Little Rock is the home of Heifer Project International, a charitable concern which maintains a farm and ranch and teaching facility near Perryville along highway 9 right across the road from Harris Brake.
The Heifer Project's modest goal -- nix famine globally. Here's the plan, oversimplified by me: They gather money from donors, and rather than buying food and distributing it to the poor, they distribute live animals and training in sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry practices. For those of you (and you know who you are) who can only understand concepts when simplified into metaphorical aphorisms (preferably rhyming ones) here goes: "Give a man a fish. Feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, blah blah blah blay."
The project began when Dan West, an American relief worker in Spain, during the dress rehearsal for World War II, was dishing out cups of milk to refugee children. Suddenly he realized, "These kids don't need me scooping out powdered milk so much as they need cows a-squirting out the real thing." I paraphrase, of course. Upon returning to the U.S., West bought this Arkansas property and started raising cattle to ship to Europe. In another flash of inspiration, West figured on sending cattle on a two-for-one basis by shipping pregnant heifers, thus "The Heifer Project."
What started with milk cows now includes everything from bees to buffalo, chickens to chinchillas, ducks to dairy goats. This farm no longer ships animals far away. It's much more cost effective to buy the livestock locally. The Arkansas ranch today serves to educate visiting Americans about living conditions in the rest of the world and to teach instructors who will in turn be sent out to teach these earth-friendly techniques to the desperately needy.
Drop by for a visit. It makes for a great afternoon outing for a scout troop or a church group. They've got demonstrations set up regarding terrace farming, brick making, drip irrigation, photovoltaic cells, how to generate cooking gas from a manure slurry (ewwwwww!), rooftop gardening and low-impact everything. Then of course there are lots of animals around as well as examples of living conditions from around the world. They've got a typical Appalachian cabin, a typical barrio shack, and other quarters billed as typical of Southeast Asia and Africa.
This assortment of hovels is known collectively as The Global Village. For $20 a person, your group of fifteen or more can spend the night there and draw lots to see which of you will be lucky enough to sleep in the barrio shack after a meal of a half-cup of rice. The Guatemalan house gets a rabbit and some vegetables. The African house has the only potable water. That's a picture of the African house on the far bank of the pond on the right. The Appalachian house has the only supply of firewood. A lesson in sharing, right?
Here's where I come off callous and cynical. Famine has two causes. The first cause is political. Just like the Spanish Civil War that kicked off this project, some gangster thug President-for-Life takes action to starve some population into submission. Wars, refugees, graft and corruption all attenuate the food supply so that those dangling at the bottom of the rope fall into life-threatening poverty. The problem in Spain was not an underabundance of cows so much as an overabundance of Francos.
The second cause is natural. It's a well-established biological principle that, unless artificially controlled, a population will expand until it exhausts some limiting resource like food or water. Food production is not constant, but varies from year to year. There will be periodic famines so long as there is no slack between production and consumption, and it is the natural tendency of a population to take up that slack.
Think I'm too pessimistic? Think I'm wrong? Compare the percentage of humanity living in famine conditions today to the percentage of humanity living in famine conditions ten years ago. Or twenty years ago for that matter. Now draw a chart of relief spending over the last twenty years. Draw a chart of the Red Cross budget over the same period of time. Spending goes up, but does famine go down? Now ask yourself if all this effort is really making a dent or if there might be some unaddressed factors causing all this suffering. Go ahead. Get back to me with those figures. Not to belittle the efforts of the Heifer Project. They have improved the lives of thousands of people worldwide, but to take a serious shot at ending famine-as-a-way-of-life will require that the food requirements of the population not expand beyond worst-case-scenario annual food production AND that political concerns don't block the distribution of food.
Oh yeah, HPI also has a gift shop at the ranch where they sell goodies from all the countries where they have ongoing projects.
P.S. Here's a link to the Heifer Project International website. Go ahead. Save the world. Knock yourself out.