CHURCH PROJECT Ohio joins Ukraine in farming outreach
A goal of the project is to raise funds to help Ukrainian seminaries.
PANDORA, Ohio (AP) -- Imagine farmland where the rich, black topsoil is 100 to 250 feet deep with organic matter and costs as little as $12 an acre to lease.
In addition, there is no need for drainage tile because the ground is so good it can absorb the rainfall, and soil samples reveal that only a small amount of nitrogen fertilizer is needed.
"A window of opportunity is open to set up a farm in the Ukraine," said F. Lee Grismore, a retired professor from Ohio Northern University in Ada, "but it won't stay open for very long."
A group of farmers from Pandora in northwest Ohio took hold of that opportunity a year ago and the Ukrainian Farm Project was born.
The project's goal is to raise funds to help Ukrainian seminaries, help with humanitarian aid and eventually "transfer to Ukrainians a successfully functioning farm enterprise," according to a brochure about the project.
The first "seeds" for the Ukrainian Farm Project were sown while Grismore was teaching classes at evangelical seminaries in the Ukraine.
While there, he discovered a lack of funds prevented qualified students from attending the seminaries and faculty and staff from being paid regularly.
Grismore also realized that a lot of Ukrainian soil was being poorly farmed or filled with quack grass.
"I thought about all the farmers I knew in Pandora who have [agribusiness] knowledge," Grismore said, "and I wondered if there was some way the land could be used and profits given to the seminaries."
No farm knowledge
Grismore, a retired electrical and computer engineering professor from Ohio Northern University, was teaching seminary classes in the Ukraine as part of his personal faith.
When Grismore returned home, he met with members of St. John Mennonite Church in Pandora. A group of 20 to 25 farmers and businessmen, mostly members of the church, began meeting regularly to pray about the venture.
The group learned that after the fall of communism, people in rural areas were each given between four to 20 acres, but only a few had farm equipment of their own, and those who did struggled to keep it running.
"When the state was the landowner, the people were used to doing what they were told and having Moscow make all the decisions," he said. "The people, literally, did not know how to farm."
Grismore and his wife, Ruth, also learned that the poor economy and lack of jobs in rural Ukraine is responsible for a rise in alcoholism and families in crisis, and the elderly, disabled, and orphans are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
The Pandora group soon "felt God's call for this task" and several members of the group: Gary Luginbill, Larry Steiner, and Darrel Basinger traveled to the Ukraine to select ground and buildings for their 5,000-acre farm.
Once an area was selected, a town meeting was called and all the landowners met as a group. A deal with the Americans was made to lease the land for the "premium" price of $15 an acre, creating Providence Farm.
The initial investment capital for the farm, estimated to be about $500,000, is being raised two ways, said Seth Amstutz, who leaves Monday for the Ukraine to help manage the farm.
About 40 percent of the capital has been raised, he said, and it was raised "through people investing their money in the farm, if they chose to invest, and the goal is to pay the investors back at an interest rate of 10 percent over 10 years. Or if people just want to donate to the farm, there is also a way they can get a tax deduction."
"The plan is to eventually turn 100 percent of the farm's ownership over to Ukrainian Christians," Amstutz said. "And they, in turn, will use the profits to help support the three or four evangelical seminaries in their country."
The name of the investment company is Paraclete Co.
Members of Paraclete believe it is critical to have a representative in the Ukraine and Amstutz volunteered to be a co-manager of the farm alongside a Ukrainian co-manager. Both co-managers will receive the same monthly salary, a small stipend by U.S. standards.
'A matter of prayer'
"The Ukrainian people are a very hospitable people. They'd give up their own beds for a guest," said Amstutz, 26, who grew up in a farming family.
"It's like living in the U.S. during the early 1900s," he said. "There are wells located in the front of houses and you still see horse and buggies."
Amstutz said most buildings are not heated and during cold months it is necessary to wear winter coats indoors. Outhouses are still used in rural areas and the water in Seth's apartment is only turned on for three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening.
Providence Farm is located in a rural area near the town of Berdychiv, which is about 90 miles west of Kiev.
Amstutz is returning to the Ukraine in time to supervise the arrival of a container filled with farm equipment and humanitarian aid being shipped to the Ukraine. This spring is the first spring they will be planting crops on the farm, including barley and soybeans. At the start, only 1,700 acres will be farmed, but they hope to eventually farm all 5,000 acres.
"Additional volunteers are needed to assist with spring planting and harvest and to invest in this exciting venture," Grismore said. "Providence Farm is a matter of prayer."