Growing projects gear up for foodgrains bank

The Newell Growing Project near Brooks, Alta., is one of the many projects that raise money for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank every year.  |  Newell growing project photo

The 97 projects on the Prairies raised $4.5 million for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s humanitarian efforts last year

Despite his initial skepticism about the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Alberta farmer Fred Preston is proud to be in his fifth year as chair of the Newell Growing Project, which donates more than $100,000 a year to the foodgrains bank.

“I’m going to be honest, I used to think (growing projects) were a dumb idea. I wanted to just cheer people on to donate grain at the elevators,” says Preston.

“But after I heard our regional representative, Andre Visscher, talking about the synergy of working together on the growing projects, I decided I wanted to get involved.”

The Newell growing project rents a different quarter section of land every year from a farmer in Alberta’s Newell County to grow their grain for donation.

Last year, the Newell project grew wheat on a quarter section of land about 12 kilometres southeast of Rosemary, Alta.

“We are blessed to have a really good group of dedicated people here,” says Preston about the volunteers who help with the project each year. “Last year, we had the 160-acre field of wheat harvested in about 1.5 hours with 16 combines.”

Last year, through their harvest and other fundraisers, the group from Newell County raised $165,000 for the foodgrains bank.

The organization is a faith-based charity with more than 200 growing projects across Canada.

Of last year’s growing projects, 97 were located in the Prairies with 39 in Manitoba, 32 in Alberta, and 26 in Saskatchewan. The prairie growing projects accounted for more than $4.5 million of the $6.5 million raised.

The foodgrains bank distributes its donations to three main programs.

“The first is humanitarian assistance, where we do food distribution in conflict and emergency situations like droughts and floods. That is 60 percent of our programming and it’s through distribution to refugee camps and those kinds of places,” says Musu Taylor-Lewis, resources and public engagement director at the foodgrains bank.

“Then 35 percent of our programs are what we call agriculture and livelihoods programs. So that just means economic development programs that help people increase or diversify the way they make a living.”

The final five percent goes to nutrition programs that help reduce malnutrition of pregnant and nursing mothers, as well as children under five years of age, according to the foodgrains bank website.

Preston and his wife saw some of these programs in action on a foodgrains bank tour of Ethiopia last February.

“It was a tremendous and humbling experience,” says Preston. “We toured an irrigation project in one of the hottest places on Earth. It was a diversion project from a tiny river or creek but it irrigated 550 acres of land, and allowed people who were normally nomads to stay and build schools in one spot.”

This year the foodgrains bank has 210 confirmed growing projects.

“Of course with growing projects they are dependent on the weather, on the harvest for any given year,” says Taylor-Lewis. “But we are very optimistic this year about the amounts that will be raised from the growing projects and we expect to be stable or increase.”

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