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CropTalk: If You Teach a Man to Fish

Published on Tuesday, May 18, 2021

If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

I used the same proverb to introduce my December 2020 CropTalk feature article If You Give a Man a Fish. In it, I detailed the selfless work of Kenton and Autumn Hofer from Bridgewater, South Dakota, and their tireless efforts with Growing Hope Globally. Growing Hope is an agricultural-based organization dedicated to providing training on sustainable agriculture, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, access to water, seeds, and land to people in need around the world.

I had hoped that the article would promote Growing Hope Globally and maybe even drum up some interest among other Beck’s customers and dealers to join their efforts. But I could have never imaged that it would connect customers who live 895 miles away from one another.

In February, it was brought to my attention that a group of farmers and farmer-dealers in Michigan (who were also part of a group effort to make an impact and help those less fortunate overseas) scheduled a Zoom call with Kenton to learn more about his efforts in South Dakota. As it turns out, the Thumb Area Hunger Relief Project (formally the Huron County Hunger Relief Project) also supports Growing Hope Globally and its missions throughout the world. The Thumb Area Hunger Relief Project committee is comprised of 19 people, including Beck’s Dealers Tom Ziel and Tom Hess and customer Jim Licht.

The Michigan-based committee was formed in 2003 under the leadership of the late Merlin Yoder. As a man rooted in his Christian faith, Merlin had a vision and felt called to help those in need.

That first year the committee farmed a 30-acre field belonging to the local FFA Chapter and raised $6,000. That 30-acre field is still in the project today. They experienced slow growth, adding 40 acres the following year, with land moving in and out of the project. In 2011, Merlin lost his life in a tragic farm accident, but to honor his memory and his Christian walk, the efforts continued. His family offered to add a few of their farms that year, one of which is still a part of the project. Today, the Thumb Area Hunger Relief Project farms 255 acres, with almost 100% of the land and inputs donated from area businesses.

Many of the committee members today were part of that initial meeting, including Jim Licht, who still recalls precisely where he was when he decided to follow his heart and join Merlin’s efforts. “I was in the parking lot of the church heading into the meeting when a friend of mine told me that the space shuttle Columbia had just exploded,” Jim said. “On such a disastrous morning for the country and those astronauts, something good was started here in Huron County that has helped so many people around the world.”

According to Growing Hope Globally’s estimates, $55 can help sustain an individual in a village or community in an impoverished country for five years. And today, the Thumb Area Hunger Relief project has raised just short of 2 million dollars, helping over 36,000 people in need.

The Thumb Area Project is every bit as much a community effort as it is those 19 committee members. From donations of inputs from local seed and chemical companies to various organizations and churches that donate land, time, and support, the people in these counties have united to work toward one common goal.

Jim recruited his friend and Beck’s dealer, Tom Hess, to join the efforts in 2017 through his donation of seed. A donation he continues to make today.

“My wife and I have been very blessed on the farm, and we have the ability to donate and feel called to do so,” said Tom. “It’s just part of our Christian faith to help where we can. And this is something we can do.”

What makes Growing Hope Globally special is that they are not focused on food distribution but rather on 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, establishing markets, or even better storage for their crop once it’s harvested.

“I’m all about trying to help people who want to help themselves, and this project is about creating sustainable ag projects to help rural farmers in third-world countries become more independent,” said Burt Keefer, Huron County Growing Project Manager. “That’s what drives me. I’ll bend over backward to help someone who really wants to figure out how to help themselves.”



In addition to funding projects overseas, each year, the “Thumb” team holds back some of the funds raised to help local community members in need. Whether it’s a tragic loss, a house fire, or an unforeseen circumstance, their desire and commitment to help those around them is unwavering.

“When we started, 100% of what we raised went overseas,” said Tom Ziel. “But we realized there were so many people here, so close to home, who were also in need. Each year we hold on to some of the funds, and if we have a need in the area, we decide how much to put towards it. It’s fulfilling to help so many people, and what’s cool with Growing Hope is that we get to do that for people around the world, not just people right here.”

When I was sorting through my notes from all four interviews, I kept seeing a few words or phrases repeatedly: helping people, called by God, blessed, and faith. They all feel blessed with what they have been given and called by God to continue to walk in their faith and help those less fortunate. And rather than just writing a check to an organization, these four individuals have instead chosen to become part of the change they want to see.

“I want to help people. I want to see people happy,” said Tom Ziel. “And when you’ve got faith, and you’re connected to God, and you see the great things that can happen, but you also see the devastation that goes along with it, you feel called to help those people and try to offer them a glimmer of hope.”

When I asked Jim what his favorite part of being involved in this organization was – his response was not one I had anticipated. “Normally farmers are very competitive. We all have our own businesses, we all want more land, and we all want new equipment. I’ve been doing this for a while, and just in driving down the road, I always knew what truck and what combine belonged to who,” he said. “But now, by working on this project, I’ve got to know their hearts. Some of these guys are willing to do just about anything for this project, and I never knew that their faith was that strong. It’s been so uplifting for my own faith to watch the faith of others in action.”

I would be remiss not to point out that while all four of these gentlemen graciously took the time to answer my questions, they did not want this article to be about them. Their hope is that by spreading the mission of Growing Hope Globally, more farmers will want to find out how they can get involved.

Of which, there are many ways to do so.

If you would like to make a monetary donation, visit

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Author: Maggie Holt

Categories: CropTalk, 2021


Maggie Holt

Maggie Holt

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1 comments on article "CropTalk: If You Teach a Man to Fish"

Barbara Fichtenberg

7/7/2021 4:11 PM

Thank you for this encouraging and inspiriing report!

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