LA VISTA, Neb. — Howard G. Buffett told U.S. farmers there are 1.5 million families in the United States in poverty.
“We should be ashamed of that,” he recently told the opening session of the National Farmers Union (NFU) convention here. “That’s challenging our country’s soul. We tell people we feed the world, but we’re not feeding our own country.”
Buffett, son of Omaha billionaire Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is a farmer by trade, with a 1,240-acre family farm in Illinois; a 400-acre farm in eastern Nebraska his son operates; and two foundation-operated research farms, one in Illinois and one in South Africa.
HE SPENDS much of his time managing the philanthropic Howard G. Buffett Foundation, dealing with hunger issues around the world.
Before his presentation, Buffett received the NFU’s Meritorious Service to Humanity Award, which in the long history of Farmers Union has been presented only about a half dozen times.
BUFFETT ALSO opened his checkbook. The NFU board backed a drive to raise funds for Feeding America, which aims to feed hungry Americans through a nationwide network of member food banks.
Buffett pledged to match the drive, up to $50,000. NFU vice president Claudia Svarstad revealed the drive topped $55,000 with more funds continuing to come in.
By the end of the night, Buffett added another $50,000 beyond his match.
He also gave attendees a heads up on a new program called Invest an Acre, in which farmers will be asked to give the proceeds of one acre of crops to an anti-hunger program, such as a food bank or Meals on Wheels.
The campaign will be announced officially in April.
“Who better than the U.S. farmer to step up,” he said. “We can lead by example. This group can do it and is doing it.”
Aiding farmers at home and around the world is a long way from when Buffett began farming.
“There are a lot of reasons I farm,” he said. “The biggest, my mother said, was I didn’t have enough Tonka Toys as a child.”
In the early days, it was a challenge to plant the straightest rows.
“NOW, I have the opportunity to work with people around the world,” he said, although it’s still hard to believe these days that farming and hunger can be side by side.
“I always thought it was wrong for farmers to die of malnutrition. There’s something wrong with this picture,” Buffett said.
“Most of the people are not aware of malnutrition in this country.
“Our country exports more corn and wheat than anyone in the world. But, 50 million people are still food insecure. Families are making choices and some choices mean their kids don’t eat.”
He told of a conversation he had with a 6th-grader in Decatur, Ill. The pupil said he wouldn’t get dinner at home that night and that his primary meal of the day was the school lunch.
He said his daughter in Milwaukee inadvertently left her garage door open all night. In the morning, not one of the tools or toys was gone, but the food had been taken from the refrigerator in the garage.
Subsidized school lunches have increased 17 percent since 2007, Buffett said.
“Hunger in this country is behind closed doors. We all need to address hunger any way we can,” he said. “No farmer, no one in this room, would permit a neighbor to go hungry.
“Visit a local soup kitchen — that’s a wake-up call. Go to the local food bank and see a family asking for help.
“Imagine if we had to do this. That’s not the American dream.”