Dear Mr Coy:
This is an open letter to you in response to the opinion piece that you published in the Dec. 26, 2022 edition of the NYT entitled, The Thorny Questions Raised by Charitable Giving. In your article, you raised a number of questions.
What are the proper roles of government and philanthropy? Is it better to help the needy directly or to try to change the world? Should one give locally or globally? Is the growing trend to depend on the ultrawealthy good for philanthropy?
My perspectives on the questions that you raised have been coloured by my recent re-entry into the field of philanthropy. In response to our concern about climate change, our family started a private operating foundation called the Climate Change Permaculture Project (CCPP).
The mission of the foundation is to create a critical mass of farmers who will adopt regenerative farming practices to reverse the effects of climate change and help to address food insecurity. If you do a little bit of Internet research, you will find that former-Vice President Al Gore recently bought a 400-acre farm, outside Nashville, Tennessee, where he is doing exactly the same thing.
CCPP’s main activity is the Permaculture Incubator Program (PIP)—like a small business incubator, only for regenerative agriculture. We have applied for government funding and written to private foundations for grants, to implement the programme, without success.
Therefore, I have little confidence in either government or philanthropy to make appropriate funding decisions. After coming to this realization, we decided to move forward on our own. We bought a four-bedroom house sitting on 2.5 acres of prime farmland where CCPP can implement its incubator program.
The plan is to lodge four incubator program trainees in the house and to subdivide the two acres, into four, half-acre plots which will be assigned to the trainees. The trainees will receive instruction in regenerative agriculture from world-class permaculture experts and will put what they learn in the classroom into practice on their plots.
The trainees will sell their produce in the local farmers’ market. They will be encouraged to share their abundance with the local foodbank. The Soil Inventory Project, the same organization that is working with Al Gore, will help us to measure the amount of carbon that we are able to sequester.
This leads me to conclude that your question, is it better to help the needy directly or to try and change the world, is a false dichotomy. With careful design, programs can accomplish both purposes at the same time. And, it is possible to give a local gift that addresses global issues.
When we bought the property for the incubator program, we pretty much maxed out our resources. But there are still things that need to be done for the program to be successful: put up deer fencing, drill a well, and build a climate battery greenhouse.
Based on the assumption that the ultrawealthy and their foundations are out of touch with the needs of the grassroots, we plan to try a person-to-person approach. Early in the new year we will launch a crowdsource funding campaign. We are placing our confidence in regular people instead of the ultrawealthy to make a change.