Cor Abma isn’t the type of guy to get emotional over nothing. But he makes an exception when it comes to the generosity of his fellow farmers who volunteer each year for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
“It just brings tears to your eyes when all these people show up,” said the Leduc-area grain farmer.
“This year, a lot of them still had a lot of combining to do, and they just took time off to come and do our harvest. It’s a Christian response to hunger.”
The Canadian Foodgrains Bank was created in 1983 to help combat hunger in the developing world. Since then, the effort has grown to more than 200 growing projects across Canada — 34 in Alberta alone — that provide aid to 78 different countries.
The organization is most well known for its growing projects, said regional co-ordinator Terence Barg.
“A growing project is when a group of farmers in a community gets together and grows grain on a common plot of land,” said Barg. “Then that grain is sold, and the proceeds are used for the work of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.”
The funds raised are matched by the federal government on a four-to-one basis, up to a maximum of $25 million every year.
“That helps our supporters by giving them leverage for the money they’re donating, and it helps us do a lot more work.”
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In 2013, Alberta growing pro-jects raised over $2.8 million — $1.9 million of which came from grain donations. And though this year’s harvest was delayed and yields were down in many parts of the province, every little bit helps.
“It often doesn’t take a lot of help or a lot of money to change people’s lives in the developing world,” said Barg.
“And we can’t do the work that we do without the help of Canadians and the support of Canadians.”
Despite delays on their own operations, farmers were out in full force for harvest at the Leduc growing project on October 9. And, as they say, many hands make light work.
“On the harvest day, we had 375 people there for the lunch, 16 combines, and eight trucks so we could deliver it right off the combine,” said Abma.
“It took us 2-1/2 hours to combine the 280 acres, and all of the combines did a pretty good job. We were back combining at five o’clock at our own farm again.”
But it’s not hard to justify taking time away from his own farm during the busy harvest season, he said.
“You never lose by giving. When you give yourself a whole day like that, you’re not going to lose your own because of that,” said Abma.
“We know we’re helping out a lot of people, and I think that’s worth a lot.”
It’s the same story for the central Alberta growing project based out of Lacombe.
“There were a number of them that hadn’t finished their own crops yet, and it was starting to get late in the season,” committee member Doug Maas said of the Oct. 11 harvest.
“For them to take a really good, solid afternoon where the weather co-operated and not go into their own field in order to help us, we’re very appreciative of that. That’s their livelihood, and here they are out volunteering.”
That day, eight combines came out to lend a hand harvesting 175 acres of wheat near Lacombe, and their afternoon of hard work paid off.
“The crop itself, plus the money that was donated at the barbecue, was just slightly over $61,000. That’s a good year,” said Maas, adding the harvest averaged 75 bushels an acre.
In Leduc, the growing project harvested a canola crop averaging 49 bushels an acre on 280 acres — earning them an incredible $125,000 for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
“It’s just amazing what we can do,” said Abma. “We do make a difference.”
That money will be put to good use in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Sudan, where the Canadian Foodgrains Bank is focusing its efforts to help displaced people.
“There’s a number of reasons people don’t have access to food, but we believe we have more than enough, and we can make it possible for others to be able to eat,” said Barg. “We can’t change the whole hunger situation, but we can change the lives of some.”
Maas — an “urbanite” who has volunteered with central Alberta’s growing project for the past 14 years — agrees.
“I think it’s our responsibility, when we live in a country like Canada that’s fairly affluent and most of the population gets enough food each day to live, to help others who don’t,” said Maas.
“It’s farmer based, but the cause is universal.”