A local project with a global impact

First Presbyterian Church and other churches in Waukon, Iowa, respond to global hunger.

Pastor Grant VanderVelden rides in the combine with Corner of Hope leader and farmer Dennis Byrnes. Photo submitted.

With just 3,827 residents, the town of Waukon, Iowa, might be considered small by some standards, but the impact the community has made around the world is anything but small. Over the past 17 years, the community has rallied together to respond to global hunger without ever leaving home, and has helped more than 9,400 people around the world know the dignity and hope of being able to provide for themselves.

Corner of Hope Blessing of the Seeds 2022. Photo submitted.

The “Corner of Hope” Growing Project began in 2005 when the pastor at the United Church of Christ in town heard about Growing Hope Globally. “We invited all of the churches in the county to come to a meeting to learn more,” recalls John Prestemon, one of Corner of Hope’s founders. “From the start, one of the strengths of this project has been that it is very ecumenical.”

Corner of Hope brings the community together to grow and sell crops locally, raising funds to support agricultural development programs around the world. That first year a farmer from the Presbyterian church offered 20 acres to get the project started. These days there are about seven different farmers involved. Some grow crops for the project on their own land, others simply deliver a load of grain to the co-op in the name of the project. Still others farm land that has been contributed by other people and organizations. For example, the Catholic church has some excess land that is eventually intended for cemetery use, but for now, it is an organic hayfield with the proceeds going to the project.

Local agribusinesses get involved too. Most of the seed is furnished, as well as some of the needed chemicals. The co-op donates the drying costs for any grain delivered from the project.

Guests from a Growing Hope Globally funded program in Myanmar visit with Corner of Hope participants in 2017. Photo by Rachel Conley.

Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran, United Church of Christ and United Methodist churches have all been involved in different ways. Each year in February or March, Corner of Hope is the featured mission cause at First Presbyterian Church in Waukon. The response from the congregation is very generous. “There is a real connection to agriculture in this town. Our church doesn’t have many active farmers these days, but almost everyone is either a retired farmer or grew up on the farm, so we feel a real connection to this project,” said Grant VanderVelden, pastor of First Presbyterian. “There is always a debate about whether our congregation should support local or global causes with our mission offerings. The thing I like about Corner of Hope is that it is a local project with a global impact. The money we raise helps to provide agricultural inputs for our land and our farmers, but it ultimately supports programs around the world.”

Each spring the community comes together for the Blessing of the Seeds. One of the local pastors offers a prayer for the farmers, for favorable growing conditions and for a bountiful crop. They also pray for the families around the world who will be able to provide for themselves as a result. Each fall, they gather to celebrate the harvest and determine which agricultural development programs they’ll support with their crop proceeds.

Growing Hope Globally works in partnership with the international development organizations of 13 Christian denominations and their trusted local partners to implement 42 agricultural development programs in 30 countries. Over the years, Corner of Hope has chosen a wide variety of different programs to support. They’ve funded a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) program in South Sudan, a Lutheran World Relief program in Peru, Church World Service programs in the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Haiti, and Catholic Relief Services programs in Nicaragua and Myanmar.

Corner of Hope Blessing of the Seeds 2019. Photo submitted.

“My wife Gloria and I contribute four acres of our land to Corner of Hope, and it is really neat to see the seeds planted and watch them grow and know that it will help those in need. We know that the support goes where it needs to go. It isn’t spent on a lot of extras along the way. It goes right to the source, and it helps those in need to help themselves and raise their own crops,” said local barber and First Presbyterian member, Ken Krambeer. “Corner of Hope is really a part of our community. It brings us together: Protestants and Catholics, young and old. Everyone has something to contribute and everyone is willing to share. Sometimes we get together to celebrate and fellowship. This project is just a great thing to be involved in.”

“We never imagined that a small town in a poor corner of Iowa would be able to raise more than $500,000 to serve people around the world,” said Prestemon, “this project has been very rewarding to be a part of.”