Feeding cattle for the church
Agri-Urban program raises more than $5 million over 40 years.by Carol Duerksen for Mennonite Church USA
Alan Entz of First Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan., walks along the feed bunk, bucket in hand, feeding the cattle. The corn pours, and the big “AU” proclaims that these cattle belong to the Agri-Urban program.
Alan Entz of Newton, Kan., a participant in the Agri-Urban program, feeds Agri-Urban cattle. Photo by Vada Snider.
“Agri-Urban means I can do something with what I already do and give money to Western District, Bethel College and Mennonite Church USA,” Entz says. “The concept is simple: Urban people buy the cattle, and we farmers feed them.”
It may sound simple, but in the early 1970s, when Elbert Koontz first sold the dream to Western District Conference (WDC) officers, the responses were mixed. Some thought it might work for awhile and then die out. Others weren’t sure why the conference should be “in the cattle business.” What the idea had going for it was that it offered a program for farmers and urban dwellers to join hands and raise funds to benefit the conference.
When the vote came up at the 1971 fall WDC gathering, it passed by a wide margin, and Agri-Urban was born. Later, the committee leading the program decided to expand the plan to include Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., and the General Conference Mennonite Church. A farmer selling Agri-Urban livestock could designate any of the three institutions to receive the profits. Undesignated profits were split, with half going to WDC and one fourth each going to Bethel College and the General Conference.
Participants engage the activities at the annual Day on the Farm near Goessel, Kan. WDC photo.
Forty years after the first cattle were purchased by Agri-Urban, it’s hard to tally the impact this program has made on the people involved and on the ministries it benefits.
Nearly $5.5 million has been raised, the program has expanded to involve grain, and several thousand people in Kansas and Nebraska have contributed funds, purchased feed certificates, fed livestock or donated grain. Beef cattle, dairy calves and milk, pigs and grain have all been sold.
Currently, the strongest participation is in Zion Mennonite (Elbing, Kan.) and Grace Hill Mennonite (Whitewater, Kan.) congregations east of Newton. Russ Janzen’s father, Herman Janzen of Zion Mennonite, was one of the first farmers to participate, and Russ Janzen has continued to feed 8 to 10 cattle every year for more than 20 years on his Elbing farm.
Dwight Flaming of Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church in Goessel, Kan., is another second-generation Agri-Urban farmer. His father, Randolf Flaming, was a dairyman who got enthused about the program, even though it involved beef cattle.
In 1996, Randolf Flaming was part of an Agri-Urban board that dreamed a new dream. Hoping to give children a chance to touch farm animals and hear stories from people caring for them, the board members wondered about creating a “Day on the Farm.”
They approached Maynard Knepp and Carol Duerksen of Tabor Mennonite Church (Newton) about hosting the event on their farm between Goessel and Hillsboro, Kan.
The farm was already home to numerous animals and provided shade trees, open spaces and pens to house additional animals. The couple agreed, and on Sept. 7, 1996, more than 500 people participated in the first annual Day on the Farm, which usually brings in $2,000.
“After the first event back in 1996, a child asked her parents if she could go back the next day because it was the most fun thing she could think of doing,” says Entz, who is in his ninth year on the Agri-Urban board and fifth year as chairperson.
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