Ray Baloun has lived up to the moniker since 2005 when the Canadian certified grain buyer and crop adviser quickly scribbled on a restaurant napkin the plan for “Kernels of Hope,” a project to help farmers in impoverished countries improve their own land and develop sustainable practices. It has since raised roughly $3 million.
The T.W. Anderson Award has been presented at each Annual Meeting since 1985 to laypersons in recognition of their outstanding service to their church, community, profession, and the broader world. It is named in honor of the only layperson ever elected president of the ECC. Baloun is the first Canadian to receive the award.
Baloun has been a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Canada since 1987. He currently attends Minnedosa Evangelical Covenant Church in
Minnedosa, Manitoba. Among his many contributions to local and denominational ministries, he has served as a member of the ECC-Canada Leadership Board and as representative of World Relief Canada on the Canadian Foodgrains Bank Board.
It was while serving as a Canada Conference delegate to an annual meeting with World Relief Canada and The Canadian Foodgrains Bank that he came up with the idea for Kernels over lunch.
Through the Kernels of Hope project, farmers in several Canadian provinces donate their time to grow wheat and canola crops on a portion of their land set aside to be “purchased” by virtual farmer donors. Those donations pay the costs of rent, seed, chemicals, insurance, and custom work.
When the crops are sold, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) matches the grain sales revenue on a four-to-one ratio to reach the final donation amount. That money is distributed to the intended recipients through the Canadian Food Grains Bank and World Relief Canada.
The money is used to provide implements and other needed supplies. So far, Kernels has benefitted farmers in South Sudan, Liberia, and Democratic Republic of Congo. Other denominations also have started similar programs with his assistance.
“I can safely say that truly thousands of lives have been saved and many communities transformed due to the passion of Ray ‘the Grain Guy’!” wrote Darrell Winger, chief executive officer and president of World Relief Canada in support of Baloun’s nomination. “(He is) a person who decided that fulfilling the words of Jesus means taking action, pursuing a vision, and providing a practical way for others to join him in feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and caring for the ‘least of these.’”
Baloun says he thinks of himself as a connector, which includes bringing together people from urban and rural settings, and across Canada and the United States to reach the common goal of ending hunger. He added that is a gift to see how farmers in other countries are better able to support their own families thanks to an initial contribution.
Local residents also have benefitted from his commitment to serving others and which led him to be named a “Hometown Hero,” and honor that recognizes outstanding citizens throughout Manitoba. That service includes serving as a volunteer driver for the Handi Van, which transports people and their wheelchairs or scooters around town.
He also has regularly taught schoolchildren about agriculture through the “AG in the Classroom” project.
“I have a blast doing different activities and demonstrations and teaching the kids that agriculture is cool and fun!” he said. “I end each session with the question, ‘What is the most important job in the world?’ That can be a hard question even for adults, but when you really think about it the answer is obvious—farming. Without farming there’s no food.”
Upon accepting the award, he said, “Being a volunteer is easy when you’re having fun.”