Foodgrains growing projects overcome a challenging year

The final numbers won’t be in until all of the harvest is sold, but it was another successful — and busy year — for Alberta’s growing projects that raise money for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

As of late January, $1.9 million had been raised from 30 growing projects with several more still to report. In a growing project, farmers provide the equipment and labour to seed, grow, and harvest crops on land that has been rented or donated for the season. Companies typically donate the seed and most of the inputs or support the project in other ways (such as paying premium prices for the crop).

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About 4,200 acres were cropped by growing projects this year, including one in Mallaig (about 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton) where volunteers grew two different crops — with two very different outcomes.

“The canola just didn’t mature because we had so much smoke from B.C. wildfires,” said Louis Dechaine, a member of the Acres of Hope project. “It’s still in the ground, and we’re hoping it’ll get wet and dry out again over the winter season, so we can harvest in spring.”

When the smoke rolled over the group’s wheat field, though, members were thankful.

“We had some really hot weather, and the smoke came during that time, so I think it actually allowed my wheat to not burn,” said Don Katerynych, who donated use of the land.

The hard red spring wheat yielded slightly over 60 bushels an acre, he said.

“It was a very good crop, we’re pleased with it,” said Katerynych. “It was a little on the tough side when we took it off, but I put a little bit of aeration on it. It’s a No. 2 wheat, so it’s quite a success for this year.”

There were tougher-than-usual growing conditions for most projects in the northern part of the province, said Terence Barg, Foodgrains Bank co-ordinator for northern Alberta.

“It was dry through most of the summer,” said Barg. “Then harvest started, then in the third week in September it started to snow. At that point, there were hardly any projects north of Red Deer that had harvested, so nobody did any harvesting for almost a month.

“Then we had two weeks of reprieve at the end of October that saved a lot of farmers and a lot of growing projects. We were very thankful for that.”

In Eckville, members of the St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church & Community growing project were generally pleased with the results of their 120-acre project.

“We had very little rainfall, it was real drought conditions,” said project member Ron Hopper, who farms the land.

“We had the whole crop off with seven combines, and it only took us a couple of hours or less. The yield was a bit less than we expected — it ran about 40 bushels per acre — but due to the dry year, it was still good. We were still really happy with it.”

The story in the south was a little different, said Andre Visscher, the co-ordinator for that region.

“It was dry in general, but with irrigation many projects were able to grow and harvest some really healthy crops,” he said. “Some of our growing projects actually had record-breaking years in terms of total money raised.”

One of those was the Coaldale-Lethbridge growing project.

“We had a very good year,” said project treasurer Herb Wall. “We grew 125 acres of irrigated barley and got 140 bushels an acre.”

But it’s the community support that is the true measure of success, he said.

“We get very good community and corporate support,” he said. “That’s always the case — people will drop what they’re doing to come and help us for a few hours. It’s a labour of love.

“We might not all have time to go on a mission trip, but we all have time to do this to help people who are less fortunate.”

There were 33 growing projects in Alberta this past year, the same as in 2017. While three projects closed, three new ones (in Red Deer, Trochu, and Lethbridge) started up. Along with growing projects, there are other initiatives that raise money for the Foodgrains Bank.

Last year, $2.3 million was raised, with the federal government contributing $4 for every one raised (to a maximum of $25 million annually). The Foodgrains Bank, an alliance of 15 Canadian churches and church agencies, is active in about 40 countries, providing food assistance, funding projects (such as ‘food-for-work’ community projects), and nutrition programs.

For more information, go to foodgrainsbank.ca and click on ‘Get Involved’. The website has details of the organization’s work and an interactive map of growing projects across the country.

– With staff files

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