By Celine Klosterman
For four years, an agricultural fundraiser has brought together people of various backgrounds to support the Holy Trinity Catholic school system in Lee County, said Catholics who take part in the effort.
Farmers, business owners, alumni, school parents and local parishioners contribute in a range of ways to the “Grow an Acre” program, which last year raised its highest amount yet — more than $25,000 from 31 acres of crops. In the program, sponsors cover the expenses of farmers who grow corn or beans from donated seeds. Farmers then donate the crops to Holy Trinity, which auctions them off in Fort Madison at the annual God’s Portion Day fundraiser — which this year is Oct. 23-24.
“It’s a great way for everybody to participate,” said Jake Denning. He spearheads Grow an Acre, which was modeled off similar programs elsewhere in Iowa. “The farmer gives a little, the sponsor gives a little, and the buyer gives a little,” he said, noting especially grain buyers Chem Gro and Mt. Hamill Elevator & Lumber in Lee County. “And city folks such as myself, who can’t participate except through donations, get to play a part. In the end, the school’s the real winner.”
Sponsors — who numbered 49 in 2009 — make up most of the participants. Those donors helped cover the farming costs of 13 growers including Ray Menke, who participates annually and this year is growing four acres of corn for the fundraiser.
“I enjoy it just because it creates camaraderie,” said Menke, a graduate of the Marquette Catholic school system in West Point. His farming expenses are mostly covered by four sponsors who graduated from Aquinas Catholic schools in Fort Madison, which merged with rival Marquette schools several years ago to form Holy Trinity. “It makes a fun bunch when you mix the alumni together like this… These guys are always teasing me, asking, ‘How’s my grain doing?’”
A former president of Holy Trinity’s school board, Menke said the school system was pleasantly surprised by the interest Grow an Acre generated among alumni. “There are quite a few who’ll send in $50 or $100 to rent a portion of an acre.”
Some graduates contribute in other ways. Marquette alumni Joe Merschman is president of Merschman Seeds in West Point, which donates up to $10,000 worth of seed corn and seed beans each year. “We strongly believe in a solid, Catholic education and support the Holy Trinity school system and what it stands for,” he said. He noted many of the company’s employees attended Aquinas and Marquette schools, and they, like many other community members, “have a long tradition of supporting the schools.”
Holy Trinity’s thankful for that support, said Doris Turner, principal of the elementary school in West Point and junior/senior high school in Fort Madison. “The money that is generated from Grow an Acre goes directly into our general budget and supports our complete program. It helps to keep tuition costs down, supports teacher salaries, provides our educational programming and helps with building maintenance and upkeep… The Holy Trinity community understands the importance of maintaining a vibrant Catholic school to provide the next generation of Catholic lay and religious leaders.”