A family farm near Swift Current has joined the Grow Hope Saskatchewan initiative to raise money for food security projects around the world.
Dan and Carol Siebert have been farming near Main Centre, which is northeast of Swift Current, for the last 40 years.
“We're renting the land out to some of our young neighbour friends, and we just decided that this is a good time to take some of the land and use it for Canadian Foodgrains Bank with this Grow Hope project,” Dan said.
Their Main Centre farm is the first location for a Grow Hope project in southern Saskatchewan. The Sieberts decided to make 125 acres of their land available to the Grow Hope project.
They were attracted to the Grow Hope model, which provides a new and innovative way to create connections between farmers and non-farmers to address global hunger.
“The draw to Grow Hope over and above just Canadian Foodgrains Bank was that we're really interested in partnering with people that are not farmers, anybody that would like to donate,” he said. “I just thought it might be a better way or a more productive way of earning more per acre for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and people can feel a part of this project that is helping people across the world.”
They have planted canola on their farm for the Grow Hope project with the help of neighbouring farmers Chaun and Sara Holfeld and Wes and Kim Redekop, who are donating their labour, machinery and fuel.
“They are going to be responsible for the seeding, the spraying, the harvesting, and they're doing that all free of charge,” Dan said.
Grow Hope Saskatchewan is a partnership between the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Saskatoon Catholic Diocese. 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 Canadian Foodgrains Bank. 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.
The Sieberts have been familiar with the work of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank for many years and they have been actively involved with MCC.
“My wife and I have volunteered with MCC before and we've seen need all around the world,” Dan said. “I've travelled some with MCC, like to Colombia, Lesotho, South Africa , and North Korea. I've just seen some of the needs, and we have been so blessed. We have so much and so we have a desire to help those in need.”
The Grow Hope project is now in its third year in Saskatchewan. Rick Block, the regional representative for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank in the province, said there has been a good response to this initiative.
The land available to be sponsored increased from 160 acres in 2018 to 180 acres in 2019, and for 2020 a total of 305 acres have been provided by four farmers. In addition to the land provided by the Sieberts near Main Centre, there are also land provided by three other families located at Goodsoil, Bruno, and Rosthern.
“Grow Hope is a project that isn't necessarily defined exclusively by a geographical location,” Block said. “I know Dan and Carol were quite eager about this opportunity, because not only does Grow Hope provide funds for the international work of the Foodgrains Bank members that are involved, but the substory in this, which really resonates with all the farmers involved, is that it's also trying to intentionally connect urban and rural.”
It costs $300 per acre to produce a crop, but those who want to support Grow Hope can make a donation of any amount to the project.
“They could choose to donate more and look at doing more than an acre, they could choose to do a partial acre, and so really there is the option to donate simply whatever a person would want,” Block noted.
Sponsors will receive field updates during the growing season as well as resources to help them to learn more about farming and hunger in the world. A wide cross-section of people has been supporting Grow Hope Saskatchewan in previous years.
Some are from the farming communities where land is offered to Grow Hope, and they want to support what their friends and neighbours are doing. Other supporters are seniors in urban locations who grew up or lived on a farm, and there are also young millennials who heard of Grow Hope and decided to support it.
“So it really is quite a wide cross-section,” he said. “We are thankful though that there is a strong proportion that are urban, because we really feel that's the key demographic that Grow Hope can attract. That's one of the key features in terms of how the Grow Hope model is sustained. In many traditional growing projects for the Foodgrains Bank, you have a group of farmers that organize and rally people in the community and a lot of times the agribusiness community helps to provide inputs for these projects. Grow Hope aims to really rely on urban folks or on non-farmers.”
Block noted the COVID-19 pandemic presents a challenge for the outreach activities of the Foodgrains Bank in the province, which in the past have usually taken place through public events and meetings.
“We are a grassroots organization,” he said. “So much of the mission of the Foodgrains Bank is really propelled and extended by supporters and people who are on the ground. It might be within churches, it might be community groups that are organizing events. … So we certainly will feel some impact. We don't know exactly what that would be like, but with fewer events on the ground, it is more difficult to reach out to supporters and that's definitely a challenge, and we've really been working hard to think about how do we in the immediate term shift to connecting to donors and supporters.”
On an international level the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food insecurity is starting to become more evident. The World Food Program recently warned an estimated 265 million people might experience acute hunger and food insecurity as a result of lockdowns and economic slowdowns caused by the pandemic.
“Many people in the world live really almost on a day to day or week to week basis in terms of their economic livelihood,” he said. “And so having to shut down one week, two weeks, let alone two months or more, really exacerbate the issue of hunger.”
For more information about Grow Hope Saskatchewan and to sponsor an acre, go to the project website at www.growhopesk.ca