By Heather Cameron
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On top of celebrating another harvest season, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank is also celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2023 and highlighted that harvest has changed over time.
“In the early days, farmers collected grain, bagged it, and transported it on trains to collection sites,” Ary Vreeken, Regional Representative in Alberta for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, said. “Later, farmers drove grain directly to grain elevators, where they unloaded their trucks – marked as a donation to the Foodgrains Bank. In 1989, the first Community Growing Project started in Carrot River, Sask., with Alberta farmers joining in a few years later.”
Vreeken says that the origins of the Foodgrains Bank involved concerns about major famines in developing nations, such as the 1974 famine in Bangladesh, serious famines in Ethiopia and elsewhere, including the current unprecedented food crisis in the Horn of Africa.
“Canadian farmers, growing food for Canadians, realized that they could help by sending a portion of our food to places with severe famines. Places that usually lack the social safety nets that Canada has,” Vreeken said. “As such, our origins started with a focus on hunger in developing countries. In order not to try to be ‘all men to all people’ the Canadian Foodgrains Bank chose to stay with its original mandate and become a leader in international food relief and food security.”
Over the many years, Vreeken says, the Community Growing Projects have experienced the same ebbs and flows of bumper crops and setbacks as the farmers who volunteered for the projects. Yet, Vreeken says, many of these projects have been going year after year for 25 years or more.
“More recently, however, the vast increase in land prices have made it a challenge to find farmers to rent or donate land. Another challenge is the rapid increase of the costs of inputs, which can cut into the proceeds. On the other hand, farm input suppliers are continuing to be extremely generous toward the Growing Projects. Finally, we see a ‘greying’ of the farm population, with greater numbers ‘ageing-out’ of active farming.”
Vreeken says that while there are young farmers who are interested in taking over these projects from the older generation, the costs of starting a farm are so prohibitive today that young farmers are less capable to forego the opportunity costs associated with running a growing project.
The pandemic, Vreeken says, also created serious constraints to the way the projects had developed in terms of communal involvement, but in spite of the fact that community gatherings were not possible, the Growing Projects did manage to continue during the pandemic. In fact, Vreeken says, during the pandemic the Foodgrains Bank experienced record overall incomes.
Vreeken says that the community growing projects offer a very practical and tangible opportunity for individuals to join with other individuals and get a real sense that they are doing something about this concern, even if it is an ocean away from where the need is felt. Being actually hands-on involved in “ending hunger” has an empowering effect.
In face of the overwhelming rates and levels of hunger in the world, it is easy for individuals in Canada to feel helpless to be able to do anything about it. Especially for those who wish that they could do anything, this can be very frustrating.
“There is no doubt that lack of food security and hunger is a significant issue in Canada,” Vreeken said. “And while we have structures and systems to be able to respond to domestic food issues, these can certainly be strengthened. As such, we stand in solidarity with those who focus on ending hunger in Canada.”