Saturday, March 24, marked the Full Belly Project’s first gala at the Brooklyn Arts Center, and it included a new look, a new mission statement, and a new goals to go with the new location! The result was an extraordinary evening to benefit one of Wilmington’s most popular nonprofit organizations. There was a sensational silent auction that featured fine art, catering by the brilliant Milner’s Café and Catering, adult beverages supplied by the BAC Cash Bar, and a live soundtrack to the proceedings provided by the fabulous Phantom Playboys. (Did someone say dancing?)
The Full Belly Project is a wonderful, Wilmington-based nonprofit that designs and distributes income-generating devices to improve lives in rural communities. Jock Brandis, the founder of the Full Belly Project, first visited a small village in Mali in 2001 to fix their water treatment system. A woman there told him that it would be a great help to their village if he could help them find an affordable peanut sheller. After a year of prototypes and tweaking the designs, the Universal Nut Sheller was born—the Full Belly Project’s first device. In addition to the Universal Nut Sheller, which can shell a 100-pound bag of peanuts in just an hour, the Full Belly Project and its volunteers have created five other products: the rocker water pump, a hand-washing station, a soap press in collaboration with Soap for Hope, a solar water pump, and the bag board desk.
“We’ve been big on technology and making that more efficient,” said Brandis. “But we’re starting to realize that economic justice for farmers is more important. The products of their labor are still essentially going to be stolen from them by food cartels. If we’re supporting small farmers around the world, we can support them in more ways than [giving them] gizmos that make their land more productive.”
To that end, the Full Belly Project is putting into motion a new way for food to be tracked from farmer to buyer. “At the village level, it’s the safest, healthiest, and most organic food,” said Brandis. “But then it lands in the hands of cartels that completely ruin it.” Creating a record of the chain of custody for food products will ultimately make the process safer and more reliable. “We’re teaching people to test food for safety in the villages and the co-ops, and then everything is being barcoded for quick scanning so that as this food moves through the system, it can be tracked,” said Brandis. “Africa is the land of anonymous bags of food. Some of them might be two, three years old—no one knows. The quality has been so disastrous at the export level that eventually the European markets were shut off.”
“We’ve always targeted any farmer or community that needs our help,” said Full Belly Project Executive Director Amanda Coulter. “We design for developing countries, but it makes so much sense to use the products here [in the US] as well. We’re giving Wilmingtonians the opportunity to make a global impact directly through making the machines that are going to end up in the hands of people who need them all over the world.”