Sonia Kendrick, who founded Feed Iowa First, a non-profit organization in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was among a small group of local leaders across the nation recognized by the White House recently as “Women Veteran Leader Champions of Change.” The event on March 25 honored women veterans, highlighting their incredible contributions to the country’s business, public and community-service sectors.
Kendrick served in Afghanistan and upon her return was drawn to fighting hunger issues in Iowa through locally-grown food. By identifying available land around churches and other sites in the Cedar Rapids area and securing access to it, she and other volunteers have grown, harvested and donated thousands of pounds of fresh produce to local food pantries and the Meals on Wheels program.
Working closely with USDA Farm Service Agency Iowa State Executive Director John Whitaker and others, Kendrick has created a platform that not only provides access to fresh, health and locally-grown food but creates an opportunity for returning veterans. She has found a great interest in farming among her fellow veterans and engagement with Feed Iowa First is providing experiences that may lead them to a relationship with USDA.
“Through Feed Iowa First, Kendrick has offered other veterans and refugees the opportunity to gain valuable farming knowledge which will help them be successful in their future farming operations,” Whitaker said. “Sonia has played an integral role in educating new farmers about the many FSA loan programs designed to assist them to get started on their own.”
Kendrick works tirelessly to build partnerships, find new alliances, and spread her vision for veterans helping to feed the hungry. She is active in the Iowa Farmer Veteran Coalition and serves as a liaison between that organization and veterans looking at a future in agriculture.
Kendrick estimates it will take 500 acres to provide adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables to the 25,000 people hungry in Linn County in eastern Iowa. Her research indicates 800 acres of underutilized land is owned by churches in Cedar Rapids, Marion and Hiawatha alone.
“What Feed Iowa First is doing in rural and urban areas is really taking off,” Whitaker added. “Just look around at the explosion of farmers markets, the explosion of local and regional food systems and the number of folks who want that type of food.”
Kendrick is the first to admit farming is hard work. She believes that if anyone has farming in their heart, that doors should be open to allow them to farm.
Indeed, new doors are opening thanks to Feed Iowa First.