It may be midwinter but the farmers who run the Coaldale-Lethbridge Growing Project are busy searching for a piece of land to rent for this year’s Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) project.
The coming season’s project will be the fourth for this group, but the CFGB has been providing a practical way for farmers and their communities to share with less-fortunate people in other countries since 1984. Across the country, 214 growing projects donated $8.4 million as grain and cash last year. The money is matched by government so that the amount actually delivered to projects overseas is four times the amount donated by community groups.
In the developing world, the funds go to church groups such as Mennonite Central Committee that are members of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank already working on the ground in the recipient country. That keeps administration to a minimum and delivers real help to farmers in those areas.
“Some of us got interested in the growing project through our churches, but a lot of our members aren’t involved with any church. We all saw the genuine need and wanted to help out,” says Herb Wall, treasurer of the Coaldale and Lethbridge growing group.
There’s room for everybody in the community to contribute, says Wall. People can sponsor an acre by paying the rent on it. That’s been around $150, but rent for pivot-irrigated land in the area is pretty high so $200 is likely this year. Fertilizer dealers have helped out by giving customers an opportunity to buy an extra tonne of fertilizer that they deliver to the site.
“We get donations from all sorts of people in the community,” says Wall. “We have kids bringing in coins they’ve saved and contributions from people and businesses in the community, especially Coaldale. The county waives taxes on the land, the St. Mary’s Irrigation District doesn’t charge for water, we get free hail insurance – a lot of people get behind the project. It’s work, but it’s also a lot of fun, working with the board to solicit funds from businesses and making sure all the work gets done.”
HARVEST IS A BIG EVENT
The big event for the group, as for most community projects, is the harvest. Last year farmers brought 25 combines as well as trucks and balers.
“Everybody wants to be involved with the harvest,” says Wall. “FCC brings the barbecue with all the supplies and serves the food and the whole community comes out. People come for the joy and fellowship of working together to help someone coping with misfortune. Lots of people bring their kids to show them the machinery, it’s fun for everybody.”
The group hopes to get land suitable for growing barley. The last couple of years, wheat has been the crop that fit in the landowner’s rotation, so they had to deliver to the elevator. Even with lower crop prices, the group sent about $100,000 to the foodgrains bank. In their first year, the group was able to grow barley and auctioned off the non-board grain and straw. Some of it was sold several times over.
VISIBLE WITH SAFE PARKING
Wall would like to repeat that event, but more important in his search for land to rent is that it have safe parking, preferably on the highway for visibility.
The Foodgrains Bank is a people-helping-people organization so it arranges for people from the areas where it works to come to Canada. Sometimes they come as students, but they also visit groups to tell them what they’re doing at home. Participants can also take overseas tours to visit food recipients.
“It’s good to meet the people and let them know somebody is interested and ready to work with them,” says crop consultant George Lubberts of Nobleford.
Lubberts has travelled as a volunteer to work with groups in Africa to ensure proposed CFGB projects make sense from an agricultural perspective. His most recent trip was last fall to southern Sudan where farmers have returned to their homes from refugee camps.
“They can grow anything, and they have good extension programs,” he says. “But they need infrastructure. It takes a whole day to reach Juba, 100 miles away by truck. It’s very satisfying work. We don’t build new programs, we ask the people what they need and if we can, we help them to be independent and productive.”