It's been 10 years since I first volunteered for the Heifer Project, a nonprofit based in Arkansas which provides livestock and teaches sustainable farming methods to needy communities around the world. This year when I went back to Arkansas to visit my parents, I visited the Heifer Ranch for the first time in many years. The Heifer Project has grown a great deal since I first volunteered there, and I was pleased to see that it is still true to its principles of sustainbility and passing on the gift.
Although I kind of lost touch with the Heifer Project in my college years, I'm newly impressed with its simple yet powerful approach to economic development which emphasizes teaching long-term skills and requiring recipients to give the first-born offspring of their Heifer animals to other needy families. While a lot of nonprofits have good intentions, lifting people out of poverty is not as easy as just giving away aid, and Heifer is a stellar example of what works. For my birthday this year I set up an online gift registry through the Heifer website, and being able to donate two pigs and a tree to Heifer was incredibly invigorating.
As Heifer now sources gift animals locally, the Ranch in Perryville currently serves mainly as a learning center for youth groups and other visitors. In addition to camels, goats, horses, and other animals which represent those it sends to poor families, the ranch is home to several global village sites with working models of gardens, animal shelters, and homes which show how people live and survive around the world. The ranch is about 45 miles outside of Little Rock, so if you're in town I definitely recommend a visit. In addition, their new headquarters in Little Rock right next to the Clinton Foundation headquarters is housed in a sleek green building which also hosts tours for visitors.
I couldn't come home without getting some souvenirs, and of course I opted for edible goodies from the gift shop. I couldn't resist the cookie cutter in the shape of Heifer's jumping cow logo, and when I got home I made delicious vegan gingerbread cookies. In addition, I got mango and marula preserves from Swaziland and Divine Chocolate from the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative in Ghana. The preserves were an exotic treat - simple, honest, and not too sweet. Marula is a fruit native to Africa that has served as an ancient source of nutrition to humans dating back tens of thousands of years. Its flavor reminds me most of lingonberries from Sweden with almost malty overtones. Divine chocolate is clean and smooth with an excellent flavor for a mid-afternoon chocolate fix (or for breakfast, as I often take my chocolate!).