Touring Heifer Ranch with the Heifer Foundation Trustees

Following the Heifer International Board meeting two weeks ago, the Heifer Foundation Board of Trustees also held their meeting at the Heifer Ranch. I sat in to hear Heifer USA/Ranch Manager Perry Jones bring the Trustees up to snuff on the work of the Ranch and tagged along on their Ranch tour. Perry told the Trustees, “You haven’t arrived at just any old moment. This is a moment of evolution.”

That evolution stems from the merger of Heifer Ranch with Heifer USA last year. Heifer USA has moved their home base of operations to the Ranch, joining its mission with that of the Ranch into an emerging social enterprise. Perry told the Trustees the new Heifer USA’s mission is “to create job opportunities in rural America by bringing farmers together to build socially and environmentally responsible and profitable businesses, and to educate the general public about sustainable agriculture and Heifer’s work around the world.” So the previous educational purposes of the Ranch are now intertwined with the agricultural work of Heifer USA, bringing the Ranch full circle to its beginnings as an operational agricultural enterprise.

For a closer look at Heifer USA and Ranch operations, the Trustees climbed aboard the Ranch’s trusty tour wagon “The Lyle & Berta,” named after longtime volunteers Lyle and Berta Riebe from Minnesota who conducted the tours for many years. While covering about a sixth of the Ranch’s 1,200 acres, Perry, along with Education Director Rebecca Roetzel, and Farm Manager Donna Kilpatrick, helped us understand the impact of the work here.
Heifer USA is a social enterprise in that “both profit and social good are generated,” says Perry. All of the work done at the Ranch complies with the mission of Heifer International “to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the earth.” Currently three social enterprises make up Heifer USA: a Livestock Co-op called Grass Roots (you can order their pasture-raised meat online!); the local and sustainable fruit and vegetable sales and distribution company and farmer-owned co-op called New South; and the Ranch itself, which operates as a working farm to model the sustainable and profitable methods Heifer teaches.

Sheep, chicks, goats, cattle, pigs, and a few rabbits are raised at the Ranch.

Garden produce is used in the Ranch dining hall and supplies CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes for subscribers.

Along with these three enterprises, the Ranch will continue to expand as an educational center, hosting groups of all ages from all over the country with the goal of becoming “a world-class destination with provocative and impactful education programming,” says Perry. This runs the gamut from walk-in visitor tours, to school day trips, to overnight immersion experiences in one of Heifer’s global villages, all with the focus of acquainting guests with global issues of hunger and poverty and Heifer’s response to it.

Donna Kilpatrick gives a personal tour to visiting volunteers from the former Heifer Farm in Massachusetts.

 

A school group does a garden service project as part of their educational experience.

Some groups stay in one of the Ranch lodges…

Hersch Lodge

others rough it in the “Heifer Hilton”…

and others choose to experience the way people in under-developed countries live by staying in one of the Global Villages.

Global Village #1 enters at Guatemala house on the left. Thailand and Zambia houses are along the lake.

The education function of the Ranch is expanding in other ways, as well. The Ranch will become an on-site training center to “engage and prepare diverse farmers to succeed in agriculture,” says Perry. “We will engage more low-income, and minority and women farmers in profitable agricultural value chains.”

An exciting apprentice program has also been started. “Through strategic recruitment, this is an opportunity for us to be intentionally inclusive, reaching out to young people–especially women and minorities–in search of the opportunity to get a start in triple bottom line farming,” says Perry. “These apprentices train [for three years, ed.] under real farmers using the same methods that we use in the field; preparing them for success as commercial-scale sustainable farmers.”

With a lean staff, the Ranch, as did the Heifer Project in earlier years, depends on volunteers to accomplish its laudable goals. More about them in my next post.

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Sharing the seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project history at Heifer Ranch in Arkansas

This post will be more personal than my normal posts. My husband Rex and I are currently nearing the end of a two-month stay at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, where I’ve been sequestering myself to work on my book-in-progress about the first decade of the Heifer Project (today’s Heifer International) while Rex has been volunteering in the maintenance department. Quite by coincidence, and fortunately for me, the Heifer International Board of Directors and the Heifer Foundation Board held their meetings at the Ranch this week. The Heifer Board invited me to sit in on Monday, and I am filled with admiration for the incredible talent of Board members and staff alike, appreciation for the work that Heifer is doing both here and abroad, and anticipation of the wonderful things to come.

