Hear the word "billionaire," and what’s the farthest thing from your mind? Is it "farmer?"
Raise your hand if you said "farmer." It’s true that most farmers aren’t rich, and that most wealthy people don’t farm. But when the rare traits of agricultural passion and huge gobs of money intersect, you can end up with the sort of inventive grantmaking that Howard G. Buffett practices.
Buffett, of course, is the son of the legendary investor Warren Buffett—the oldest son, to be exact, and yes, he's a real farmer. He's also a major philanthropist and, armed with a piece of his dad's fortune, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation has zeroed in on food insecurity as its top issue, a passion that's led to a great deal of work in developing countries and funding on related issues, such as water and even mitigating armed conflict.
But while the Buffett Foundation is best known for its work in the poorest countries in the world, it also works on food insecurity in the United States.
The foundation started leaning more heavily into U.S. anti-hunger initiatives in 2010. That year, the foundation made its first gift, of $500,000, to Feeding America, and that organization has gone on to become one of the biggest recipients of Howard W. Buffett Foundation money.
In 2012, as Feeding America was gearing up to begin reporting for its "Hunger in America 2014" study, Buffet contributed nearly $3 million to make the study more comprehensive than ever before. “When I walk up to a congressperson, I can talk about the big picture of hunger in the U.S., but I can also say, ‘Let me show you what hunger looks like in your district, and what it would take to meet that gap,’" says Buffett.
Buffett has also supported work against hunger in Nebraska, where his foundation backed a 2013 effort called Invest An Acre, which called on farmers to donate one acre's worth of their annual harvest to address hunger in their neighborhoods. Nebraska is one of the top food-producing states in the U.S., yet one in seven residents regularly experiences hunger.
Leave it to a farmer to understand how much food we’re growing in this country, and the absurdity that anyone should be hungry at all. “People are hungry not because there aren’t enough farmers or food, but because they don’t have access to it or can’t afford it,” he says.
In other words, it’s a distribution problem, not a supply problem. And Buffett thinks he can help fix that.