Charity puts donors on the ground

Jill Mitchell, a project ambassador with Grow Hope Saskatchewan, holds the painting, “Feeding the World — One Grain at a Time” that was auctioned off during harvest at the 
charity’s project near Bruno, Sask. | Mennonite Central Committee photo

People sponsor an acre of land, which is then farmed by volunteers; Grow Hope Sask. uses proceeds to feed the hungry

Fundraisers for charities are common, but not in the way Grow Hope Saskatchewan does it — by allowing people to sponsor an acre of land where they will then grow and harvest a crop, and then donate the money to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

“I think the closer that we can get to the growing process, the more meaningful it becomes to grow food and share that with others across the world,” said Rick Guenther, communications and donor relations director for the Mennonite Central Committee, one of the church groups behind the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

“It just ties us closer to the land and to the vulnerability that food security is for many people.”

The program, initially inspired by one in Manitoba, started four years ago in a collaboration between the MCC, the Canadian Baptist Ministries, and the Diocese of Saskatoon.

Through this program, people can sponsor an acre of land for $300. From there, volunteer farmers will plant and harvest the land, selling the grain for a profit that the government will match. This means the $300 sponsored can turn into as much as $2,500, according to the charity’s website.

Currently, four farm families across Saskatchewan have donated 230 acres to Grow Hope Saskatchewan. Four years ago, they started with 160 acres.

“For the last four years, we have generated over $100,000 each year,” Guenther said. “And then together with the matching funds up to four to one, then sometimes the total proceeds are well over half a million dollars that go to supporting food projects all over the world.”

Guenther said the goal of the project is to connect urban and rural people through one common goal — helping those in need.

“We invite people from the urban to sponsor these acres and consider it to be them growing a crop,” Guenther said. “So, in a year like this when the yields are down, and we’ve had the kind of conditions of heat and drought that farmers have experienced, this is where this kind of arrangement really shines.”

Dan and Carol Siebert farmed most of their lives in Main Centre, Sask. When in the process of renting out their land to retire, they realized some of it could go to a good cause.

“We didn’t need all the income from it,” Dan Siebert said. “So we wanted to share the income from one of the quarters with Grow Hope Saskatchewan. And so that’s what we decided to do.”

They have donated 125 acres of land to the organization, which is seeded and sprayed by their renter. During harvest, Siebert’s neighbours come together to take the crop off.

“You have a sense of working together with our neighbours and friends… with an agency that we believe in,” Carol Siebert said. “And just the sense of gratitude that we feel, first of all, to God for what he has given us and left us with and then to be able to share this with others and to share our table around the world.”

Grow Hope Saskatchewan has also been donated land from three other farmers in Rosthern, Goodsoil, and Bruno.

Dan and Carol Siebert of Main Centre, Sask., donated 125 acres of their land to Grow Hope Saskatchewan. | Mennonite Central Committee photo

Jill Mitchell is a project ambassador for Grow Hope Saskatchewan after first volunteering to bring food to the farmers in 2018. In 2019, she and her husband heard about a trip through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to India and decided to jump on the opportunity.

“Having been in India, we’ve seen some of the agricultural practices that they’ve adopted because of the teachings that they’ve had from Canadian Foodgrains Bank and it’s making a difference in people’s lives,” Mitchell said.

Now, she helps Grow Hope by promoting it with her social media presence, creating recipes for the specific crops being grown, as well as helping with donations through her art.

After creating a painting of one of the volunteer farmer’s canola crops, Mitchell decided to sell it for Grow Hope. She hoped the painting would sell for $800 to $1,200, but it sold for $2,700, sponsoring nine acres. She is also selling prints of the painting with the proceeds going to Grow Hope.

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