Wheat harvest on Wellington Crescent lawn raises $20K for Harvest Manitoba

Harvesting grains isn’t something you tend to see inside Winnipeg city limits, but that’s what happened this week as a way of raising money for a good cause.

Rick Rutherford and some friends in the agriculture industry seeded a small plot of wheat on his lawn on Wellington Crescent a few months ago, to showcase modern agriculture in an urban setting.

On Thursday, they harvested the wheat and raised more than $20,000 in donations for Harvest Manitoba food banks.

“A lot of people in agriculture that were there, they’re experiencing a 50 per cent drop in their income because of drought, and they were out there with their wallets giving money to Harvest,” said Rutherford. “That was really touching to me.”

Members of the public were invited to the watch the harvest take place. Those who brought non-perishable food items to donate were gifted one of 80 donated loaves of bread made from wheat flour.

Rich Rutherford owns a property on Wellington Crescent where wheat was harvested to raise more than $20,000 for Harvest Manitoba. (Walther Bernal)

They also learned more about some non-traditional farming methods that could become more important to feeding the growing world of the future.

“The city population, although most of them have roots to agriculture, have a disconnect with agriculture and especially modern agriculture, and the practices we’re using,” said Rutherford.

One technology of increasing importance is gene editing, said Logan Skori, co-founder of biotech company AgGene Inc. Research and a gene editing scientist.

Though many in the industry are familiar with the role of gene editing in agriculture, many urbanites aren’t, so the harvest on Wellington provided a good opportunity to introduce the topic to members of the public, he said.

Skori said he explained to people who stopped by why the technology will increasingly be a boon to Canadian agriculture due to its ability to breed new traits in crops. That includes boosting protein levels in plants like canola, peas and soy.

“[It’s] a real important technology if we want to feed the world,” he said. “The biggest advantage that gene editing gives us is we’re able to develop products and genetic traits for plants much faster.”

Wheat seeded in the spring was harvested on Thursday night. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Skori said gene editing can do to the DNA blueprint of plants in two or three years what traditional plant breeding techniques take a decade to achieve, in terms of the ability to develop a trait.

That speed will be needed due to the increasing pressures on food production from climate change and a growing population that is increasingly turning to more plant-based options in everyday diets, he said.

“As we start looking at some of the challenges we face in agriculture — especially this year, with drought — this tool, gene editing, will allow us to develop drought-tolerant cultivars quicker and get them to market so that farmers can grow good crops,” said Skori.

“We have to start thinking long-term about food production, and being able to take the research from the lab and translate it into the technology in the field is really critical.”

Rutherford said the plan for the urban harvest is to do it all again next year with canola.

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