International (MNN) — Organic produce is all the rage, but most of us consumers don’t ever think about how it affects the people growing it. In third world countries, organic farming can be made possible by greenhouse farming. And the benefits extend beyond just bringing healthy food to our markets.
FARMS International works to provide small, interest-free loans to families so they can generate a sustainable income by starting a business.
Joe Richter of FARMS International explains that many of these projects are agricultural, and while experienced farmers can provide for their families through traditional farming, organic farming provides additional advantages.
He says, “One difficulty farmers have always in third world and tropical areas, especially, is pest control which requires many times to use pesticides which are not only harmful to the environment but also to the people eating the food sometimes.”
A way to avoid using pesticides is to grow crops in a greenhouse, an option, Richter says, that is actually quite viable for poor families through the loan programs.
To switch from traditional farming isn’t that difficult, either, so long as they have the resources to build the greenhouse. “They have the expertise of course in farming, and it was an easy transition for them,” Richter says.
He explains it was loan holders with an interest in greenhouse gardening that actually got the program rolling. Right now, FARMS has active projects in Moldova and the Philippines with sights set on setting up greenhouses in Ecuador next.
Why go organic?
Aside from avoiding pesticides through greenhouse gardening, this form of organic farming holds a lot of benefits across the board.
The obvious benefit, as with any organic gardening, is that the produce is healthier. This is true for the consumer, but also as a food source for the farmers and their families.
Organic produce is also growing in popularity and demand. “People around the world are looking at their food more critically than maybe they used to, and they want a good product that isn’t grown with chemicals,” Richter explains.
The greenhouses also allow for a longer growing season for places like Moldova, and better control during the dry season in the Philippines. This allows the farmers to produce vegetables when they otherwise couldn’t.
The ability to grow produce that is high in demand for a longer growing season than normal increases the family’s income.
In addition, farming in greenhouses requires less land, less water, and in general, less input.
“It’s really a win-win for everyone involved,” says Richter.
Successful farmers means more people hear about Jesus
The goal of FARMS International is not to make a select few in third world countries rich. It really is to help families find a sustainable income while giving back to their local church who, in turn, gives back to the community.
All of FARMS’ loan-holders are required to be church members.
“Because our program gives interest-free loans to these individuals, they agree, out of their project profits, to tithe back into their local church, which really spurs on evangelism and church planting. That’s really the foundation for FARMS: enabling indigenous groups to expand the Gospel in the area that they have a ministry. Without money, that becomes much more difficult.”
When tithing increases, so does the outreach of a church.
Ultimately, Richter says, “One of the main reasons this program exists is to see evangelism and new churches planted in these third world countries.”
Greenhouses and orphans
Sometimes the best results from a good thing are unexpected. These greenhouse projects have been extremely helpful for some families, and they’ve used their sustainable income to provide for those who previously had no one to stand up for them.
“Some of these greenhouse projects are supporting families that are adopting orphans out of orphanages,” Richter explains. In Moldova, where orphanages are filled with children abandoned by their parents, this is especially good news.
Right now, the greenhouse projects in Moldova are thriving. In the Philippines, they have two active projects, one which is already growing strawberries and tomatoes in the mountains.
But FARMS doesn’t want it to stop there. They are excited by what’s already been accomplished through greenhouse farming and want to see that replicated.
“As these countries show what can be done, I think other countries that we work in will have an interest in this type of agriculture, also.”
In Ecuador, many farmers work in high altitudes which have a short growing season. Greenhouses could revolutionize their work.
“We hope to start a program this year in the mountains of Ecuador with the Quechua people,” Richter says.
To make this possible, you can help with prayer. If you’d like to help in other ways, visit the FARMS website here. You can also call the office to get more information on helping the greenhouse project.
Richter asks that you also pray for the work in Moldova. He and his wife are visiting this summer to see the projects first hand, to offer encouragement, and to help expand the projects further.