It’s a hot, humid morning on a gravel road just outside Landmark. A gaggle of 30 or 40 dads, moms, young kids, teens and seniors clump together with lawn chairs and water bottles as eight combines whir to life.
“Makes short work when you’ve got this many,” says Matt Plett, a committee member for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank Landmark growing project.
Soon after, doughnuts, coffee and canned drinks show up and are laid out under a blue tent. Two local ag reps also come by. The harvest is a community event — because it’s very much a community effort.
“All our inputs are paid on donations,” Matt said. Farmers donate labour and equipment. The goal is to give all proceeds to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
This is one of many growing projects spearheaded by farmers across Canada to raise money for the Foodgrains Bank. Manitoba rep Gordon Janzen has been driving between them for a couple of days, he says, as harvests get underway — St. Pierre and Morden one day, Altona, and Killarney the day after this.
Harvest days are great days to connect with people, he said. “That’s when people come together.”
This year the Landmark project comprises two fields of wheat rented from two different farmers — luckily for the combines and spectators, only a few hundred yards apart. Together, it’s 150 acres.
For Matt, it’s a family affair.
“My grandpa kind of started it with a few other old-timers (in 1996),” he said.
Though he farms near Blumenort, he joined the project in 2005 and inherited his committee spot from his grandpa. Fellow committee member Randy Plett is his uncle.
“Most of us farmers were involved in projects before they had growing projects,” Randy told the Co-operator.
A Manitoba Co-operator reporter hopped aboard Randy’s combine as it moved from one field to the next.
He recalled that before growing projects, the Foodgrains Bank would host gathering days where farmers could donate loads or partial loads of grain at a particular elevator.
Randy said he sees the Canadian Foodgrains Bank as “a very effective tool as far as raising food for different countries.”
“I want to support it in that,” he said, adding that clearly the Canadian government recognizes the Foodgrains Bank effectiveness, as it ponies up matching dollars for donations, like those from this growing project.
“It’s a good opportunity,” he added. “As a farmer it’s just a good fit.”
He explained he’d finished his cereals the day before. When another project member said he was available to combine today, Randy said, “I can bring the whole troop.”
His ‘troop’ consists of three combines, two driven by his employees, a grain cart with an employee at the wheel, and two trucks his son and son-in-law drive.
Randy pulls in behind the John Deere combine of field-owner, Roger, and sets his auto steer as three more combines file into formation behind him. Two grain carts weave among them.
“It’s not the most efficient way of doing things, but hey we’ve got lots of combines,” says Randy.
Despite the desperate drought conditions in Manitoba, the grain is coming off in relative abundance. According to the combine screen, the average yield from the previous field was around 70 bushels per acre. This field, it’s looking to be just below that.
Matt had explained that this spot, north of Landmark, had received about double the rain that fell on his Blumenort farm.
“They’ve, I think, like, a whole inch this year,” he said — tongue in cheek.
Randy farms near Landmark, along with another plot near St. Adolphe. He confirms this is the case. His nearby fields yielded similar to this one. The ones near St. Adolphe were half of that.
Janzen told the Co-operator that across the growing projects, yields are looking lower — though not as bad as it could have been.
“We’ll have less yield than last year in the growing projects across Manitoba, that’s for sure,” he said. “But the commodity prices now, the grain prices are higher. So we may do all right in terms of the donations to the Foodgrains Bank compared to last year.”
Meanwhile, other farmers have found creative ways to maximize their fundraising dollars.
Dean and Roxanne Toews made the news after they offered their MacGregor-area sunflower field for sightseers and selfies. They asked visitors to make a donation to the Foodgrains Bank, and had raised more than $1,900 by August 16, the Winnipeg Free Press reported.
“People really enjoy being among the sunflowers,” Dean told the Free Press.
The crop will be harvested and proceeds will also go to the Foodgrains Bank, the article said.
In Ontario, a member of the Bighead River growing project put up barrels around town to collect cans and bottles, says a Foodgrains Bank Facebook post. Member Wes and his grandson collected the cans and also walked country roads collecting cans from ditches.
The pop cans are taken to recycling, while the beer cans and liquor bottles are returned to the store for a refund. As of August 16, they’d raised nearly $2,500.