Contributed photo (above): Caledon farmer Joe Gray is pictured at a recent S.H.A.R.E. Agricultural Foundation strategic planning meeting
Recently JSC interviewed and published a story on long-time Caledon farmer Joe Gray. A highlight of Joe’s extensive community volunteerism is his relationship with S.H.A.R.E. Agriculture Foundation. It is a history that has spanned 39 years and continues to this day.
Joe explains that S.H.A.R.E. was founded as a charity by a few prominent Peel farmers plus their agricultural rep Bob Bell in December 1976. The group’s first project was sending 38 purebred Holstein heifers and three Holstein bulls to an Agriculture School in Mossoro, Brazil. Once the heifers started calving and producing milk, it was decided that all the bull calves were not needed so they resolved to auction them off.
“Our Canadian Holstein cattle are world known to be some of the best” says Joe. “Therefore rich Brazilian farmers would pay a premium for these bull calves. The money raised was put into a loan fund for poor families in need. These people had very little assets, so could not borrow from banks where interest rates were unbelievably high. So this loan fund went to needy families at very low interest rates, sometimes none.”
As a result of the loans many recipients were better able to feed their families, get a start, and move out of poverty. The money was used to purchase seeds, chickens, goats, and fund many other small enterprises.
“This went on for many years and they could not receive another amount until they paid their first loan off” Joe continues. “It worked very well.”
“One of the spin offs from the cattle at the agricultural school in Mossoro was to supply three litres of milk daily to the nearby orphanage. This was Hugh Beaty’s idea. He and his wife Melba had a dairy farm near Milton. They sold their cattle and farm equipment and went to Brazil for two years to provide training on how to look after our Holstein cattle.”
“Sister Ellen was looking after that orphanage and school and still does. I just received an email from her this past December and, in her exact words, they receive 60 litres of the best milk in Brazil which they use for the children at her school plus many other poor families in that neighbourhood. That initial project that is still benefiting poor people over 45 years later!” says Joe proudly.
Joe is clearly inspired by the fact that “one of our bulls, from one of our best cow families, plus all his offspring, have made a difference in many cattle in Brazil. To a breeder that means a lot.”
Another proud memory was when Joe was in El Salvador, in 1999, monitoring with Les Frayne a Project Manager. “I saw a young girl leading a small heifer calf to a neighbour, smiling from ear to ear. Her family had received a heifer a few years earlier to start a herd and now they were doing our pass on principle. We ask that, where feasible to do so, our recipients must give a female calf to another needy family so the ripple effect carries on. They are always very grateful and pleased to help out someone else in turn.”
Joe says that S.H.A.R.E.’s largest project Families & Land II covers El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras & Haiti. It is a $650,000.00 yearly project and $400,000.00 of that needs to be raised by S.H.A.R.E. each year. He says remaining $250,000.00 is generously covered by two family foundations. Joe tells us that this project covers most of the challenges that impoverished people have in developing countries.
“Our good Southern Partners, normally one in each country, oversee our projects and inform us of what is truly needed – that may be money, training, irrigation, seeds, trees, eco stoves, water filters or wells – for examples” explains Joe. “The Partner handles the funds, hires the trainers, purchases product and whatever is needed. They report back to us quarterly or whenever is required. There is no point of us offering help that is unneeded or unwanted. These communities have their own culture and we recognize and respect that they need a hand up, not a hand out.”
“It’s important to remember that the people we are helping have many challenges. Many do not have a roof over their head. Some live in tar paper shacks, with dirt floors. Some have no potable water. Some work over open fires in their hut, with the smoke causing lung and eye problems and a constant danger to toddlers. In dry areas crop failures are caused by lack of rain plus lack of agricultural and other skills training, and education. In some of the areas where we have projects the average daily wage is less than some of us spend on a coffee each morning. But we know how to improve these issues, and so do our recipients, so we work to bring them out of poverty.”
Joe was nominated to the S.H.A.R.E. board in January 1984 and stayed until 2000. He was appointed Treasurer in January 1985 and held that position till October 2020.
“This I could not have done without two really dedicated ladies” Joe readily admits. “First Debbie Armstrong, and then Trudy Blackburn, to whom I am very grateful for their help.”
Joe has also filled in because of a few vacancies over the years. He has been on projects, fundraising, and finance. He has also been on newsletter committees, and does most of the proof reading earning him the nick name “Eagle eye.”
“My new position, as of November 1st, 2020, is Donor Relations officer, again with the help of Trudy. And in 2022 we added Bruce Speirs and Peter Armstrong to the committee, in hopes that I can step aside in the future.”
“I find most of our projects very rewarding to me personally as they are all are helping impoverished families towards a much healthier and wealthier life. I believe that we are all brothers and sisters. The only difference is they were born in a developing country and we were born here, in a country that has everything. Here we complain sometimes and I’m really not sure why.”
Joe tells us that S.H.A.R.E. is 100% volunteer-driven enabling over 96% of donations to go straight to the projects. As all organizations they are being impacted by inflation and they are very happy to speak with you about donations, leaving a legacy, volunteering, and other ways to help.