Foodgrains bank projects less festive this year

Farmers organize growing projects for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank this spring despite the need for social distancing

COALDALE, Alta. — The seeding of a growing project for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank usually doubles as a time to celebrate the new growing season and visit with the neighbours.

This year, in Ed Donkersgoed’s field east of Coaldale, Alta., four people gathered and stood a few metres apart to watch the quarter section of barley being planted. Despite restrictions related to the pandemic and the economic hardship it has foisted upon so many, the Coaldale-Lethbridge growing project got underway as did all CFB growing projects in the region.

“It’s particularly fitting this year,” said Donkersgoed. “In the midst of a lot of negative news, this is a good news story. This is a story of someone stepping up to help a neighbour.”

In this case, the neighbours are people in developing countries where help is needed. The foodgrains bank undertakes numerous projects in the developing world and money raised by this project and others, matched four to one by the federal government, is directed to where it is most needed.

Larry Penner, another growing project member, said the decision at a recent meeting to proceed with this year’s project was one of the most encouraging events of the past month.

Ed Donkersgoed, left, and Larry Penner watch Joel Klassen seed a quarter section of barley. | Barb Glen photo

“While we spoke of the difficulties facing many locally, we noted the overwhelming needs of those in many other countries, far less equipped to deal with a pandemic compared to Canadians. We were unanimous in our desire to continue this year,” he said.

This particular project has raised more than $1.68 million over its 13 years of operation. That has expanded to $8.4 million when federal dollars are added.

Seed, fertilizer, chemical, equipment and labour are all donated and the barley will be auctioned off later this year, Penner said. In the past, bidding on the crop has resulted in premium prices but given the losses experienced by cattle feeders who are the usual buyers, he is just hoping to get market price.

Andre Visscher, regional co-ordinator for the CFB, said all the usual growing projects in the region are proceeding despite the pandemic.

“I’m happy to say that farmers are putting the crops in for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. It’s great,” said Visscher.

“It’s important, too, that they go ahead because with this COVID-19, it’s expected that it really will have a great impact on people in the developing countries. Hunger is expected to increase and it is already increasing. Food assistance programs are difficult.”

Visscher said projects in northern Alberta are delayed because many farmers there are still harvesting last year’s crop after a disastrous fall. In the south, projects in Taber, Vauxhall and Medicine Hat, as well as Coaldale-Lethbridge, are already seeded.

Volunteers planted 70 acres of spring wheat on April 24 for a growing project in Medicine Hat. | Charlie Redpath photo

Charlie Redpath, a project member in Medicine Hat, said volunteers planted 70 acres of spring wheat on April 24. Their project, now in its 21st year, is somewhat unique, being located within city limits.

A fundraising dinner planned for March had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings but Redpath said many people provided donations anyway and local companies again supplied the crop inputs.

“I’m trusting that we’ll have a really good year. I’m very concerned about the people in the Third World countries that aren’t getting enough food. I think we have to do all we can to support them and help them on their journey too.”

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