Published on Friday, November 13, 2020
If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. That’s how the proverb goes. And while the age-old adage has been claimed by many cultures over the years, it’s not really who said it that matters but rather, what was said.
For Kenton and Autumn Hofer from Bridgewater, South Dakota, it’s a belief they stand behind and commit themselves to fulfilling.
For the last 20+ years, the Hofer’s have been involved with ministry work overseas. Kenton has visited locations such as Russia, Romania, Guatemala, and Haiti, working short-term mission trips to help those less fortunate. Returning home from his first trip to Guatemala in 2004, Kenton knew that he had to do more.
“I was working in a mountain village building a house for an 82-year-old widow,” Kenton said. “What still sticks in my mind was that all day long while we were building her house, she sat in the dirt shelling little ears of corn that they had raised or purchased with her crippled hands so that they could make enough cornmeal to have tortillas for supper. And every day that I was there helping with that house, that’s what she did. And I thought this is insane. I could combine enough corn in a minute to feed her family for the rest of her life. I came home, and I told my wife that I just couldn’t deal with the differences between our lives here and those living there,” he said.
“U.S. agriculture is not the normal. We’re living in a bubble, and we have no idea how good we have it. The Lord has blessed us, and I have the provisions to help others in need.”
They set out to find a way to make a real impact and help those less fortunate overseas. Eventually, they were directed to Growing Hope Globally (formerly Foods Resource Bank), an agricultural-based organization dedicated to addressing the root causes of hunger. “This ministry ties in with our farm, with our church, and with a passion God has laid on my heart,” Kenton said. The organization’s mission aligned perfectly with what Kenton and Autumn wanted to do; make a difference by doing what they do best – farming in South Dakota. The Hofer’s use the proceeds from their farm to provide communities around the world with training, tools, and resources that enable them to grow their own food and provide for their families.
What makes Growing Hope Globally special is that they are not focused on food distribution, but rather an education. Each project is headed up by local people with “boots on the ground” in each country who set out to determine what is needed most in that specific area. The initial goal is to assess what the people need from improved water management or irrigation to better seed, tools, financing, establish markets, or even better storage for their crop once it’s harvested
“We work on finding ways to help these people be self-sufficient so that they can feed themselves,” Kenton said. “Giving people food does nothing for their dignity. Giving them the tools to provide for themselves is a totally different thing. They feel good about it. And once they have the knowledge and the ability, no one can take that away from them.”
Growing Hope Globally was founded in 1999 by Ohio farmers Vernon and Carol Sloan, who wanted to ship corn from their fields to developing countries to become part of the solution to world hunger. Their goals were thwarted once they realized that shipping grain was extremely costly and would also wreak havoc on local farmers and markets in those countries. Their unique solution? Use the proceeds from crops raised and sold in the U.S. to fund agricultural development programs overseas. Today, their organization has served over 2 million people and helped them grow lasting solutions to hunger.
Each year, the Hofer’s commit 30 acres of corn and 30 acres of soybeans. The goal is to secure donations from local suppliers to cut the expenses on those acres and donate 100% of the profits to Growing Hope Globally. And while every year is variable based on weather, yield, and price, they have donated a sizeable amount of their harvest profits each year for the last 13 years to this organization to help end hunger in third world countries. This will be Kenton’s third year growing Beck’s and he is excited to work with his dealer, Whit Olson of Olson Seed Services, and bring Beck’s onboard with the project in 2021.
For the last few years, the Hofer’s have been working with a program in Cambodia that developed greenhouses for the locals to raise mushrooms that they then ship to bigger cities. “The initial step is to get the family fed,” Kenton said. “Once we’ve done that, then the goal is to create some extra income so they can improve their lifestyle, whether it’s affording better housing or an indoor bathroom or even to sending their kids to school.”
When asked what this organization means to him as both a farmer and a man of faith, Kenton said that he was disillusioned with agriculture in the early 2000s. “Looking back, it was the Lord prodding me and working in my heart,” he said. “I just kept thinking, ‘what is really the purpose of all this here?’ At that point, my son had just left for college. While I hoped that he would come back to the farm, I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen. And for any father trying to pass on a multi-generational farm, it’s a hard pill to swallow. But getting involved with this organization really put purpose back into why I’m farming.”
Kenton went on to mention that he finds his purpose now to be two-progged. First, he is continuing to build an operation that he hopes to pass on to his son one day. But primarily, now he has a reason to go out and do what he loves and feel good about it. “I can see the results overseas and read about the successes of these individuals becoming self-sufficient. It solidifies in my mind that what we are doing is working.”
But it’s not just the giving back that has kept Kenton involved in this project. It has also grown his faith. “Before you know what the outcome of the year will be, you commit those acres and those bushels to this work. Whatever happens, it’s God’s from the beginning,” he said. “Take 2019, for example. We only got 20% of our acres planted, but my conscience would not allow me to donate just a percentage of the acres I committed. I thought the Lord is bigger than that. So, I went ahead and still donated the same acres and figured He would fill in the blanks somehow. The bible says that without faith, it is impossible to please God. So I know that if I put it in His hands and say ‘Lord, I am committing this and trust that you will take care of the rest,’ I know that I am pleasing him. That is very, very powerful in my life.”
So how can you get involved? According to Kenton, the best place to start is to experience it first-hand. “I haven’t met very many people in my life who have gone on a mission and came back unchanged. Usually, these types of experiences light a fire that, if nurtured, will keep burning. I have been a strong proponent of short-term mission trips. It changes your world.”
He went on to say, “We as American’s have no idea how blessed we are. And once you can see first-hand how true that is, and that these people need help and we have the provisions to do that, their minds open. If you go to these countries and actually put your feet on the ground and experience their life, it becomes a part of you and you realize that really, these people are just like us, only they weren’t born in America and into the opportunities we have. We have the ability, and the knowledge, and the money to help them, so why wouldn’t we?”
To learn more and find ways to get involved, visit www.growinghopeglobally.org.
The Hofer’s live and farm in Bridgewater, South Dakota where they raise 1,400 acres of corn and soybeans. They also developed a hay business to diversify their farm, and they custom feed approximately 3,500 head of hog from nursery to finish. Kenton would be happy to speak with other farmers about his experience with Growing Hope Globally and answer any questions you might have about how to get involved. You can contact him directly at 605-999.4636.
Author: Maggie Holt
Categories: CropTalk, 2020