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Foodgrains Bank celebrates 40 years of grain donations

Grain from this CFGB project will become part of the Foodgrains Bank
Grain from this CFGB project will become part of the Foodgrains Bank

In October 1976, farmers in western Canada answered the call of hungry people in the developing world, and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), as it was later named, was born. Now the CFGB is stronger than ever, and celebrating 40 years of mitigating hunger around the world.

Farmers didn’t want surplus grain from higher yield harvests to go to waste. “The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) was only exporting a certain amount of grain, so farmers had grain that was piled and stored and at times even spoiling,” said Rick Block, the new Saskatchewan representative for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), together with his wife Jacquie.

Media reports of starving people in various regions propelled farmers to act. They worked through the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), who lobbied the Canadian Wheat Board to find an avenue through its jurisdiction to distribute surplus grain internationally, Block said.

“This grain could be basically handled, tagged and shipped outside of what would be the CWB quota, specifically as grain for relief and food aid.”

The CFGB is a member-based cooperative of 15 churches and church-based agencies that work together to end world hunger through food assistance, longer-term assistance with agriculture and livelihoods, and addressing nutrition.

The organization is one of perhaps a half dozen agencies across Canada that is recognized by the Canadian government as having a valuable rapport and demonstrated leadership internationally in providing assistance of this nature, Block said.

From the beginning, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) as it was known then, would do matching grants. CIDA became Global Affairs Canada, which recently announced $125 million in funding over the next five years for the world’s most vulnerable. In the announcement, Jim Carr, Federal Minister of Natural Resources, stated that the Foodgrains Bank has been one of Global Affairs Canada’s most important partners since 1983, when they officially took the name.

In 1977-78, MCC sent the first shipment of grain from the Food Bank to India. For years, the CFGB shipped mainly wheat or barley to countries experiencing famine. “But even years ago, that was controversial because then you may have introduced a whole host of potential problems as well,” said Block. Distribution became an issue at times and there was a risk of piracy. But there was also the possibility of destabilizing local markets.

“Think about this huge ship coming into countries like India and Ethiopia with all this grain. There’s wheat farmers in those countries as well. And suddenly you are flooding the local market with all this cheap wheat,” said Block. Local growers would be impacted as prices were pushed down.

Roughly 10 years ago, CFGB made a transition and ceased shipping grain. Grain is still donated but now it is sold into the Canadian market. This also opened the door for individual and corporate monetary donations. All the proceeds are funneled into the Foodgrains Bank and member agencies determine how it is allocated.

In the past year, the CFGB provided over $43 million of assistance, which focused on over one million people in 40 countries, according to their annual report for 2015-2016.

Couple keen to head Foodgrains Bank

Rick and Jacquie Block are the new Saskatchewan representatives for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank
Rick and Jacquie Block are the new Saskatchewan representatives for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank

Rick and Jacquie Block, the new regional representatives for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) in Saskatchewan, have jumped into the role. They are on the road this week, facilitating a couple of CFGB celebratory dinners – one in Outlook and one in Yorkton.

The Saskatoon couple is taking over the position from Dave Meier who has retired, and will job-share the position.

“Jacquie and I have talked about roughly an 80/20 split in this job-share,” said Rick. “I’m taking 80 per cent.” Rick has a strong background in agriculture and Jacquie anticipates helping administratively and providing support to CFGB volunteers.

The Canadian Foodgrains Bank is a member-based cooperative of 15 churches and church-based agencies that work together to end world hunger. They do this in three primary ways: food assistance, longer-term assistance with agriculture and livelihoods, and addressing nutrition. The CFGB is one of perhaps a half dozen agencies across Canada that is recognized by the Canadian government as having a valuable rapport and demonstrated leadership internationally in providing assistance of this nature.

Rick was born in Rosthern, SK, but grew up in Waldheim on an acreage. He received a Master’s Degree in Soil Sciences from the University of Saskatchewan and has worked with Heifer International, as a service volunteer in Mexico, briefly with the Ministry of Agriculture, and most recently with Agriculture in the Classroom.

“I really enjoy working in the field of agriculture but especially working with people in the community – the human dimension,” said Rick.

Originally, a BC girl, Jacquie has a background in theology and says her faith calls her to respond to the needs of people around her, whatever they might be. “I see people as fairly holistic, so I don’t separate needs into spiritual or emotional, or mental or physical,” she said. “A need is a need.”

