fully underway (although, maybe you're still writing 2014 on checks), I have one question for you:

How are those New Year's resolutions coming along?



So, maybe you're not the New Year's resolutions type or maybe you're doing great working towards your 2015 goals. Whatever the case may be, "volunteering more" is a focus for some of you in 2015. To help you reach your goals, we have a great opportunity that you should learn more about: becoming an Oxfam Action Corps Organizer for Des Moines.

Our Oxfam Action Corps volunteer leaders are based in 16 cities across the country (including Des Moines) and, in the last year, they have helped change the world by:
  • Delivering reports and petitions to big food companies like Kellogg and General Mills to push them to stand up for farmers rights and fight climate change;
  • Visiting Congressional offices – in DC and in their hometowns – to advocate for poverty-fighting foreign assistance, lifesaving reforms to food aid policy, and more;
  • Hosting Oxfam America Hunger Banquets, World Food Day Dinners, and other events to raise awareness about the global fight against poverty, hunger, and injustice;
  • Recruiting hundreds of new Oxfam supporters at concerts (80/35 Music Festival), food festivals (World Food and Music Festival), and other events like farmers' markets (Downtown Des Moines Farmers' Market); 
  • ...and so much more.
Oxfam America is looking for skilled volunteers of various ages and backgrounds for a free national training in Washington D.C., April 24-28, 2015. Oxfam will provide online training and opportunities to meet other volunteers in Des Moines (we have a vibrant group here!). If you have some organizing experience and a passion for global justice, we want you! This is a great opportunity to develop your leadership skills with support from Oxfam staff and to take meaningful action locally to help change the world. In return for this opportunity, organizers who attend training in D.C. need to commit to 1 year of leadership in their community following the April training.

Action Corps volunteers include people of all ages and backgrounds, including moms and dads, professors and students, nurses, pastors, bank tellers, tech experts, retirees, food workers, musicians and, yes, even rocket scientists! 

Check out more info here, and then apply to join the Oxfam Action Corps here. Applications are due on February 1.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Connecting the Local with the Global

Guest blogger Samantha Wittrock shares with us her excellent personal account (below) having attended the Women, Food and Agriculture Network conference this year in Fairfield, Iowa.

Bio: Samantha is a grad student pursuing a Master's degree in Urban and Regional Planning and Public Health at the University of Iowa. She is interested in food systems planning and promoting healthy food access and food justice in both the local and global context.


On November 14th and 15th, I was fortunate to attend the Women, Food and Agriculture Network’s Annual Conference in Fairfield, Iowa. As I am interested in every aspect of the food system and my mom is considering a venture into sustainable farming, it was the perfect opportunity for us to meet and learn about women who are already deeply involved in this movement.

The Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) was founded in 1997 by Denise O’Brienon their long-standing concerns about systemic rural, agricultural, and environmental problems and gender relation in these domains.” Its mission is “to link and empower women to build food systems and communities that are healthy, just, sustainable, and that promote environmental integrity.” WFAN offers many educational and networking opportunities to women farmers. Successful models through WFAN can translate to learning opportunities and best practices to be shared with organizations similarly working on gender empowerment globally like Oxfam America and vice versa.



We started the conference out by attending a Soil Health 101 intensive in which the speakers covered the basics of soil health, the use of cover crops, tips for managed grazing and mine reclamation.  These speakers, representing Practical Farmers of Iowa, Southwest Badger RC&D and Pathfinders RC&D, highlighted the importance of soil health to crop yields and other natural resources. Time and again the speakers emphasized that soil is the foundation for growing food and creating a healthy farm for years to come. While we attended this intensive, tours of local farms, the community orchard, Maharishi University, the Farm to School greenhouse and the Abundance EcoVillage were also taking place.

Following the first session, we were able to taste some of the delicious local food dishes prepared by two of Fairfield’s female chefs. At this meal and the others throughout the conference, there was something for nearly everyone with vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options. Many of the items in the meals were actually from some of the women attending the conference, which I thought was a great way for them to market their products and further connect producer and consumer.

The final activity on the first evening was a screening and panel discussion of the film Terra Firma: A Film About Women, War and Healing. Terra Firma follows three women veterans who were able to find healing for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through farming. Sonia Kendrick, founder of Feed Iowa First in Cedar Rapids and Kelly Carlisle of Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project in Oakland California, both veterans, served on the panel with the producers of the film, Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson. Through the film and the discussion that followed, it was amazing to see the great impact that farming can have on our society, not only on the people who are eating it, but also on those who are growing it.

