Most farmers want to keep sightseers and selfie-takers away from their sunflower fields. But Dean and Roxanne Toews welcome them — for a cause.

Most farmers want to keep sightseers and selfie-takers away from their sunflower fields. But Dean and Roxanne Toews welcome them — for a cause.

The couple — who grow corn, soybeans, edible beans, oats, wheat and sunflowers with Dean’s dad, two brothers and their spouses on their farm near MacGregor — supports Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a church-based international relief and development agency based in Winnipeg.

As part of their support, they planted 45 acres of sunflowers this year and invited the public to visit and take selfies in return for making a donation to the Foodgrains Bank.

"People spent a lot of time in the field," he said, noting two women wandered through the sunflowers for more than an hour one weekend.

"People really enjoy being among the sunflowers," he said, adding visitors are welcome to take home a sunflower head.

More than $1,900 has been raised from visitors, including $500 that was donated last Sunday alone.

Visitors are welcome, Toews said. There are still some late-blooming sunflowers in the field.

The Toewses will donate the proceeds to the Foodgrains Bank when they harvest the crop in October. They estimate they will be able to give $15,000 to $20,000 to assist people who are hungry in the developing world, in addition to the donations from the selfie-takers.

Those funds will be matched up to four-to-one by the federal government for food-related programs.

The Toewses, both 45 and members of the Westend Community Church in MacGregor, said faith is the motivation behind the invitation.

Jake Oldemkamp photo</p><p>This year, Dean and Roxanne Towes have invited the public to visit and take selfies in their sunflower crop in return for making a donation to the Foodgrains Bank.</p>

Jake Oldemkamp photo

This year, Dean and Roxanne Towes have invited the public to visit and take selfies in their sunflower crop in return for making a donation to the Foodgrains Bank.

"It’s basically about loving your neighbour," Dean said. "And some of our neighbours around the world are hungry. As a farmer, I can do something about that."

Roxanne agreed. "Jesus said to show love for your neighbours, and one way we can do that is by sharing food," she said. "So many places in the world need help."

The Toewses, who are parents of four children, appreciate how the Foodgrains Bank provides food during emergencies, such as during droughts and wars, and how it enables people in the developing world to grow their own food.

"It’s great we can do a little bit to help them make a better livelihood for their families," Roxanne said. "We’re just so thankful we can do something."

Another motivation for Dean was his trip with the Foodgrains Bank to Ethiopia in 2014. The 10-day tour of projects supported by donations from Canadians was "life-changing," he said. "It opened my eyes to a different world."

What impressed him most was seeing how projects supported by the agency helped people dig wells or irrigate land so they could grow high-value crops and look after their families.

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The trip led him to become chairman of the FOCUS (Feed Other Countries Undo Starvation) growing project near Portage la Prairie, which brings local farmers together to grow a crop for the Foodgrains Bank.

The group is growing 110 acres of canola this year. They raised more than $200,000 last year to help those who don’t have enough to eat.

Gordon Janzen, Manitoba representative for the Foodgrains Bank, said he appreciates the "creativity and commitment" of people like the Toewses.

"People like Dean and Roxanne and other farmers are the backbone of our work," he said. "Their have a real concern to look beyond themselves to the needs of others."

Manitoba farmers raised $1.9 million for the Foodgrains Bank through 39 growing projects last year. There are 38 projects this year.

faith@freepress.mb.ca

John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.