Jacquie cannot imagine not having enough food to give her children. Addressing starvation in other parts of the world is a big part of her motivation in working with CFGB. She welcomes the exposure their kids will have through their work with CFGB. Ten-year-old Ezra and 7-year-old Hilary will have many opportunities to learn about agriculture and food sourcing both here in Canada and in different parts of the globe.

The Blocks role involves supporting the work members are already doing in their constituencies, facilitating public engagement and education, and increasing awareness of agriculture in its global scope.

“Some of that is walking alongside,” said Rick. “How do you encourage a family who perhaps knows the farm model they are currently in will not be sustainable, so they’re looking at transitioning to a new production or farm model, or maintaining their land base and helping engage their children or maybe their adult children in that? It’s helping people see new opportunities.”

The Blocks look forward to connecting with their member base across Saskatchewan. In addition to donations of grain, CFGB also receives individual and corporate donations directly from those with or without denominational affiliations, basically anyone who has an affinity for the work of CFGB.

CFGB does International Learning Tours, which provide Canadians with a deeper understanding of hunger and food production in various regions of the world.

”Tours help to uncover stereotypes or generalizations. Participants realize ‘these families are just like us’.” They discover farmers the world over who are intelligent, innovative and resilient, but often lack many of the resources available in Canada. When tour participants return, their first-hand accounts provide new knowledge of the similarities between farmers here and elsewhere, as well as the distinct challenges faced in other regions.

Rick will soon be heading to Rwanda on a learning tour, and in a few months, Jacquie will go to Lebanon.

On November 7, the federal government announced new funding for people trapped in vulnerable circumstances. The new five-year $125 million agreement means “people living in refugee camps, recovering from natural disasters, and caught in conflicts, will continue to receive crucial food assistance,” according to the Honourable Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources. The Blocks said typically CFGB donations have been matched 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 through this funding.

Funds from Foodgrains auction provide critical aid

There was bidding in the tent, food sales in the metal barn, cattle, meat and equipment sales outdoors and much more at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank annual auction
There was bidding in the tent, food sales in the metal barn, cattle, meat and equipment sales outdoors and much more at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank annual auction

Of all the fund-raising efforts and community projects the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) is involved in, the annual action is the biggest.

“The auction is the largest single find-raising event in the province, of any type,” said coordinator Dave Meier. A lot of CFGB funding comes from community growing projects.

“Some years we’ll have a quarter section project that will raise $100,000, because everything is donated, gets brought in to us and sold.” But the auction tops that.

In its 36th year, the auction brought in close to $140,000, which is a slight drop, but basically on par with the fast few years, Meier said.

The CFGB charity auction takes place annually at the Walter Wiebe farm between Osler and Hague. “It was a real good sale again. They didn’t have as many items, but they had better, newer items. I felt that the people who were there were there to support it.”

Besides a wide range of household and other items, the sale always has at least one market-ready animal that they butcher on site, and cut and wrap to sell meat there. “A lot of ground beef sold for around $20 a pound,” Meier said.

There was plenty of food prepared by the Bergthaler Mennonite ladies for purchase. While cattle sales were down, food sales were up. In fact the sale is a collective effort from about five churches in the Bergthaler Mennonite group.

John Enns is the treasurer for the CFGB and said it’s unrealistic to think sale proceeds can go up every year. He said the sale is not untouched by the general direction of the economy. “It does have an effect. But overall we’re quite pleased with the way things went and we’re looking forward to next year.”

Meier is in his 14th year coordinating the event, dating back to the years when it was still called a Mennonite Food Bank. He says he’s retiring this year, but has being involved because he loves what CFGB does.

IMG_9959-cmyk-w“You’re making a difference in thousands of people’s lives. Last year, over 1.1 million people got help from the Foodgrains bank.” The CFGB has been heavily focused in Syria and the surrounding nations like Lebanon and Jordan in recent years. In fact, they have allocated over $29 million into Syria and that area alone since that conflict started.

Meier says over 11 million people have been displaced in the region, many of them because their houses were burnt down and they fled with the clothes on their back.

To provide some perspective he said, “Eleven million people is equivalent to the population of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Try to get your head around that.”

Meier said the CFGB assisted around 39 countries last year, helping people out of poverty every day. “It can be through food provision, teaching conservation agriculture, doing water projects, sometimes providing seed for a family after a drought, and providing them with a few chickens or some goats.

“It happens because people like these CFGB volunteers give of their time and possessions and make it happen, and they do that year after year,” he said.