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MacGregor-area farmer opens charity sunflower selfie spot for 2nd year

A Manitoba farmer is continuing his tradition of helping people take the ultimate sunflower-themed selfies — while also raising money to stamp out hunger and defuse a thorny problem some producers face from picture-hunting trespassers.

Dean Toews, who farms just outside of MacGregor, Man., has again planted a large field of sunflowers in hopes of attracting Instagrammers to come, snap pics and make a voluntary donation to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. 

Toews is the chair of Feed Other Countries Undo Starvation, or FOCUS. His family’s farm, two others in the area and five Hutterite colonies volunteer to grow food for the organization in benefit of the foodgrains bank. Local suppliers also help with donations of fertilizer and chemicals. 

The Canadian Foodgrains Bank works to help developing countries meet emergency food needs and devise long-term solutions to hunger.

Last year’s effort raised $2,000 in cash donations and made another $20,000 on the sale of the sunflower crop, Toews said. The federal government matched that amount at a ratio of 4:1, meaning more than $100,000 was raised overall.

He hopes this year will exceed that. To get there, Toews is employing a large sign complete with a QR code visitors can use to donate through their phones if they choose, as well as accepting cash. 

The attraction is also open earlier in the season than it was last year, increasing the chances of a greater donation yield.

Part of the idea also came from a tension point that can flare up between farmers and city folk, Toews said on Sunday. 

Manitoba farmer Dean Toews is using a sunflower field as an attraction to raise money for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank for the second year in a row. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“When they’ve come out to the field, they want to see the sunflowers, but it’s essentially trespassing unless they have permission. And so we thought, ‘What if we gave people permission to come and enjoy themselves in the field?'”

Sydney Winter, who drove out Sunday from Headingley, just west of Winnipeg, said it was worth it.

“We love taking photos, so it was really nice that there’s a place that welcomed us onto their property … and I could post on Instagram and not get in trouble,” Winter said. 

There’s another side benefit, Toews said: connecting people to farming. 

“As time goes on … people are more separated from agriculture, and so this allows more interaction,” he said. “It is raising money, but on the farmer hat side, it’s just a pleasure to have people enjoy what we do.” 

To find the fields, drive 1.6 km east of the MacGregor Co-Op Gas Bar, located on the north side of the Trans-Canada Highway. MacGregor is about 120 kilometres west of Winnipeg.

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