A highlight of the meeting for me was hearing Senior Vice President of Marketing Christy Moore tell of the marketing team’s visit to Honduras to see for themselves the impact of Heifer’s work there. Today, Heifer is so much more than just giving an animal to recipients, as it was in the beginning. It’s about building sustainable communities, achieving living incomes for community members through their small farms. At the dairy plant the team visited, Heifer has assisted a small business on the verge of closing by providing the owners with help in how to market the cheese they were making, teaching them good manufacturing practices, and providing capital for needed equipment. Heifer’s signature “Passing on the Gift®” value is achieved when the owners are able to pass on the knowledge of hygienic dairy practices to their small farm suppliers. The business has become so successful that families who had migrated to the United States for work are able to move back home because there are jobs for them there now, from the supply end to the marketing end of the cheese business.

Heifer International mission statement guides the Board’s deliberations.

In front of every Board member during the meetings, on the back of their name card, was Heifer’s mission statement. Another highlight for me was hearing of Heifer’s plans to expand their efforts in working at the last part of that statement: taking care of the earth. They already teach the sustainable methods of agriculture to small holder farmers in areas being affected by climate change, methods that help to reclaim, replenish, and protect the soil and water sources. The next step will be to partner with green investors to be able to expand this work to a scale that will help cool the planet.

Heifer President and CEO Pierre Ferrari (on right) addresses environmental impact issues of Heifer’s work. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff MIller.

The third highlight for me was to hear the Board begin their planning for a major global celebration of the organization’s 75th anniversary next year. It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating the 70th! I’m looking forward to seeing what the planning committee comes up with this time around and to participating in whatever ways I’m asked and able.

Heifer’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Christy Moore (second from right) introduces the 75th Anniversary agenda item. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Together again with “Sister” Jan. Photo credit: Jessica Ford.

The culminating highlight of the day for me was to share the evening stage with Heifer founder Dan West’s daughter in what was billed on the Board’s agenda as “An Evening with Jan Schrock and Peggy Miller,” or as Jan likes to call it, “The Jan and Peggy Show.” This is the fourth time we have presented together, with Jan sharing stories about her father and how he became Heifer’s founder and me sharing the history of Heifer’s beginnings, including stories of the seagoing cowboys and Heifer’s legacy. A bonus was having longtime Heifer Executive Director Thurl Metzger’s daughter Kathleen McNamee present to share about her father’s role in purchasing the Heifer Ranch. The Ranch staff created a very festive atmosphere in an outdoor pavilion and served a delicious meal using Ranch-raised meat and produce that set just the right tone for a delightful evening with the Board members, Heifer International’s Leadership Cabinet, and Heifer Ranch/Heifer USA staff and volunteers. A night to be long remembered.

Jan West Schrock tells how her father’s service in World War I set him on a life-long path of working for peace. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff Miller.

It was an honor to share the history of Heifer’s beginnings with the people who carry on its legacy today. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

Next post: A tour of Heifer Ranch with the Heifer Foundation Board.

Thank you, Seagoing Cowboys!

At this time of Thanksgiving, I have much to be thankful for as relates to my work:

First of all, I’m thankful for a supportive husband and family who give me the space and the grace to follow my passion of telling the seagoing cowboy story.

I’m grateful for the tremendous team at Brethren Press who have been hard at work with me to create our upcoming picture book The Seagoing Cowboy to be released in March. Illustrations by Claire Ewart bring the story to life in a “beautifully vivid” way, to quote my publisher, Wendy McFadden. Watch for the “cover reveal” soon.

I’m thankful for and excited about the increasing interest overseas in the seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project stories. I’m working with the Oberschlesisches Landesmuseum in Ratingen, Germany, on an upcoming exhibit that will include a display of the seagoing cowboys and Heifer Project shipments to Silesia after World War II. I’ll share more about that at a later date. And I’m working with Jouko Moisala from Finland on a display related to a famous shipwreck in December 1947 off the coast there involving one of the livestock ships, the SS Park Victory, after it ceased to be used for animals. There will be a 70th anniversary commemoration of this shipwreck in 2017 in which the history of this ship will be displayed. So many good things happening!

And most of all, I’m especially thankful for the many seagoing cowboys who have so graciously shared their stories, their photos, their diaries, and other materials with me. Their stories have been compelling enough to keep me busy for nearly fourteen years now. And what they have given to me enables me to share this fascinating history with the world. They carry a great legacy which is summed up in these lines from a 1946 ad in the Ephrata Review:

Men of good moral and ethical ideals who will conduct themselves in a manner which will be a tribute to their country and the program of which they are a part will be welcomed and respected by the people of Europe. It is felt that by learning to know these people and understanding their problems that the “cowboys” will become more valuable citizens to the country and the world.

And so they have.

The Heifer Foundation has set up a Cowboy Endowment that will help to support the work of Heifer International and honor the seagoing cowboys in the process. I invite you to join me in giving thanks for the service of these men by making today a day of “Thanks” and “Giving.” Learn more here.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!