In Austin, Manitoba, 139 antique threshing machines set a new world record in support of the Foodgrains Bank in 2016. Canadian Foodgrains Bank/Facebook

Grow Hope banking on ecumenical harvest to provide for the world's hungry

By 
  • September 28, 2018

It’s harvest time across Canada, and the back-breaking labour on some farms will be supporting people around the world with emergency food supplies and long-term food security.

The Grow Hope program initiated by Canada Foodgrains Bank has been running for three years and will be providing funds to sustain some of the most vulnerable people in the world in their daily need for food. The unique program sees a donor sponsor a piece of farmland from $300 to $500 (depending on the crop), and by the end of the process the original donation can multiply to be worth $2,500 or more, depending on the end price of the harvested good.

The initial donation covers a farmer’s costs to grow the crop (seed, fuel and other inputs). When the crop is harvested, it can expect to sell at a profit with all proceeds (profit and the initial donation) going to Canada Foodgrains Bank, made up of 15 different church agencies representing 30 denominations across Canada. Development and Peace is among those agencies. Its goal is addressing hunger through food aid and food security projects around the world. 

The proceeds from the sale of the crop are tripled or quadrupled with a federal government grant, then distributed through Foodgrains partners, including Development and Peace, to their partners in areas of need.

The Diocese of Saskatoon joined Grow Hope this year, forming an ecumenical partnership with the Mennonite Central Committee of Saskatchewan, said Myron Rogal, co-ordinator of the Office of Justice and Peace for the Saskatoon diocese. Saskatoon is the first Catholic diocese to sign on. 

It’s a unique partnership, Rogal said, in that it is “the first intentional ecumenical project in Canada.” While different faiths have worked together in the past, Grow Hope is the first project with a signed Memorandum of Understanding saying the project will only be done in an ecumenical fashion. It also follows the mantra of St. John Paul II, who said Catholics need to commit to the common good for all in our world, Rogal said.

So far, donors have chipped in enough to sponsor 85 acres. At an initial $300 an acre donation, this year’s harvest could in the end raise more than $200,000, said Rogal.

From the initial program that began in Manitoba, Grow Hope has expanded quickly. From one project in its first year, Grow Hope grew last year to six projects in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, with more than $400,000 raised for various parts of the world (each project designates an area where its funds will be distributed). This year there are nine Grow Hope projects, including Saskatoon. 

John Longhurst, director of resources and engagement with Canada Foodgrains Bank, said a Pentecostal group will be coming on board next year.

“I can see more and more groups doing this because it is accomplishing at least two very important objectives,” said Longhurst. “One, to raise money to address hunger issues around the world, and secondly to bring urban and rural people together.”

Non-farmers learning about farming and food production and the challenges faced in the process makes things more real for the donor, said Rogal.

“The concept of Grow Hope focuses on trying to grow that rural-urban relationship. It makes it very tangible for the donor,” he said. “It connects the dots between local and global food insecurities.”

Longhurst stresses the importance of bridging the urban-rural divide. Farmers, he said, have shown a great interest in interacting with urban people. Most Canadians live in urban environments today, a turnaround from only 70 years ago when Canada was still a rural nation. The “real genius of this project,” he said, is in bringing the two together.

“We try to locate Grow Hope within an hour’s radius of an urban area so that people from urban areas can drive out for a field day, see the farm, see their acre, meet the farmer and have a chance to talk about farming,” said Longhurst, adding donors are kept informed about the process during the summer growing season.

For a first-time project in Saskatoon, the response has been encouraging, Rogal said.

“We would have been happy to have 20 acres sponsored this year so we very much exceeded our goal and we’re excited with the interest that this project is getting,” he said.

“People see that there’s a need for the people in the most vulnerable areas and especially with this project, most of the proceeds will be going to Syria, obviously an area of high need in our world.”

Longhurst is also expecting continued growth and sees the uniqueness of Grow Hope as a factor in that expansion.

“Everyone is always looking for interesting and creative ways to involve people in raising funds and this is one of the more unique ones,” he said.

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