Mother Nature is making things difficult this year, but Alberta’s small army of Canadian Foodgrains Bank volunteers isn’t deterred.
There are 32 growing projects underway in the province this year, including a new five-acre initiative near Ponoka.
That’s where the Ponoka Ag society, in partnership with Ken and Verna Pohl, are growing oats completely with horses.
“A lot of these guys go to the Bar U Ranch just south of Calgary and farm there,” said Terence Barg, the Foodgrains Bank regional co-ordinator for northern Alberta.
“Ken was there last year and said, ‘I can do this on some of my own land.’ So he and Verna invited all these friends who enjoy farming with horses just like they do. There was quite a number who came out for two weekends — the first one plowing and discing, and the other weekend seeding. I think at one point, they had 12 teams of horses.”
Team is the operative word for every growing project.
“This really is a community event,” said Andre Visscher, the regional co-ordinator in southern Alberta. “You may have 20 combines come out. Of course, it doesn’t take long to harvest the crop, and then everyone sits down and has lunch. So it’s a real celebration.”
The first growing projects — and some are still running — started two decades ago. Previously, farmers had been donating part of their harvest when they delivered grain to their elevator. But then some farmers got the idea it would be fun to grow a crop together, he said.
There are two other new projects this year — a 60-acre effort near Calmar and another 90 acres near Edberg.
Last year, Alberta’s growing projects raised $2.8 million, which the federal government matches on a four-to-one basis (up to a national limit of $25 million annually). All money raised is used to fund Foodgrains Bank efforts to end hunger around the world.
But the organization is always seeking more participants.
Finding land is always a challenge, and so is replenishing the group of volunteers year after year.
But new participants can expect lots of help, aid Visscher.
“If there are a couple of people who are interested in a project, Terrance and myself will come out and have breakfast with them or have a little meeting,” said Visscher. “We’ll explain how it works and how to run a project. We offer lots of support and help them with fundraising and with all they need to get going.”
Many of the Alberta projects have their own Facebook page, but also post at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank Facebook page.
If you would like more information on how growing projects work or wish to donate to an existing one, contact Visscher and Barg at [email protected].