Like the sprouting of a tiny seed, an Ontario growing project has transformed industrial cash crops into food for people around the world.
Farmer Gary Weir, with the help of donations and partnership from parishes in the diocese of Ottawa, runs the West Carleton Growing Project, which contributes to the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s (PWRDF) account with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB).
The CFGB is a partnership of Canadian churches and church-based agencies, including PWRDF, the relief and development agency of the Anglican Church of Canada.
According to the Foodgrains Bank website, there are more than 200 growing projects across Canada contributing to the organization, which makes up about half of its donations. A growing project is typically organized by a group of people who farm a plot of land, harvest the crop and sell it on the Canadian market. The profit is then donated to the CFGB.
In 2017, the West Carleton Growing Project raised almost $7,500. Because the Foodgrains Bank receives a four to one match from the federal government, the growing project’s contribution will effectively make a $37,500 impact.
That’s what is so great about giving through the CFGB, Weir says. “You get a big bang for your buck.”
The project began in 2009, when Weir and his brother, who were dairy farmers at the time, decided to try growing corn and soybeans. Weir says that donating part of their sales to the Foodgrains Bank was his brother Ron’s idea. Lifelong Anglicans, they designated the money to PWRDF’s account.
Due to health issues, Ron is no longer farming, but Weir has carried on and the project has grown.
At one point, Weir was farming 25 acres of rented land and donating the proceeds from When he was no longer able to rent the land, Weir designated a 14-acre section of his own farm for the project.
Since 2009, the project has given $60,000 to PWRDF’s account.
To offset the costs of farming, the project has several partners. Bit-A-Luk Farms provides seeds; SynAgri donates weed control. Weir’s home parish of Fitzroy Harbour takes up donations and has helped raise money and awareness for the project through fundraising events like a family-friendly haunted house and an Oktoberfest celebration. Weir and others also spread word about the project at local farmers’ markets.
Christ Church Bells Corners, an Anglican parish in the Ottawa suburb of Bells Corners, also makes a yearly donation to the project. Its rector, the Rev. Kathryn Otley, says the church is thrilled with its partnership with the growing project.
“This parish really doesn’t like just throwing money out at things. They like to actually get their hands dirty,” says Otley. Christ Church Bells Corners has partnered with the growing project since 2013. It yearly gives $2,000 to cover costs such as fertilizer, and has built a sign for the growing project. Rather than simply making a donation to a cause, the church can see its contribution multiply.
In turn, the growing project’s output increases as well. In fact, Weir says, this past year was especially wet, and the amount Christ Church provided for fertilizer made a big difference in the final price he was able to get for the crops.
Being able to invest in the project and see a greater return is “a win-win situation” for the parish, says Otley.
Weir also visited Parliament Hill in spring 2016. According to CFGB public outreach co-ordinator James Kornelsen, this is a regular initiative to connect people who are involved with the Foodgrains Bank with members of Parliament. Committed volunteers, like Weir, are given training on how to share their stories during a one- to two-day “crash-course,” then meet with members of Parliament to advocate for the Foodgrains Bank’s work.
Kornelsen says these meetings keep MPs informed and show that global food security is an important issue to Canadians. Because the Foodgrains Bank has a partnership with the federal government, he says, it also has a “responsibility to engage.”
MPs “can’t necessarily justify doing things or making changes unless they hear from Canadians,” says Kornelsen. He says that part of CFGB’s work is teaching Canadians to use their voice. “That is definitely part of what we consider a Christian response to hunger—the idea of a voice being important.”
Weir is happy to advocate for the Foodgrains Bank. “I think it’s a very good cause,” he says. He says it’s important to remember that “we are a global society,” and Canada is “not just one little island of a country.”