As spring arrives in Saskatchewan, farmers are getting ready to start seeding in a matter of weeks.
One group of farmers is still looking for land — and finding it could have a big impact on their town this year.
Central Butte, located about 160 kilometres northwest of Regina, is home to about 400 people and is a hub for other, smaller communities in the region.
Crops for Community began there in 2019 as a fundraiser for local organizations.
“It seems like every organization around is asking for money and needs donations all the time,” said Crops for Community organizer Todd Erickson. “Myself, being a business owner, you see it quite frequently — people are always banging down the door for money and donations.”
Erickson said he and others wanted to find a way for the community to “get the money back without taking money out of the community as well.”
So for the last three years, volunteers have rented a quarter section of land and asked local businesses to donate seeds, fertilizers and chemicals. Volunteers bring their own equipment to farm the land, and the profit they make after selling the crop goes to support Centre Butte’s rink, personal care home, splash park and other projects.
“These buildings and organizations play a big part in our small community and keep some people around,” said Erickson. “Without them, we don’t have a lot of stuff for kids and the elderly, and you’ve got to have stuff for them to keep the community going.”
Erickson said Crops for Community has raised between $80,000 and $90,000 since 2019. Dozens of local businesses and families have donated supplies, machines or a few hours here and there to get the job done.
“They haven’t been great crop years in our area, but the money has really helped out,” he said.
This year, organizers haven’t yet found any land to rent — and the chance to farm and raise tens of thousands of dollars for the town is now “going down to the wire,” Erickson said.
Given the amount of money that normally comes from this fundraiser, Central Butte’s chief administrative officer, Kyle Van Den Bosch, is feeling a mix of enthusiasm and some trepidation.
He said the money has helped the town “tremendously” over the last three years, with a particular highlight being support for a new daycare — but the inherent unpredictability of farming profits is a challenge.
“We don’t have any shortage of good will in Central Butte, but to my thinking, this (fundraiser) is all crops, right?” Van Den Bosch said. “So it is almost literally dependent on the weather.”
If volunteers don’t find the land, Van Den Bosch says “it could put a dent in some operations,” and the town would have to work hard to find more money elsewhere.
Still, he said, “we always find a way.”
As it stands, the rink — which also regularly hosts meetings, weddings and dances — needs some repairs, and Erickson said Iver Main Place, Central Butte’s nonprofit personal care home, has been “really in a crunch” because of the pandemic.
Iver Main manager Warren Nicholson said the care home has struggled to keep its beds full during the pandemic, as elderly people in the area have been afraid of going into lockdown and being unable to see their loved ones.
“COVID has really taken a toll on our operation, and (Crops for Community) has had a direct effect on helping us keep our doors open,” he said.
This year, the care home used some of the money to pay for extra help with cleaning and to hire an activity director.
Nicholson is one of many people in town hoping a farmer will come forward with some land to rent this year.
“They would be supporting a very important part of our community,” he said. “That’s for sure.”
Julia Peterson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix