Sharing Harvest Bounty: ‘A Conduit of Mercy’

This article was originally published in The Banner.

By Janet A. Greidnaus

This September in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., a group of farmers busy with bringing in their own crops continued their 17-year tradition of donating time, resources, and labor to food relief. About a dozen combines harvested 295 acres of barley on land set aside for Share the Harvest, a project run by Keith Goutbeck, a member of Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton. “I started the Share the Harvest project along with my dad and the neighboring farmers in our area who all attend different churches,” Goutbeck said. “It’s a group effort that is so amazing. We enjoy meeting and planning in the winter time and all come (together) for the harvesting day.”

Goutbeck’s effort doesn’t stand alone. Share the Harvest, Growing Hope Globally, Niagara Christian Gleaners—these are just three of a great number of organizations that exist across Canada and the U.S. as a Christian response to world hunger. To share their stories, The Banner recently talked to some Christian Reformed members contributing to these efforts.

The work is often interconnected. For that group in Fort Saskatchewan, a city 25 kilometers (16 miles) northeast of Edmonton, their $100,000 contribution from the barley harvest (sold to Asian markets) gets multiplied by a 4:1 matching grant from the Canadian government to the Canadian Food Grains Bank. With 15 partners, including World Renew, the Food Grains Bank helps to provide training and financing for farming projects in Africa, Asia, and South America. Others contribute to the work; members of the public are able to sponsor an acre of land; and the energy company Suncor has donated the field.

In Edgerton, Minn., a similar farmer-supported project contributes to the development efforts of Growing Hope Globally (formerly Foods Resource Bank). Currently, all of the farmers in the Edgerton project are members of either First CRC or Bethel CRC. Each farmer donates land and other contributors donate seed and fertilizer. Harley Buys, of Bethel CRC, finds the sharing rewarding. “I have been blessed by this more than the people we try to help.”

Ron De Weerd, a member of Trinity CRC in Rock Valley, Iowa, is the regional director of Midwest and Southwest growing projects for Growing Hope Globally. He speaks of the impact of the network, “In July of this year, we were able to announce that we had engaged more than two million people in our development programs. This could not have happened without our community projects like the one in Edgerton.” He says he is humbled by the sacrificial commitments of Growing Hope’s more than 170 partnering communities.

Growing Hope Globally allows participants to direct the funds of their projects and the Edgerton farmers direct theirs through World Renew, which has been a member since Growing Hope’s founding in 1999.

De Weerd expresses the satisfaction of being able to go to communities around the world and see the pride and dignity they feel in being able to support their own families in place. “To hear them thank God for the support they have received affirms that when we fulfill the good works God has planned for us to do, His name will be praised,” De Weerd said.

In the Niagara region of Ontario, Niagara Christian Gleaners “seek to demonstrate Christ’s love and grace by sharing the abundance of produce we enjoy with those around the world who are in need” (a statement from the organization’s website). With its Smithville, Ont., produce-salvaging plant in operation for just a year, the organization recoups the gleanings that might otherwise be lost.

Pete Wierenga, a member of Bethany CRC in Fenwick, Ont., is the plant’s general manager. “Stores don’t want fruit and vegetables with imperfections,” he explained. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It just needs some trimming.” So produce that can’t go to retailers comes to the Gleaners. Volunteers trim, chop, and dehydrate the food to preserve it. Wierenga estimates in one year they have received 1.2 million pounds of fruits and vegetables equal to 3 million servings. On the day The Banner spoke to him, 90,000 servings were being shipped to northern Ontario communities with challenging food needs. Wierenga sees Niagara Christian Gleaners as a mission, a “conduit of mercy to others.” He said, “This is a call on my life.”

About 60 individual congregations and 500 registered volunteers support the Gleaners. Arie Versteeg, a member of Smithville CRC, volunteers twice a week. Part of a system, he operates a machine that dices the product into ½-inch cubes. Other volunteers arrange the cubes on trays for the dryer. “I also run a large washing unit. I believe our first shipment was shipped to Haiti where it is part of the daily meal for children in three Christian schools. It gives me a good feeling to be able to help others this way,” Versteeg said.


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