HEART Alumna, Joy Kauffman, tells us the beginnings of FARMSTEW.org
When I was nine, my love for animals grew into an aversion to eating them. My grandmothers were horrified when I declared myself a vegetarian, imagining I would become sickly and stunted, but my decision stuck. Fast forward ten years, I was intrigued to learn I could study nutrition, and get my grandmas to relax! My classes were highly scientific and it seemed most my classmates were motivated to pursue careers in personal training or hospital based dietetics. My mind kept drifting outside our borders. In my junior year at Virginia Tech, the nutrition department started a master’s level concentration in International Development. I begged my advisor to let me do it as an undergrad but the answer was “no.” Like the persistent widow, I kept trying until I finally was told, “Fine, you can do it, but you will never get a real job.” ‘So be it, I thought: I’ll get to do the work of Jesus. That was when I first learned of the HEART Village.
I can’t even remember how but I know it was a a “God thing”. I quickly enrolled and went on my first solo adventure driving south to Florida in the summer of 1992. I can still remember the peaches and boiled peanuts stands along the roadside welcoming me to the joys of Southern living.
HEART Village was like a little heaven to me, except for my small lurking fears of alligators and snakes, I was suddenly surrounded by people with a passion for doing the work of Jesus. Together we were developing the skills to share His tangible love with others. I dove into every class like a spade in well- worked tilth.
My time at HEART, around the table, in the garden, and mixing concrete for a pit latrine made all the book work in development classes come to life. The months flew by and I left with tears, never imagining that the experience would change my life forever. I wish that no American would be allowed to go on a mission trip without experiencing something like HEART. Perhaps then our “helping” wouldn’t hurt the vulnerable people groups we go to help. Wherever we live, HEART equips all to live with a smaller ecological footprint and bigger gospel footprint. Upon graduation from college, I traveled to Romania and then Brazil, seeing the ravages of malnutrition firsthand in orphanages, rural villages and urban slums. In both places, what I learned at HEART Village was the most relevant to everything I ended up doing. “Where there is no doctor” sadly is the reality for so much of the world. Even though there were doctors in the orphanage in Romania, they hadn’t noticed a crisis on their watch. With the skills I learned at HEART, I knew how to plot all of the children on growth charts showing their height and weight development. It became clear that the weaning foods they were using were not nutritionally dense enough to sustain proper growth as they all dropped off the charts at about 6 months. We were able to identify low-cost additions that could make up for the gap. In Brazil, where I served as a community health worker in the urban slum area, I was ready for anything. Container gardens and pit latrine designs learned at h.e.a.r.t. went with me, which extended my outreach farmers who had moved to the city because of the drought in the interior. I was able to help them regain a little of the life they left behind.
During the next decade, I obtained a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins, got married, and worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That job ended when I became a mom and really learned about human service — the 24/7 kind. Then our family relocated to my husband’s hometown of 700 people in rural Illinois. Once we got settled, we tilled up our yard and started a garden. Usually, as I hoed the weeds and tended my vegetables, I had my baby on my back and imagined similar women all over the world. I’ve been gardening there ever since. In the last three years, God has reopened my life to the developing world, particularly Africa. I’m now President of a not-for- profit called FARM STEW International. I continue to draw upon my HEART experiences and connections daily. More about that next time….