Agri-Urban program has raised nearly $5.5 million over more than 40 years
By Carol Duerksen
Newton, Kan. (Mennonite Church USA)—Alan Entz of First Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan., walks along the feed bunk, bucket in hand, trying to feed the cattle and pose per the instructions of the photographer. The camera needs to see his face, the feeding process, the brand on the steer. Alan smiles, the corn pours, and the big “AU” proclaims that these cattle belong to the Agri-Urban program.
“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 began to sell 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.
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 have 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 the 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.
“When I see that Agri-Urban brand on the cattle, it gives me pause, because I realize as I am feeding them that the proceeds from these cattle will provide nourishment for minds, bodies and souls,” Russ Janzen says.
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.
“Beef and dairy cattle are completely different critters,” Dwight Flaming says. “We’ve had our moments with the beef cattle. One year, a wild one picked Dad out of four people standing in the pasture and charged him at a full run. For some reason, when it got to Dad, it just kept on running—for more than four miles.”
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 persons caring for then, 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.
“Day on the Farm helps promote what we do, and we usually bring in about $2,000 that day,” says Entz, who is in his ninth year on the Agri-Urban board and in his fifth year as chairperson. “But it is more than that. It is a yearly highlight for children and their families. 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. I know that’s what has happened for children at every Day on the Farm since then.”
Alan Entz of First Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan., a participant in the Agri-Urban program, feeds Agri-Urban cattle. (Photo by Vada Snider)
Participants engage in the activities at the annual Day on the Farm near Goessel, Kan. (Photo provided by Western District Conference)