Leaving a legacy of generosity one crop at a time

Friday, June 05, 2020
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Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:40, NIV
The late Werner Zacharias inspired many people in the Fiske area of Saskatchewan with his commitment to helping people facing hunger. (Photo: submitted by Peter Janzen)

These words spoken by Jesus were a guiding light to Werner and Elsie Zacharias, who lived and farmed with their family in the Fiske area of Saskatchewan. They felt they had been blessed and wanted to be a blessing to others in return. While Werner passed away in October 2017, his stories of profound generosity and almost implausible manner of giving back to help end world hunger live on.

Rick Cross, Fiske resident and former manager at the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevator reflects, “As far as I know, Werner donated as much as he could after paying his bills and keeping enough to live on. As most of us know, he didn’t seem to need much to live on—other than lots of ice cream! He always fixed his own breakdowns, and whenever I took something for him to fix, he would just give me a figure and tell me to make a cheque out to the Foodgrains Bank.”

Whenever I took something for him to fix, he would just give me a figure and tell me to make a cheque out to the Foodgrains Bank.

Perhaps “unto the least of these” had personal meaning for Werner. His son-in-law, Peter Janzen, explains how Werner, along with his parents, “came out of Soviet-Russia with nothing, even losing his grandparents who were killed in the conflict there.

When the opportunity arose for farmers to donate grain to the Foodgrains Bank for international hunger relief, Werner was a local champion of the cause, hauling loads upon loads to the local elevators in Fiske and Rosetown.

“It was the Canadian Wheat Board days when you could only haul your quota. And when everyone else was at a standstill, Werner was still hauling,” says Peter.

Werner Zacharias with his auger that was his own improvised design. According to family members, Werner enjoyed welding and manufacturing, but it always it had to be at minimum cost. (Photo: submitted by Peter Janzen)

Werner often told other farmers that they were in a unique position to bless others with the gift of food. His words certainly had an impact on those around him. While records are incomplete, there are 10 plaques at the Fiske Community Hall that recognize a decade of giving in the 1990s by local farmers. All told, farmers in the area generously gave 3,205 metric tonnes of grain, which today would be valued at an incredible $1.7 million dollars.

A spirit of giving

Upon his passing, Werner gifted 190 acres to the Foodgrains Bank, and a local group of volunteers use the land to grow and sell crops to raise funds for Mennonite Central Committee’s account at the Foodgrains Bank. The Fiske Community growing project’s first crop was wheat, seeded in 2019. While it was a challenging year, the land still produced a yield of nearly 45 bushels per acre and generated $20,000 to help provide families with emergency food assistance and long-term food security initiatives.

“This project is an extension of our community’s spirit of giving,” says Carolyn Siemens, the growing project’s treasurer. “This gifted parcel of land is a reminder of our responsibility to our global community. It’s an opportunity to help by doing what we already do—grow food. What a great way to give back!”

Harvest day for the Fiske Community growing project in October of 2019, on land gifted to the Foodgrains Bank by Werner Zacharias. (Photo: Rick Block)

When someone like Werner Zacharias dedicates themselves so wholly to helping others—both in their own community and around the world—they are not soon forgotten. Peter Janzen says the Zacharias family is happy to see the legacy of Werner live on in such a special and tangible way.

“We’re delighted there’s a community project that was borne from Werner’s steadfast commitment to responding compassionately to ‘the least of these.’”

– Rick Block, Saskatchewan Representative

The Fiske elevator in Saskatchewan, which over the years saw thousands of bushels of grain donated by the Zacharias’ and other families in the area. (Photo: Rick Block)

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