In 1992, when Rick Fee returned to Canada after living in Nigeria for 17 years, he was given an important task.
“I was told ‘You’re now the director of Presbyterian World Service & Development . . . and oh, by the way, we’re members of Canadian Foodgrains Bank now,’” he remembers.
In Nigeria, Fee worked as a minister of a rural parish and was the Africa liaison for the Presbyterian Church in Canada. A few months before he returned home, PWS&D partnered with the Foodgrains Bank.
“I said, ‘Oh, that’s lovely. Whatever that is,’” says Fee, who wasn’t familiar with the organization at the time.
A few months after he returned to Canada, in early 1993, Fee was not only on his way to Somalia to learn more about the Foodgrains Bank—he was a member of its board. Al Doerksen, Executive Director of the Foodgrains Bank at the time, and Maureen Curten, PWS&D program staff, accompanied Fee on the trip.
At the time, an intense civil war threatened the lives of tens of thousands of Somalis; the visit was a way to learn more about Somalia’s food security situation. After witnessing the food needs in that country, Fee saw the importance of the Foodgrains Bank’s work.
His next task was to educate members of the Presbyterian Church in Canada about the Foodgrains Bank, and encourage them to support PWS&D’s efforts to end global hunger.
“I made Canadian Foodgrains Bank one of my major foci,” he says, referring to how the trip impacted his thinking. “Every chance I got, I spoke, and I highlighted the Foodgrains Bank.”
For Fee, the partnership with the Foodgrains Bank was a godsend for Canadian Presbyterians.
“In the news was all these major famines and major wars,” says Fee. “And it was constantly, ‘What can we do? What can we do?’”
“This was finally an answer,” he continues. “This is what we can do, and this is where we can contribute.”
In 1993, a year after joining the Foodgrains Bank, PWS&D Presbyterians raised $40,000 for PWS&D’s account with the Foodgrains Bank. The next year, it more than tripled to $148,000.
Fee says he wasn’t surprised at how Canadian Presbyterians took to supporting the Foodgrains Bank through PWS&D.
“People wanted to do something, and this was a practical way to do that,” he says.
Cornshare—Bringing Urban and Rural Presbyterians Together
In the beginning, the most common way Presbyterians supported the Foodgrains Bank through PWS&D was through growing projects, where farmers come together to grow and sell a crop, donating the proceeds to the Foodgrains Bank.
“People kept saying, ‘How can we help?’ and I kept saying ‘A growing project,’” says Fee. “But many of these people weren’t on farms. They were in the cities.”
As a result, the Cornshare model of growing projects was born. Through it, urban Presbyterian churches were paired with rural congregations that had access to land and were able to organize a growing project. The urban congregations would help cover the cost of inputs like insurance, seeds, fertilizer and fuel.
At harvest time, members of the urban congregations would often travel to meet their rural partners. Together, they would celebrate the harvest before selling the crop and donating the proceeds to the Foodgrains Bank.
“Even here in Toronto we would get a bus and drive two or three hours west of here and visit the farmers,” says Fee. “It was a great twinning back and forth.”
The name – Cornshare – originated because corn was the most common crop harvested by the early supporters. Although the projects started with corn, Fee says each project eventually began planting whatever was making sense for them, including soybeans and barley. The majority of the first growing projects and Cornshare projects were in Ontario.
But, Fee says, it didn’t take long for Canadian Presbyterian churches beyond Ontario to begin supporting efforts to end hunger through the Foodgrains Bank.
One of those churches is St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Eckville, Alberta.
“We’ve been supporting Canadian Foodgrains Bank for 25 years,” says Sandra Franklin-Law, the minister of St. Paul’s Presbyterian. “Ever since it partnered with PWS&D.”
In 1997, Franklin-Law went on a study tour with the Foodgrains Bank to Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya. She says that trip will forever be a life changing experience, and for that reason, she’s made sure that St. Paul’s Presbyterian continues to support the Foodgrains Bank.
For the congregation of fewer than 100 people, that support initially took the form of a grain drive.
Each year, members of the church would bring coffee and donuts to the local grain elevator during harvest and collect donations for the Foodgrains Bank from farmers who shared part of their proceeds of that year’s harvest.
After 12 years of the grain drive, a local couple in Eckville donated 30 acres of land for the church to start a growing project. Thanks to donations by more local landowners and support from the Town of Eckville, the growing project has now expanded to 130 acres.
Staying true to Franklin-Law’s vow to continue supporting the Foodgrains Bank, St. Paul’s covers the cost of seeds for the growing project each year.
For Franklin-Law, having a church and community that’s so committed to helping hungry people overseas is a way to see God’s commandment of loving one’s neighbour in action.
“When you’re out in the field working with the farmers, and you hear them talking about how important it is to have a good crop so that the Foodgrains Bank can get money, you can see that that’s when faith is alive,” she says.
Today, around 10 families continue to support the growing project in Eckville. For Ron Hopper, the growing project leader, being able to support the Foodgrains Bank’s efforts to end global hunger is encouraging.
“It gives the community a real sense of inspiration,” says Hopper. “And pride that we can do it year after year.”
In 2006, Hopper went to Ethiopia and Kenya on a food study tour to see firsthand how Foodgrains Bank-supported projects are making a difference for those who are hungry overseas.
“Once you actually walk in the villages and you break bread with them and have lunch with people and go to church services with some of the recipients, you see firsthand the impact it has on their lives,” says Hopper.
Hopper also remembers meeting officials who worked for the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization on the tour.
“They were just amazed that farmers in little prairie towns in Canada would ban together to support the Foodgrains Ban like they did,” says Hopper.
“I think they wondered, ‘Okay, so why would a farmer from Eckville, Alberta care about what happens in Ethiopia?’” he adds. “It was a real eye opener for them that a lot of farmers from across the entire country supported these projects so much.”
Since it’s inception, the St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church Growing Project has raised nearly $240,000 through PWS&D. When matched by Global Affairs Canada that would be over a million dollars worth of aid for the Foodgrains Bank.
“Our community just really sees the value of the mission work of the Foodgrains Bank and the food going to help people out in countries where they need it,” says Hopper. “They’re just really invested in helping somebody else out.”
The commitment St. Paul’s Presbyterian shows for ending hunger is mirrored in Presbyterian congregations across Canada. Over the past 25 years, Canadian Presbyterians have donated over $4 million to help alleviate suffering overseas through PWS&D, allocating over $270,000 in 2016-17 alone.
For Guy Smagghe, Director of PWS&D, the generosity of Presbyterians across Canada, coupled with the hunger-focused nature of the Foodgrains Bank, allows for a more just world.
“Witnessing the passionate support PWS&D supporters have for ending global hunger is inspiring,” says Smagghe. “Together, PWS&D, Canadian Presbyterians and the Foodgrains Bank are helping alleviate suffering for millions of people.”
Jim Cornelius, the Executive Director of the Foodgrains Bank, says he’s grateful for the fruitful partnership between the Foodgrains Bank and PWS&D.
“We deeply value our partnership with PWS&D and look forward to many more years of working toward a world without hunger together,” says Cornelius.
“When Canadian Christians from all denominations can come together in support of ending global hunger, it’s a powerful thing,” he adds.
And for Rick Fee, looking back on the 25 years of partnership between PWS&D and the Foodgrains Bank, he couldn’t have imagined a more rewarding outcome.
“I think it’s had an impact on many people’s lives, and it’s very gratifying to see that Canadian Presbyterians are still responding,” says Fee.
“This has become a part of our DNA now.”