It was on a trip in 2001 through Mali in West Africa when Jock Brandis found inspiration to start the Full Belly Project. His reason for visiting was to work on a water treatment system for a small village. After seeing the local women shelling sun-dried peanuts by hand and coming away with rough and bloody skin, he knew there must be a way to help. Thus, Full Belly was born.
Jessica Russell talks to Full Belly founder Jock Brandis and executive director Amanda Coulter about the upcoming sweet 16 Feast gala. Photo courtesy of Amanda Coulter
Brandis has lived a life full of creativity and giving, so it is not hard to believe he is the founder of a nonprofit. He’s worked on films as a gaffer and cinematographer, but he’s also volunteered with charitable organizations like Cuso International and Oxfam. Through all his adventures in film and charity, Brandis realized he had a passion for inventing also. “When I was 7,” Brandis remembers, “I wanted to be a mad scientist. Now, here I am. I have the most fun job in Wilmington.”
During his Mali visit, Brandis encountered a woman who asked if, back in the States, he could find an affordable peanut sheller for their village. Peanuts are the main source of income for many in the village as the crop is more lucrative than others, so upon returning to the U.S. Brandis looked into finding a sheller to help.
“[Peanuts] are by far the best product to bring to market,” Brandis explains. “It’s easy to transport and it gets you a lot of money. You can carry a hundred pounds of firewood on your head and not get much for it, but carry 15 pounds of peanuts on your head and you’ll get five times more.”
Unfortunately, finding an affordable peanut sheller proved difficult, so Brandis decided to create one instead. He began by contacting Dr. Tim Williams of the University of Georgia whose research heavily covers peanut-crop production. Williams pointed him toward a Bulgarian Peanut Shelling design. Brandis adapted the design with the help of his friend, Wes Perry, and went through several redesigns before completing the Universal Nut Sheller in 2002.
In 2003 Brandis teamed up with a group of returned Peace Corps volunteers to create the Full Belly Project and bring his Universal Nut Sheller to people across the globe. Now, the machine is available on five different continents and has helped the shelling process by speeding it up 50 times faster. Yet, Brandis’ mission has not stopped there.
“We’re trying to help people get more profit from a day’s labor and a plot of land,” he tells. “It’s efficiency. If we can help a farmer grow crops through the dry season and get three harvests instead of one, then it becomes a huge boom.”
He has expanded the nonprofit organization’s products to include rocker water pumps, hand-washing stations, soap presses, solar water pumps, and bag board desks. “A lot of things that people need in places like Uganda now,” Brandis mentions, “are sitting in front of a museum in Ohio. It’s stuff we may have needed in 1915, but they need now.”
The group’s Tanzania Project brought some of their hand-washing stations to the children in Arusha through a partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots and Shoots program. The stations contain recycled materials and use 90 percent less water than traditional washing systems. Before, the children would often go to school all day without being able to wash their hands, but now they can fight germs and prevent disease. “Being healthy is a key part of efficiency,” Brandis says.
Another of Full Belly’s projects is the Soap for Hope campaign, in partnership with the group Diversey. Full Belly developed soap presses for the partnership to provide a better means of sanitation for disadvantaged communities. The presses use recycled soap waste, generated by hotels and repress it into bars for the community’s use. The soap press also provides an income for locals in the communities, who work as soap makers in repressing the bars.
In 2018 Full Belly staffs an army of volunteers to help Brandis in his mission. Their products have reached 67 different countries and have helped communities thrive through self-efficacy.
This year, Full Belly is celebrating their “Sweet 16,” or their 16th annual Full Belly Feast. For the past 15 years the celebration has remained roughly the same, but 2018 is the year they are reinventing the feast with sponsorships through Jammin’ 99.9 and Sunny 103.7. It will take place at the Brooklyn Arts Center downtown and include a red carpet for the true Hollywood treatment. There will also be performances by Wilmington’s own rockabilly group The Phantom Playboys, which includes Brandis’ daughter, Maaike.
“This year we’re under so many changes,” says Amanda Coulter, the executive director of Full Belly. “We’re transforming and looking more toward the future and how we can help more people, both locally and globally. We changed our mission and vision, so we thought, ‘Let’s change the feast.’”
The upcoming feast will include passed hors d’oeuvres through event sponsor Milner’s Café and Catering and a full cash bar. A silent auction will take place, with donations from local artists like Dick Roberts, Jazz Undy and Doug Dupuis. Gift certificates also will be available at the auction for the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, West Meadow Spa and the Literary Loft at Old Books on Front St.
“The coolest thing about [the feast] is you can come and have a good time,” Coulter notes, “but just by coming and buying a ticket, you are helping us enrich the lives of our local community and help empower people around the world to improve their own lives.”