February 12, 2018
By Janice Biehn
It is mid-November and Gary Weir is waiting for the right day to harvest his grain corn. It has been a particularly wet season and the crop needs to dry more before it can be harvested. He also has to wait for the combine that he hires to be available.
Squares of farmland spread across the Ottawa Valley like a quilt, including Fitzroy Harbour where Gary and his wife Pat live. The village sits on the Ottawa River about 41 km northwest of Parliament Hill as the crow flies. Here Gary farms 200 acres of corn, soybeans and hay.
Just 40 minutes east of Fitzroy Harbour is Bells Corners, a suburban community of the City of Ottawa. If you popped into Christ Church Bells Corners for a Sunday morning service, you’d see a bustling suburban church where annual offerings are tithed, yielding approximately $30,000 for mission and outreach.
For the past three years, CCBC has allocated $2,000 to the Weirs to farm 14 acres of their 200 acres. This money is used for fertilizer or other input costs. The Weirs in turn donate the earnings to the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s account in the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. It is a circle of giving that grows the gift.
Weir and his brother, Ron, had always been dairy farmers, but in 2009, they decided to also plant soybeans as a cash crop. “We wanted to give a bit to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank so we just sent in a donation from our earnings.” In 2012 the Weirs’ own congregation, St. George’s in West Carleton, got involved. The year after it became a parish outreach project when St. Thomas’, Woodlawn began participating as well. Since then the Parish has helped with field cultivation, promotion and advocating for the Foodgrains Bank, fundraising and monetary donations.
By 2014, the project became the West Carleton Foodgrains Bank Growing Project and CCBC began sending their donation to help cover some of the field input costs. “This project is very empowering for the Parish,” says the Reverend Kathryn Otley, CCBC’s incumbent. “It gives a way to get involved in addition to just giving money, as important as that is. CCBC’s parishioners built a sign for the growing project and the project creates opportunities for the parish and also the Diocese of Ottawa’s PWRDF committee to increase relationships and understanding between city and rural parishes.”
“We’re very pleased with the amount that CCBC gives us,” says Weir. “The project wouldn’t be possible without it.” Weir notes costs are further contained through the donation of seeds from Bit-A-Luk Farms and weed control by SynAgri.
Weir plants the seeds and tends the crops over the growing season. Sometimes he pays for “custom work” for harvesting and/or planting. Sometimes he “works up” the soil for corn crops himself, and also subscribes to a no-till method of seeding for soybeans, which prevents soil erosion.
By late fall the crops are ready for harvest, corn is often sold for ethanol and soybeans for industrial use. That $2,000 investment from CCBC, plus donations of about $1,000 from St. George’s and St. Thomas’, will turn into a $9,000 donation to PWRDF’s Foodgrains Bank account.
Putting the money to use
Even though the crops from the growing project don’t usually turn into food, the earnings will help feed people around the world. PWRDF withdraws funds from this account to participate in emergency food distribution programs in places such as South Sudan, Bangladesh and Haiti where the Foodgrains Bank is working. It allows PWRDF to get relief to desperate parts of the world quickly and efficiently. And even better, these programs receive a 4:1 match from the Canadian government, so the growing project’s $9,000 is effectively $45,000. Or, put another way, CCBC’s $2,000 is effectively $10,000.
When the Foodgrains Bank started 35 years ago, the government’s policy stipulated that foreign aid must be spent on Canadian grown food. That meant the Foodgrains Bank shipped most grain from Canada to where it was needed overseas. But in 2008, the government changed its policy, making it possible for the Foodgrains Bank to buy food closer to the area of need in the developing world.
Today there are 250 community growing projects across Canada from Foodgrains Bank member denominations. Growing projects are when a number of farmers and community members come together to grow a crop, says the Rev. Cathy Campbell, PWRDF’s liaison on the Foodgrains Bank board. “It’s not usually a single farm or farmer registering as a growing project, although that’s how the Weirs have done it. In 2015 and 2016, 12 of these growing projects included contributions to PWRDF’s account. There’s definitely room to grow.”
Since starting their project, the Weirs and their parish, with the help of CCBC and local businesses have contributed $60,000 to PWRDF’s account. But Weir is modest about the growing project’s accomplishments, describing 14 acres as “not very big” and noting when he and his brother started, it was 25 acres. To the Weirs, PWRDF gives humble and hearty thanks, and encourages others to follow in the Weirs’ footsteps. Get growing!
PWRDF invites Anglican churches to engage with farmers in a growing project. Your PWRDF Diocesan representative through their Canadian Foodgrains Bank regional staff can identify an existing local growing project near you that would welcome participation.