The first harvest for a Grow Hope Saskatchewan project on a farm near Swift Current brought together local community members and those supporting this initiative to reduce hunger in the world.
Harvest day on Dan and Carol Siebert’s farm near Main Centre, which is northeast of Swift Current, took place 115 days after seeding on Sept. 16.
Eight combines criss-crossed the 125 acres of land to gather a canola crop that averaged 47 bushels to the acre. It was a memorable experience for Dan and Carol to witness the successful conclusion of the inaugural year of the Grow Hope project on their farm.
Dan participated in the harvest behind the steering wheel of a combine, and he felt there was a real sense of excitement.
“I was starting out in the field and a few minutes later I was driving down a hill combining, and on my iPod came the Hallelujah chorus,” he recalled. “I was just on auto steer and my hands went up in the air and I felt such elation, because God has provided such a beautiful crop and so many community people helped with the harvest and community people also showed up just to show support. It was just exhilarating to know that this is something bigger than ourselves, and something shared by so many people.”
Carol was observing the movement of combines from the edge of the land, and she was thankful for the support the project received from the community.
“It was just a real sense of gratitude,” she said. “It almost brought me to tears to watch these combines enter the field one after the other, and sharing this abundant harvest and this opportunity to share with the whole world something that we've been given and that the community has been given as well. It was very, very exciting.”
They were pleased to see so many people present to watch the harvesting of the crop. Some were neighbours, but others came from nearby communities such as Herbert and Swift Current.
“We expected some to be there,” she said. “We let some people in the community know that they were welcome to come, but we were definitely surprised at the amount of people that all came.”
Some of those present were project supporters who have already sponsored acres and wanted to witness the harvest. Others are long-time supporters of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) and therefore were interested in this Grow Hope project.
“I know we had one couple come around and said they came out and checked on their acre of canola here, and they took a real interest in that,” she mentioned.
Dan felt the yield of over 5,800 bushels of canola was the result of a good growing season with sufficient rain to deliver a great crop.
“It started out fairly dry and then it started to rain, and really the crop came very well,” he said. “I think we could have bumped up the yield with one more rain later on, but you can't have everything perfect. It was still very good weather for growing canola. It got quite hot in August, which may have diminished the crop a little bit, but by then most of the canola had done its flowering and the seeds were set.”
They felt it was a good decision to make their land available to the Grow Hope Saskatchewan initiative and their intention is to do it again next year.
“We are semi-retired now and we have other land that we're receiving income from,” he said. “So to share with other people some of the blessings that God has given us is just a natural thing to do.”
The Sieberts provided the land and the farming was done by neighbouring farmers Chaun and Sara Holfeld and Wes and Kim Redekop.
“They are very much into this and they support it strongly,” Dan said. “They have nothing to gain by this, but they gain the joy of giving.”
Other neighbours helped out with combining and trucking during the harvest. Richardson Pioneer at Reed Lake supported the project with some of the agro-chemical inputs, and the canola was also sold to this elevator.
The Sieberts have been familiar with the work of the CFGB for many years and they have been actively involved with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Dan has seen the need of people during visits to several countries. He has witnessed the benefits of emergency food relief efforts and conservation agriculture practices that help people to grow more food through improved farming practices.
Funds raised through the project on their land will support those needs and help to reduce hunger in the world. There are other CFGB growing projects in southern Saskatchewan, but their farm near Main Centre is the first location for a Grow Hope project in the region.
Grow Hope Saskatchewan is a partnership between MCC, the Saskatoon Catholic Diocese, and the CFGB. Farmers donate their land and agree to grow a crop, while individuals can become involved through the sponsorship of acres. It costs $300 per acre to grow a crop, which includes the cost of seed, fuel and other inputs.
The proceeds from the sale of a crop are donated to CFGB. The Canadian government will match these donations up to 4:1, which means that an initial donation of $300 can eventually turn into as much as $2,500 of support for food security projects in various countries around the world.
Rick Block, the CFGB regional representative in Saskatchewan, was impressed with the number of people present at the harvest.
“That's what the Foodgrains Bank is known for,” he told the Prairie Post. “We work together to help make a difference in relation to hunger worldwide. So I was feeling elated in that sense. I was also feeling really encouraged for Dan and Carol Siebert. … They wanted to see some of their land utilized in this way, and I was really encouraged to see all the people come out to essentially say yes, Dan and Carol, we support you in this vision of what you're doing.”
He added that it was exciting to see the success of the Grow Hope initiative in Saskatchewan in only a few years, which he felt will continue in the future. The COVID-19 pandemic is contributing towards more food insecurity in the world and growing projects are therefore becoming even more crucial.
“The Foodgrains Bank was made for times like these,” he said. “Our structure is such that we benefit from this large broad base of support of Canadians and with the incredible help from the Canadian government a lot of work and significant impact can be done. … So there is a very specific and significant role for the Foodgrains Bank, it's members agencies and it's local partners on the ground to do it's work.”
The Grow Hope project is now in its third year in Saskatchewan. The land available to be sponsored increased from 160 acres in 2018 to 305 acres in 2020. In addition to the Siebert land near Main Centre, there are also land provided by three other families at Goodsoil, Bruno, and Rosthern.
Rick Guenther, the communications and donor relations director for MCC Saskatchewan, said there has been a good response to this initiative. MCC originally started the Grow Hope initiative about five years ago in Manitoba.
“What's unique about the Saskatchewan Grow Hope model is that we also tried to create it as an ecumenical model, in other words involve different denominations all at the same time,” he said.
A distinctive aspect of the Grow Hope format is the attempt to create connections between farmers and non-farmers.
“Where a lot of the growing projects are often done by farmers and relies on them alone to bring them to fruition, this tries to include non-farmers as well,” he explained. “And so we love the model in that it tries to bring people together from urban and rural.”
Many of the acres for the Grow Hope projects are still sponsored by rural residents, because they tend to be more familiar with CFGB growing projects. But Guenther is encouraged by the growing interest from urban residents in the Grow Hope initiative.
“Slowly and surely we are expanding the number of donors that are sponsoring acres and that to me is really exciting,” he said.
There are still acres available to sponsor from this year’s harvest at the four Grow Hope sites in Saskatchewan.
“The previous two years we did have a fair bit of donations come in right around harvest and after harvest, and I don't anticipate any reason why that wouldn't happen again,” he said. “The opportunity to sponsor acres ends at Oct. 31 of every year. … So we'll see what we get at the end of the year. It would be great to see all 305 acres sponsored.”
For more information about Grow Hope Saskatchewan and to sponsor an acre, go to the project website at www.growhopesk.ca