By Jeb Bing
Plant With Purpose helping families to grow out of povertyUploaded: Jul 16, 2018
It's estimated that 800 million people suffer from hunger daily and 85% of them are subsistence farmers, living in rural areas of the world, totally dependent on their environment.
Dave Luebkeman (pictured), a Danville businessman and active in the town's Community Presbyterian Church, got a feel for those statistics in 2007 when he ventured to Burundi for his first-ever mission trip. He saw that real people live on the other side of the world living their lives just as we do, but without access to abundant resources.
After a few more visits to Africa and South America, Luebkeman knew at some point that he wanted to work with a faith-based organization seeking to improve people's lives.
"Never did I imagine that my trip to Burundi would lead me to Plant With Purpose, yet here I am, its regional representative for the San Francisco Bay Area," Luebkeman said in remarks at a recent luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of Pleasanton.
Although he knew nothing about the organization, Luebkeman found Plant With Purpose's website inspiring. Its work in training and educating people in sustainable farming techniques and savings methods to help secure a better future was different than most nonprofits.
He found Plant With Purpose's methods to build people's dignity by having those it serves do the work to better their life appealing.
"It's not about handouts; it's about empowerment, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it and tell others about it," Luebkeman said.
So, after 30 years of work in the finance field, including 14 years at Bank of America and 14 years as chief financial officer of Brookfield Residential Properties' Bay Area division, he seized the opportunity to join Plant With Purpose.
The nonprofit "restores the world one farmer at a time," he said. "That's a bold statement, perhaps, but our programs help families to increase farm yields, heal damaged ecosystems, improve nutrition, increase household savings and provide greater economic opportunity."
He said that combined, this integrated program solves two major issues facing the world today: environmental degradation and rural poverty.
Those 800 million people who don't have enough food are Plant With Purpose's market, according to Luebkeman. Many of these are farmers who, when they find their land turning sour, chop down more trees to clear more land for farming. It's a vicious cycle that deprives the farmland of soil nutrients and shade.
Representatives from Plant With Purpose partner with these farming families to help them learn the needs of forest preservation skills and forest conservation, increasing crop yields and also equipping them with financial tools so they can save income from their farms.
"The first thing we do is to convince the farmers to plant trees," Luebkeman said, explaining that trees help provide top soil, shade and ground stability. "We focus on trees because they are the cornerstone of everything that the farmer has to work with."
Since Plant With Purpose started in 1984, the organization has helped plant more than 26 million trees around the world.
The nonprofit is now operating in eight countries, with each of the operations run by local teams. It stays in an area no longer than seven-nine years, with local farmers taking full control of programs after Plant With Purpose leaves and moves its resources to a new area.
"The farmers we help tell us that they've never had a future before, but because of Plant With Purpose, their farms are thriving again," Luebkeman said.