Farmers hope to raise $30,000 for hunger relief

Farmers hope to raise $30,000 for hunger relief

CHAMPAIGN — Area farmers and agri-businesses are banding together to fight hunger by growing corn and donating the revenue from it to the United Way of Champaign County.

Using the slogan "Farmers Feeding Families," the group has arranged to lease a 42-acre plot in north Champaign and Urbana, with hopes of raising more than $30,000 for local hunger relief programs.

"It seems like the ag business has been great the last four or five years," said Perry "Pete" Sage of rural Thomasboro, who farms about 2,800 acres in the county. "I just thought there's gotta be a way to give back, since it's been so good for us."

Sage said the group arranged to lease land north of Bradley Avenue and south of Altorfer Inc. and Reynolds Towing on Kenyon Road from the Church of the Living God.

Illini FS applied fertilizer — supplied by The Andersons — to the tract last fall, and a group of farmers will plant corn there this spring. The seed will be provided by AgriGold.

If the farmers are able to get yields of 200 bushels an acre next fall, the 42 acres would produce about 8,400 bushels of corn. Today, corn sells for about $4.20 a bushel, and if that price holds next fall, revenues from the field would add up to $35,280.

Yields and prices are difficult to forecast, but even if yields are poor and prices are low, the project would still provide a hefty boost for hunger relief.

Sue Grey, the United Way's CEO, said it's been exciting to see the project involving farmers, the church and the United Way come together.

"What's great is that through Pete's connections, inputs like seed and labor are being donated," she said. "The goal is 100 percent of grain sales going directly back to United Way to support hunger-relief programs."

All revenues from the crop will go to United Way because expenses have been covered by participating businesses, Sage said.

Cargill, Farm Credit Services and Sloan Implement are all donating money to the project.

Plus, Sage said, BASF is providing pesticides, herbicides and fungicides; The Andersons is supplying grain-drying service; Illini FS is donating nitrogen; Cargill is covering crop insurance; and the Illinois Farm Business Farm Management Association is providing bookwork and accounting services.

About 30 farmers are involved in the project, Sage said.

"I've talked with other local farmers about making a day out of it. When it comes to harvest time, we'll get a handful of neighbors together and make fun out of it," he said.

Project coordinators have provided additional ways for farmers and others to get involved, either by writing checks or by donating grain at area elevators.

"If you want to write a check, make it out to the United Way and put 'Farmers Feeding Families' in the memo line, and they'll put it in an account and send you a receipt," Sage said.

Farmers are expected to be able to donate a specific number of bushels at their elevator, and the elevator in turn will write a check to United Way.

St. John Lutheran Church in Royal has already made a contribution to Farmers Feeding Families, and Sage said he expects other rural churches may elect to do so.

Among the hunger-relief programs that stand to benefit from the project:

— Meals on Wheels.

— The Peace Meal senior nutrition program.

— GCAP's Harvest to Home food program.

— Eastern Illinois Foodbank's Champaign County Food Fund and Elementary School Backpack Program.

— The High School Food Pantries Program of the food bank and Champaign schools.

Sage said the food-plot project is intended to be ongoing, not just a one-year fling.

"We're sitting in Illinois, with the richest ground in the world, and there's no need for someone here looking for something to eat," Sage said. "It's just not right. Hopefully, this will put a dent in that.

"Most of us buy gym memberships and are looking to lose weight, while (others) are looking for a meal," said Sage, who has volunteered at a food pantry. "There's something wrong with that equation."

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