Day 2 of the conference was kicked off with a keynote speech by Karen Washington, founder of Black Urban Growers NYC. Karen discussed the challenges and opportunities in urban farming and shared her experiences with inspiring community involvement. She had many ideas on community mobilization and how to make urban farming more equitable and accessible for all populations. Her speech was incredibly motivating and she kept the audience captivated and excited with ideas they could take back to their communities.

After the keynote speaker, we attended a session called Grassroots Science: Measuring Local Impacts of Air and Water Pollution. Linda Wells of PANNA shared information about tools that sustainable farmers can set up at their farm in order to detect pesticide drift from surrounding farms and what they can do with the information after its been collected.  Mary Skopec highlighted IOWATER’s volunteer training program in which volunteers test, record and monitor water quality across the state of Iowa.



We then sat in on a session titled What Your Farm Bill Can Do for YOU!, in which the speakers talked about support, including crop insurance and disaster assistance, that is available for non-conventional farmers. Lunch came after the second session and attendees learned from Diane Rosenberg of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, Inc. how relationships are key to anti-CAFO advocacy.

The third, and final session we attended, entitled Resources for Aspiring and Beginning Women Farmers provided information on available loans, financing and training opportunities for women to get their farms up and running. In addition to resources provided in this session, there were also a number of vendors and organizations set up with other information for farmers. These resources ranged from crop insurance and loan information to educational handouts and books.

Throughout the conference we talked to many women who are some of the movers and shakers of the local foods and sustainable agriculture movement. I was inspired by all of the great things that they are doing and taken aback by how down to earth each and every one of them is. They’re all excited for new people to get involved and willing to help out in any way possible. My mom and I walked away from the conference with many ideas as well as next steps for getting her farm up and running. It was incredible and inspiring to see just how much women are contributing to the food system in our state and across the country.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Where will you sit?! An Oxfam America Hunger Banquet coming your way...

Ready or not, here it comes!

The 2014 holiday season is rapidly approaching and whether your reaction is “YAY!” or “Not again! Didn’t we JUST do this?”, the world around you is about to transform – music, decorations, lights, holiday parties, and (dare I say it) snow for us northern latitude folks. Perhaps the most beloved transformation of all is the food.

Yes, food. The holidays seem drenched in gravies, piled high in side dishes, and sweetened in delectable desserts. Research from the Calorie Control Council indicates that an average American may consume upwards of 4,500 calories during a given holiday dinner. It’s no wonder the media often turns its attention to and reporting on ways to have a slimmer and healthier holiday season. But, for all that conversation about overindulgence, where’s the talk about if you don’t have enough to eat?

Thanksgiving happens to be the traditional kickoff point to the holiday season here in the United States – a celebration of a fruitful harvest and recognition of the many ways in which we privileged folk can share thanks. It makes sense, then, that Thanksgiving is the perfect time to bring up local, national, and global food insecurity – an injustice that nearly 1 in 7 people must live with daily.

So, as we approach Thanksgiving, I have a question for you: Where will you sit?

On Thursday, November 20th, the Iowa Oxfam Action Corps, in partnership with St. Timothy’s Faith and Grace Garden in West Des Moines and the ONE Campaign at Drake University, will host an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet. The Oxfam America Hunger Banquet is an interactive experience designed to raise awareness about poverty in a fun and enlightening way. Participants will share a meal together while learning what it means to live with AND without. Random chance will determine whether you live in poverty and must sit and eat on the floor or have a high income and can sit and eat at a table! Rev. Brigitte Black, Drake professor and pastor at Bethel AME church in Des Moines, will deliver a keynote address.

Come be a part of this moving experience and learn about the injustice of food insecurity and ways that we can all take action in our communities. It'll leave you with an amazing story to share around your table this holiday season. RSVP today!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Farmers Training Centers

F.T.C.

A quick Google search of this acronym might bring the following results:

-In the business world: Federal Trade Commission – an agency responsible for consumer protection and promoting competitive business markets.
-In the legal world: Failure to Comply –  the inability to follow the letter of a court order.
-In the engineering world: Fault-Tolerance Control – the ability to design systems of continuity and recovery given the inevitable (something breaks or stops working properly).

These F.T.C.’s are all very important in their own right. However, there’s another very important F.T.C. that’s less well-known but is extremely important to fighting global hunger.

In the agricultural world: Farmers Training Centers – a place of education and community where farmers can learn how to make their lands more productive and ultimately, serve themselves, their families, and their communities better through increased and sustainable food production.

