Pigeon MI Growing Project Honors Farmer Merlin Yoder by Bev Abma

Pigeon MI Growing Project Honors Farmer Merlin Yoder by Bev Abma

This past weekend, in a community in Michigan’s thumb where more windmills dot the landscape each time I visit, I attended a bittersweet event at the Pigeon River Mennonite Church: a harvest celebration coupled with a memorial service for longtime FRB farmer Merlin Yoder.

The day started out with two wonderful dramas, "The Empty Room" and "The Case of the Frozen Saints" during morning Sunday School and worship. Community members then shared a meal to celebrate their growing project's bountiful harvest. Growing project committee member Don Ziel battled the wind as he prepared enough chicken, on a grill he designed himself, to combine with the wide selection of hot dishes, salads and desserts in abundance for the enjoyment of all present.

Following such a sumptuous meal, a siesta might seem the appropriate order of the day; however, attention was keenly focused as Burt Keefer, coordinator of the growing project, shared the joys and sorrows of this past season.  The joy: Burt told how Merlin Yoder responded to a message from MCC volunteer and FRB board member Vern Preheim nearly 10 years ago. Merlin became the impetus for the growing project that began in Pigeon on 50 acres in 2003 and which expanded to 177 acres in 2011. This year’s proceeds reached $100,000 to be sent to FRB to support smallholder ag development programs overseas.

The sorrow: in late October of this year Merlin Yoder was caught in the machinery of his combine and died of his injuries. His death has been an immense loss to his grieving family and to the community where almost everyone has a story of how Merlin was a blessing to them. "He did not want to die but was ready to die," is their comforting testimony. In Merlin’s honor and memory, his family is donating the use of farmland that will more than double the growing project’s acreage in 2012. The family is also establishing a memorial fund to support travel of people from this community to visit the work of FRB in the developing world. Participants feel a special interest in travel opportunities to Central America because it was Merlin's time there as a young man that inspired his passion for reaching out to hungry people through the Pigeon MI growing project.

In the midst of the pain of loss, the hope of Christmas brings the energy to carry on the legacy of this one man. People are already planning the 76 acres of sugar beets – an important local crop – that will bring the people of Pigeon together on an even larger scale on a community harvesting day in 2012.

Bev Abma

12/19/2011 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment