The Canadian Food Grains Bank’s 30th anniversary is turning into a very productive year.
The fruits of Westman producers will have far-reaching ramifications in the fight against global hunger.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Canadian Food Grains Bank is expecting what could amount to a record haul based on strong yields and a jump in acres seeded.
Harold Penner, a co-ordinator for CFGB, is encouraged by what he’s hearing from producers involved in the program.
"The crops this year are very good and we’ve had very strong yields," Penner said.
Two years ago, flooding wiped out more than 1,000 acres of promised farmland. Most years, strong harvests in some areas of the province are tempered by weaker yields. However, this year seems to be an anomaly as farmers near and far are reporting high yields across the board.
"In general, the crops are good all across the province and prices have dropped a little bit, but I am expecting us to have a higher-than-average year," a modest Penner said, adding he doesn’t like to prognosticate until the bounty is in the bins.
"The problem is a lot of our projects in Manitoba have not been able to be harvested yet," he said, due to wet conditions over the past two weeks. "We’ve got a lot of crops still out in the field."
In total, approximately 5,600 acres were donated to the CFGB this year, up 1,000 acres over last year’s total.
Penner attributes the spike to the enthusiasm generated by the organization’s 30th anniversary.
Once harvested, crops will be sold and banked by CFGB to aid in the fight against hunger in 47 foreign countries.
In the past, the crop itself was shipped to needy countries, but in 2008, during the height of the world food crisis, Canada fully untied its food assistance budget. The move promoted the purchase of food from developing countries.
"We buy (the food) as close to the source of need as possible," said Penner, who has been involved with the organization since its inception as a producer, but took on a more prominent role after spending six years doing development work in India and Bangladesh for the Mennonite Central Committee.
"Quite often it still has to be shipped from Canada, but if it’s available locally then it’s more efficient and it helps the local economy."
Last year, the CFGB raised $11.9 million in grain and cash donations, with an additional $2.2 million through member agencies. Manitoba provided the largest grain donation, providing more than $1.8 million worth of grain, more than $200,000 more than Ontario, the next closest province.
While individual donations were the norm through the first half of the organization’s existence, Penner said Community Growing Projects now contribute about half of the total donations received.
There are 200 projects across the country, each consisting of a group of volunteers and often donations from local agribusinesses.
Eleven combines recently harvested a load of canola in Killarney, contributing more than $55,000 from a 120-acre field.
Near Kola, approximately $95,000 was raised from 256 acres.
All of the money is matched four-to-one by the government, although Penner said that can be somewhat misleading because the matched funds max out at $25 million.
Kernels of Hope
City folk are picking up their digital pitchforks and joining the fight against world hunger.
Kernels of Hope, a program initiated by Ray Baloun, allows urban residents to sponsor an acre of farmland for $200. The money is used to cover the costs of seeding, spraying and harvesting a crop, which is then sold and used to combat global hunger.
"It’s an idea that we dreamed up through my church board," said Baloun, who initially purchased a few acres from a friend to get the pilot project off the ground eight years ago.
The question the church asked initially was simple, "How do we get somebody that doesn’t own a combine or have a clue (how to farm), but still cares participating?"
During the meeting, Baloun started feverishly scribbling on a napkin, tallying the input costs on a per acre basis so "a person in a city that has never been near a farm can now help on these growing projects."
Today, Baloun uses land from about 10 farmers across three provinces to plant acres for his "virtual farmers," as he calls them.
"People don’t get their hands dirty, but they write a cheque," he said, adding the group raised about $100,000 this year. Money that will be matched four-to-one by the federal government.
He also likes to have fun with it.
His blog regularly features his upbeat sense of humour. One photo shows Baloun with his bare foot on a swath of canola while the caption lets the virtual farmers know the "Yields will knock your socks off."
In the beginning, Baloun divided the land acre by acre for each farmer. He has since found people are less interested in the specific plot of land and more interested in making sure they’re helping out.
Today, he’s more general in his approach, giving each farmer a digital truck with their name on it so they can choose which farm they’re helping out on.
"When harvest is over, they are always asking me ‘When are we farming again?’" Baloun said. "I have a lot of fun with it and it’s the right thing to do for me."
» Brandon Sun
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 4, 2013