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What is From the Ground Up?

From the Ground Up is a campaign of American Jewish World Service to empower local farmers so they can create sustainable, long-term food solutions for their families and communities. Too many people are dying from a lack of food because misguided food policies support agribusiness instead of local farmers. As Jews, we can’t accept a world that’s so needlessly broken.

Global hunger seems like a huge, unsolvable problem. It’s big in scope, sure, but working together we can make important changes. We must advocate for trade policies and food aid programs that will empower farmers in the developing world to use the ground beneath their feet to grow food locally and sustainably.

Food is a Jewish Issue

So why should Jews care about global hunger? Let’s get back to basics for a second. A huge part of being Jewish is the food. Think about it. Grandma’s chicken noodle soup. Challah for Shabbat. Lox and bagels on Sunday morning. But seriously, it’s more – much more – than that. In the words of Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 3:21: Without sustenance, there is no Torah. In other words, without food, there is no education; no progress; no justice.

If food is fundamental to Judaism, then its inverse – hunger – is antithetical to living a Jewish life. As Jews, it’s our responsibility to help create a more just world, and that includes making sure that everyone has access to the food they need. And given that global hunger is entirely preventable – what are we waiting for?

Food for all: There’s more than enough to go around

Did you know that there isn’t an actual food shortage? To repeat: there’s no actual food shortage! In 2008 the global cereal harvest of 2.2 billion tons was at least double global consumption. Access to adequate food is a basic human right. So if that’s the case, why are so many people on our planet starving?

Historically, people have subsisted on foods grown in nearby fields. But today, thanks to free trade agreements, farmers in developing countries are forced to compete with wealthy, multinational agribusiness. This has decimated small-scale sustainable farms because local farmers can’t profit when their goods are sold alongside a flood of subsidized, mass-produced low-quality food.

What’s different about From the Ground Up?

Unlike many organizations involved in fighting hunger, AJWS generally doesn’t provide food handouts. While this might appear to be a good short-term solution – and we do give food relief during times of disaster, such as the 2004 tsunami or the cyclone in Burma in spring 2008 – it’s an ineffective way to end global hunger and, in some ways, actually perpetuates it.

AJWS’s philosophy is basedon the highest rung of Maimonides’ ladder of tzedakah, which is designed to make the recipient self-sufficient. Or drawing on other traditions, our approach is aligned with the Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Of course, it’s not just about men and it’s not just about fishing. People want to be able to feed themselves and need to do so if they have any hope of breaking out of the cycle of poverty and oppression that leads to hunger, generation after generation.

Through food aid reform, advocacy and grantmaking, AJWS is supporting more than 80 grassroots organizations in Africa, Asia and Latin and Central America that are putting food production back in the hands of local communities—teaching farmers to grow crops using sustainable farming methods; endowing communities with seed banks and harvest storage facilities; empowering indigenous communities to advocate for their land and water rights; ending support of international agribusiness, and much more.

Read More

Fighting Hunger from the Ground Up: Manifesto

Fighting Hunger from the Ground Up: At a Glance

On the Ground with...

Lambi Fund of Haiti Sowing the seeds of independence
Kisumu Medical Education Trust (K-MET) Improving the nutrition of people living with HIV/AIDS and reducing malnutrition in children in Kenya
Kilili Self-Help Project (KSHP) Investing in local farmers in Kenya
GREEN Senegal Tripling the output of small-scale farmers in Senegal
Association for Women’s Agricultural Produce on Earth (AMSATI) Empowering women to farm for a sustainable future in El Salvador
Association for Community Development of the Cienaga Grande (ASPROCIG) Restoring food security through ingenuity and tradition in Colombia
Asociación de San Isidro Cabanas (ASIC) Supporting access to clean water in El Salvador
Asociación Cooperativa “Marta González” (ACAMG) Promoting the economic autonomy of Salvadoran women