These Farmers Training Centers are one component of overall agricultural extension services in many countries all over the world. Take, for example, the country of Ethiopia. Ethiopia has invested heavily in ag extension services that have established nearly 18,000 F.T.C.’s all over the country. These F.T.C.’s are used as local-level focal points for farmers to receive the latest information, equipment training, demonstration, and classroom and hands-on field education. It boils down to farmers teaching farmers and building community leaders in agriculture.

Want proof of those community leaders? Look no further than Ethopia's very own Female Food Hero Birtukan Dagnachew Tegegn! When her husband passed away in 2000, Birtukan convinced neighbors to help plow her plot of land, a job considered too difficult for a woman to do alone. She sought out agricultural training through extension and learned how to plant crops that would conserve water in her drought-prone region. Her training and education empowered her to make bold decisions, leading to great success. Furthermore, by participating in ag extension, Birtukan can learn new skills and pass along her existing knowledge to other farmers – continuing the cycle of empowerment.

Female Food Hero Birtukan and Oxfam Action Corps Organizer Amy
pose for a picture at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market.

Recently, Birtukan and an Oxfam delegation of farmers from Ethopia and Ghana came to Des Moines, Iowa for the World Food Prize 2014 Borlaug Dialogue. During this time, she and the others spoke on panels and further discussed the importance of investing in small-scale women farmers. Birtukan shared the importance of investing in farmers before a crisis occurs (like a drought or famine). It happens to be a more efficient use of funds but, and perhaps most importantly, it's empowering to the farmers and communities who wish to take care of themselves rather than relying on external partners to provide constant support, especially if that support comes after a crisis has already occurred.

Realizing the impact these F.T.C.’s have on communities, organizations such as Oxfam and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have stepped up to supplement the cost of running these centers as well as further building capacity for the centers to have longevity, adequate facilities, and training for extension workers. Their research continues to show that ag extension is a powerful force for fighting global hunger yet, donor support for this common-sense solution of ag extension has historically been low.

By showing support for U.S. government programs such as Feed the Future and legislation such as the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 which improves our U.S. food aid system, you too can add your voice for common-sense solutions that can help reduce global poverty for years to come. Click here to send your support to Congress: fully fund these investment strategies that empower small-scale farmers and end inefficient and wasteful food aid practices!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Active Citizenry

Guest blogger Aaron Schlumbohm wrote a wonderful piece (below) for our blog about his recent experience lobbying at U.S. Senator Grassley's office in Des Moines.

Bio: Aaron Schlumbohm lives in Des Moines and has been an active volunteer with the IA Oxfam Action Corps since fall 2012, even serving as a co-organizer for Des Moines in 2013/2014. He is a University of Iowa grad and USMC veteran currently employed in the Insurance industry. 

On September 5, I had the pleasure of accompanying two other Iowa Oxfam Action Corps members, Amy & Stephen, on a lobby visit to United States Senator Chuck Grassley’s office here in Des Moines. Lobbying typically calls to mind a fair amount of negative associations with special interests, money, and influence – but there we were, three grassroots volunteers, about to speak to a legislative assistant for a United States Senator. The idea that regular citizenry can access that high-level representation is exciting and knowing that this not the case in many other countries I was filled with enthusiasm for this opportunity! How could anyone fail to see the rightness of our cause?

Aaron (left) and Stephen (right) speak with Grassley's office
 about issues important to Oxfam and Iowa supporters.

We spoke to Kurt Kovarik, a Grassley legislative assistant in Washington D.C., via teleconference, which the Des Moines office was kind enough to set up for us. On the table were issues that Oxfam had been working on for, in some cases, years:

A. Poverty focused development assistance
B. Effective foreign aid/co-sponsoring the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act
C. Food aid reform/co-sponsoring the Food for Peace Reform Act
***click hyperlinks for more info***

Mr. Kovarik listened politely and asked relevant questions about the issues we presented. He was very direct and his answers and comments gave us great insight to the landscape of legislative committees, foreign relations, and U.S. interests. At the end of the discussion he thanked us for our time and for the information we left to be forwarded on to the D.C. office, promising to read it thoroughly to present the information it contained to the Senator. We walked out of the office with no commitments. We had not, in-fact, changed the world with our one visit to the local office of a U.S. Senator, and we understood that the bills we advocated for were unlikely to move forward in this legislative session. We would see them stall again, as we have in years past, while we wait for the political will to mobilize around the reforms needed to help people in need of effective, efficient aid. But every year these issues come up and the bills advance a little further, a little closer to passing, because active citizens around the country are walking into elected representatives’ offices to let them know that these things are important.

And we’ll do it again next year.