City-Country Partnership Brings Hope Despite Challenges

Orion Beckmeyer says that being part of Growing Hope has been a blessing – especially after he joined a trip to Kenya to visit overseas programs.

“Seeing where the Growing Hope funds go changes you forever.”

Orion, who lives in rural Hartsburg, Mo., has been part of a Growing Project at Peace United Church of Christ in Hartsburg since 2002. When their city-partner dropped out after the first year, a Peace church member asked a local city church – St. Andrew’s Lutheran in Columbia – to join their project.

“We’re all the same family of God – maybe different denominations but we’re all one body of Christ,” Orion says about the 19-year-old partnership.

However, the Hartsburg-Columbia Growing Project has seen rural participation drop in recent years. Orion says he is unsure of how to increase participation from his church members.

Although several farmers were part of the Growing Project in the past, farmers have dropped out for a variety of reasons. Farmers retire and their children aren’t interested in continuing the connection either because of finances or lack of interest. Also, flooding along the Missouri River levees continually wipes out bean crops. Two farmers decided it wasn’t worth even trying to plant their levee acres used for the Growing Project, with Orion’s plot flooding out the past two years. Another 30 acres by a ball diamond was donated for one year, but that donation stopped.

Karon Speckman, chair of St. Andrew’s Global Mission Team, says: “Numbers from the last several years show that the farmers at Hartsburg are struggling. And we need help to get more people involved from their parish who aren’t farmers.”

She says the city church has increased its support of the Growing Project strongly through quilt raffles and crafts sales, Lenten hunger offerings, and meal events. But, the farmers at Hartsburg are struggling.

Orion adds that the rural church members think that only the farmer members of the church can be part of the Growing Project and so don’t participate in raising funds. Also, one church member who wasn’t a farmer but was very enthusiastic about Growing Hope moved out of state during COVID to live close to family members. Without that cheerleader, Orion says his church has lost enthusiasm.

One solution has been for Orion and his wife Barb to turn to alternative crops. Orion, who is retired from commodity farming, has five acres of grapes used to supply a local winery. Orion gives people cases of wine in exchange for a donation to the Growing Hope fund. Last summer Orion and Barb took excess garden produce – like cantaloupes – to sell after Sunday services for Growing Hope.

The city and country partners haven’t given up hope. Orion wants to expand and reach out to new farmers and figure out a way to involve the nonfarmers who attend his rural church. St. Andrew’s saved $1,500 from contributions this year from the quilt raffle and Lenten offerings for a grant to another group who would like to start a new Missouri Growing Project.

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