By Katherine Klingseis, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sonia Kendrick, senior in agronomy, will have taken 100 miles worth of steps before even beginning her walk across the stage at Hilton Coliseum to receive her diploma during the May 5 commencement ceremony.
Kendrick, an army and National Guard veteran, plans to walk from Cedar Rapids, where she lives with her husband and two daughters, to Ames over the course of four days. She will begin on May 1, and she plans to reach Ames on May 4. The next day, she will go to Hilton to receive her bachelor’s degree.
The 100-mile trek is to raise awareness for the hungry in Iowa and for Feed Iowa First, the organization Kendrick founded to support beginning farmers and to help feed the hungry in Iowa, Kendrick said.
Feed Iowa First aims to help feed Iowans by creating a stronger local food system. She said the name came from her belief that Iowa should worry more about feeding its residents
“There’s a saying that Iowa feeds the world,” Kendrick said. “I just wanted to say, feed Iowa first, then let’s worry about feeding the rest of the world.”
Kendrick said Iowa should stop relying so heavily on food exports from other states and countries because it takes the burning of fossil fuels to deliver the food to Iowa, which does not support a sustainable future.
She also said Iowa should increase its food production in order to secure a better future for the next generation.
“This is a big deal for me because I have kids,” Kendrick said. “I think, ‘What kind of world are they going to be in?’”
To reduce Iowa’s dependence on foreign exports and increase food production in the state, Kendrick came up with a plan to help beginning farmers by working with them to farm local gardens in Linn County.
She said this will help the farmers gain money and experience for them to later use to get loans to buy their own farmland, something that is difficult for farmers who did not grow up in farming families to accomplish.
Kendrick said she created Feed Iowa First to help feed hungry Iowans while also helping beginning farmers.
“We need new farmers, and we need food for the people now, so why not combine those two and try to kill two birds with one stone,” Kendrick said.
After coming up with the idea, Kendrick’s next task was to figure out where to get the land for the beginning farmers to farm.
She said it would take 500 acres of farmland for farmers to produce enough food to feed all those who are hungry in Linn County.
Kendrick worked with the Geographic Information Systems Support and Research Facility to find out how much available land there was in Cedar Rapids and its surrounding towns.
The research showed there were more than 800 acres of under-utilized space surrounding churches in the area.
Working with Pastor Allen Biere of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Cedar Rapids, Kendrick created a model of what she envisioned for Feed Iowa First.
She did this by farming the land located in the backyard of the church and then giving the food produced in the garden to local food pantries.
Biere said the Alliance Church and Kendrick share a common vision: to feed the hungry. After a year of working together, Biere said the church and Kendrick now have a wonderful, mutually beneficial relationsip.
“I can’t even begin to think how many hours [Kendrick] put in to the project,” Biere said. “[Kendrick] is a dynamic woman with a lot of passion and vision. We admire her tremendously.”
Kendrick plans to model Feed Iowa First after her work with the Alliance Church. But, she said she cannot farm all of Iowa.
So, Kendrick said she will hire beginning farmers and will work with them for a year.
After a year, the farmers will be sent to build urban farms on their own. The farmers will spend two years at the urban farms.
At that point, the farmers will have three years of managerial experience, which will enable them to apply for loans to buy their own farmland.
After the farmers leave, the original owners of the land will have the choice to continue farming the land or to return it to its original state, Kendrick said.
She said she and her fellow Feed Iowa First members will help the owners with whatever they choose to do.
To raise awareness for Feed Iowa First, Kendrick plans to walk the same 100-mile route she took to get to classes two to three times a week for the past six semesters.
She said she is doing this because Iowa State is the “center of agriculture in Iowa.”
“People look to Iowa State for direction in agriculture,” Kendrick said. “I’m coming from a place where I experienced first hand the hunger and the need in our communities, and I’m going to bring that message to Iowa State. And I want to bring that message to our state.”
Kendrick said she has been walking, but still has a sedentary lifestyle.
She said she think the journey will be hard. However, she said her feelings will match those who are hungry in Iowa.
“This will be really hard for me, but you know, I think it might represent how it is hard for Iowa. We’re not exactly taking care of ourselves right now, but we’re going to have to make the extra effort to go the extra mile to make a change,” Kendrick said. “It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be hard, but we really have to think about the future.”
(Posted originally on Iowastatedaily.com on April 30, 2012)