FARM STEW began as an idea several years ago but launched in Uganda in the fall of 2015. Joy Kauffman, MPH, a Nutritionist with a Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins, and Master Gardener from the University of Illinois was serving with the USAID Farmer to Farmer program in the Iganga District in Uganda. Joy's official assignment was to work with a farming cooperative whose 60,000 members had decided they wanted assistance learning to process the soybeans they grow. Before departure, Joy was blessed to discover research by retired Penn State Nutrition Professor Dorothy Blair who had conducted extensive fieldwork in Uganda with soy (called Soya in Africa) and had developed essential tools for addressing malnutrition in Eastern Africa and beyond. During several phone conversations, she encouraged Joy to think big and disseminate broadly.
Once in Uganda, in partnership with Robert Lubega (an Agricultural Extension agent for the cooperative) and Steven Mugabi (a Soya Entrepreneur who volunteered with the team), we conducted hands-on nutrition and cooking classes, featuring soy and vegetables and using the Bible as our primary text. Over the course of a two-day training, with 4-5 hours per day, we taught both the basics of a whole-foods, plant-based diet (which is critical as most participants are vegetarians by economic necessity), child nutrition, and the importance of soaking grains and legumes to increase the bioavailability of nutrients. We also conducted a hands-on cooking class: making soya milk, using the residual, protein-rich "okara" as a flour to add to porridge (busera and posho), eating green soya (edamame), and the rainbow pot of vegetables with whole cooked soya beans. The community response was tremendously positive.
Robert was particularly thrilled with the fact that, except for information that was practical and immediately applicable, we were bringing in nothing from outside the village. He and Steven captured the hearts of the people. As time progressed, it was wonderful to see the interaction and the skilled facilitation that happened naturally when these leaders conducted classes in their local language. They captured the attention and the heart of class participants.
We became convinced that we needed to produce high-quality, simple instructional materials that we could give as a gift to the communities in which we trained. This way, from the beginning we would be training trainers and multiply the work. Edward Kawesa, a local computer store owner, came to the rescue. He transformed ideas into graphics that spoke clearly of the culture, communicating health and nutritional information.
The idea for the team began to take shape over the rest of the time Joy was in Uganda and catalyzed when we met Betty Mwesigwa, a local woman who had significant knowledge of processing soya that she had learned while at college studying for her Nutrition, Catering and Hotel Management degree. That same day a young woman, Phiona Bogere, approached Joy during a cooking class saying, "I want to be part of your team." This was before Joy had mentioned to anyone that the Holy Spirit had already laid on her heart that a team should be formed to continue the work. For the first ten months, Joy financed FARM STEW from her wages, earned by managing a USDA grant to her local health department where she worked with small farmers promoting their locally grown crops and whole foods and a plant-based diet in rural Illinois.
With God's help, this team of five Ugandans, in partnership with Joy, has been working together since October 2015. Additionally, Joy and Steven spent the month of March 2016 in Zimbabwe with the It Is Written campaign serving as Health Presenters and teaching at the Foundations for Farming annual conference. Thousands of people in attendance and 50 pariticpated in hands-on classes. During 2016 FARM STEW International grew into an independent, not for profit organization that registered with the IRS as a 501(c)3, charitable organization.
FARM STEW International has a diverse Board of Directors. Joy Kauffman, MPH, serves as President and CEO. Jacob Oyier, P.E. as Vice President, is a Civil Professional Engineer originally from Kenya but now employed by the Illinois Department of Transportation! He is our Water and Sanitation expert. Bernard Taylor with a Masters in Global Community Development, who has worked in Africa on many short-term assignments, is our Treasurer. Cherri Olin from Princeton IL is our administrative leader, and Dr. Arlene Vigilia, MD from California, who had traveled to over 30 countries as a Medical Missionary, rounded out the Board of Directors as a lifestyle medicine advisor. Sadly Dr. Vigilia passed away in May 2017 and will forever be missed. A few months later we were blessed with the addition of Patricia LaVanture, a health educator with extensive organization experience in OCI and ASI.
FARM STEW in Uganda and FARM STEW Zimbabwe are both Community Based Organizations in their respective countries. The boards of directors of these organizations are made up of people from the country, and they are locally accountable and report to FARM STEW International.
To God be the glory as we seek wisdom and discernment from Him!