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Harvesting Hope for Haiti

Posted: Tuesday, Jun 25th, 2013

Cross-country cyclists, left to right, Terry Klein, Steve Kennedy and Candy Lovan, stop for lunch at Zion United Methodist Church in Mendota on June 21. The trio is on a 3,600-mile trip to raise awareness and support for the Harvesting Hope farm mission in Haiti. (Reporter photo by Bonnie Morris)

MENDOTA – Zion United Methodist Church in Mendota rolled out their warmest, rainy day welcome on June 21 to cross country cyclists, Steve Kennedy, Terry Klein and Candy Lovan of Rockford. The cyclists have been riding to raise awareness and money for Harvesting Hope, a faith-based organization that is providing tools and agricultural education to farmers in Haiti. Although their bike ride last Friday was cut a little short due to thunderstorms in the area, the group rolled safely into town aboard their support vehicle and enjoyed lunch served by Zion UMC church members. Afterward, Kennedy, Klein and Lovan spoke about their experiences on the road and their mission.

Equipped with cell phones, GPS and their support RV, Kennedy said their 3,600-mile journey began in Santa Monica, Calif., on May 25. One of their first challenges was navigating stoplights. “We started in the city…our shoes lock into our pedals so you have to unclip your shoe at every stop,” Kennedy said of the ride through heavily populated areas in southern California. “All the way to Venice Beach through Hollywood and out the old Route 66, every one of those lights is timed for cars not bicycles. We ended up stopping every quarter mile. It was crazy.”

“But we got really good at clipping and unclipping,” Lovan added with a laugh.

Next came the desert, which the riders agreed was not quite as difficult as they had imagined. Although it was dusty and dry, the temperature only reached about 95 degrees. “We got to Kansas and it was 107 degrees,” Kennedy laughed. “That was more of a shock. I thought the desert was actually pretty tame.”

With almost 2,000 miles covered so far, Kennedy said each member of the team has their “battle scars” but fortunately, they have not encountered any serious setbacks. “Every one of us has done something to injure ourselves one way or another,” he laughed. “Terry tore the back of his leg up and I got bit by an insect . . . and had to go to immediate care and get some antibiotics.”

As for Lovan, her single mishap was a fall from her bike, which resulted in just a few bruises but caused considerable damage to her bike. “There was a bike shop in Flagstaff and they fixed it for me - even took some parts off of a new bike because they didn’t have the right parts,” she recalled. “That was so nice of them.”

Repeatedly receiving that type of goodwill during their trip has taught the team an important lesson. “People are very generous and very good hearted in general,” Kennedy emphasized. “We have had churches and individuals put us up every night. We look at some of the churches and think we should be helping them, not them helping us. And yet, they’re giving what they’ve got.”

One example the group recalled was when they stopped on a Navajo Indian Reservation. “They invited us in and said you can use our washer and dryer - anything you need - come on in,” Lovan said.

“Yes, they had a washer and dryer but they were in such bad shape, they really needed new ones,” Kennedy said. “I talked to my church and if there is some way we can send them a washer and dryer, we’re going to try to do that.”

As of last week, the team had completed two-thirds of their cross-country journey. They are scheduled to reach their final destination of Boston, Mass. on July 12. Overall, Kennedy said the trip had benefited everyone involved including his wife, who drives the support vehicle, and their kids, who are able to bike about 10 miles a day with the team. “It’s been an experience for them to get out there, to push themselves a little bit and to see the country,” he mused. It has been great for all of us to understand how big this country is and how great it is. It’s been quite a journey.”

Harvesting Hope Mission

The main reason for the trip, however, is to support the Harvesting Hope farming mission in Haiti. Kennedy explained that farmers in Haiti still prepare the soil with a machete, so Harvesting Hope started by sending a tractor. “Then we realized there was more to it than just sending a tractor down there, so we started a farm,” he said. “We want it to be totally self-sufficient and also want it to be an educational farm where farmers can come and learn about farming techniques.”

In addition to the first tractor, Harvesting Hope has sent a number of other agricultural implements, built a farmhouse, dug a well, fenced in the property and a second tractor is on its way. Kennedy said the soil is in pretty good shape and they are now able to farm 10 acres. “We would like to expand it to about 200 acres,” he said. “We think if we get to that point, it will be totally self-sufficient and we won’t have to continually resource it.”

Harvesting Hope currently pays an agronomist and some other support staff in Haiti and helps them buy seed and supplies. Kennedy noted that 20 percent of the food raised on the farm goes to a feeding program for Haitian school children, 10 percent goes back to a seed bank and the rest generates income for the farm. Although the bike ride is not a big money maker, Kennedy said people have been generous and the team has received some money. But mostly, they have been able to raise awareness.

Klein pointed out that when people see them, they are often curious and ask what Harvesting Hope is. In fact just that morning at breakfast, he explained the program to someone who ended up giving them a contribution.

“You just never know when this will resonate with someone and they’ll decide to help,” Kennedy added. “It’s more than just raising money. That’s important but it’s also about raising awareness.”

Harvesting Hope is a non-profit corporation (seeking 501(c)3 status) that works in cooperation with indigenous ministries in and around Pignon, Haiti. For more information, visit www.harvesting-hope.org.

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