Orrin Strand, a fourth-generation farmer, lives and works on his 800-acre farm near Albion, Neb. He’s been growing corn, soybeans and alfalfa here for 42 years. His Norwegian forbears came here in 1878, including his great-grandfather, Jens Reppen.
“I’m living on the homestead he settled here,” Orrin explained, noting the corn that grows in this region is “some of the best that there is.”
Orrin was raised by parents who were active in the community. His mother, a teacher, “was politically active and cared about things going on in the world,” he noted. Likewise, his father, a farmer, was involved with groups of other farmers who organized to have better control over how their crops were marketed and priced.
“I’ve always had a passion for justice,” Orrin explained. “I had this instilled in me.”
A lifelong member of Immanuel Zion Lutheran Church, Orrin found a creative way to give that expresses his work, his faith and his passion. About five years ago, he became ELCA World Hunger‘s first “gift-of-grain” donor.
Orrin, a member of the ELCA Nebraska Synod Council, was asked by then Bishop David DeFreese if he wanted to chair the synod’s hunger committee. He accepted the invitation and in 2010 attended the annual ELCA World Hunger Leaders Gathering in Detroit.
Meeting with people from around the country to engage in a larger dialogue about hunger “really was an inspiration to me,” Orrin said. Prior to the meeting, he said he hadn’t thought much about hunger or how the ELCA, as an organization, could respond to it.
“When you hear those stories and have those conversations, it gives you a little boost to want to take a step beyond where you were at,” Orrin explained. “It really opened my eyes and helped me to understand a bit about what more we could be doing.” He believes food “is something that we should be focusing on as a resource that we have some control over – to deal with the issues not just from a relief perspective but [also] from a justice perspective.”
Orrin appreciates the fact that ELCA World Hunger looks not only at providing relief but also at the causes and sustainable solutions for addressing a world where 1 in 10 people are hungry.
“That’s one thing I [really] like about the ELCA,” he said. “It has an education process dealing with the societal and cultural issues [related to hunger].”
And, in addition to helping him to contemplate the issues of world hunger, the ELCA World Hunger Leaders Gathering also planted the seed for how he might make a meaningful gift to help the ELCA respond to the overwhelming need.
Every year at harvest time, Orrin hauls his corn to the local grain elevator, setting aside the first 1 percent, or approximately 1,000 to 2,000 bushels, for the ELCA.
“I give that right off the top,” Orrin said. He tells the operator, “This load is going to ELCA World Hunger,” instructing them to contribute the first 1 percent of his corn harvest. The grain elevator opens an account for the gift. As it would with a gift of stock, the ELCA sells the grain and receives a check from the sale.
So, literally and figuratively, Orrin’s gift is a “first fruits” gift. In this way, every year, Orrin helps feed the world twice — first as a farmer producing a crop and then by making an annual gift from that crop.
“First fruits is a cool concept,” he said, explaining how it changed his perspective on what stewardship is all about. “You give back to God from what he has given you. The first fruits are taken from what we have produced or received and we give back the first from that.”
“From an agricultural viewpoint, you plant a seed in the ground and it produces more seeds than you planted, hopefully, and whatever that amount is, you take the first of that and give back to the things God wants to use it for,” he said, adding, “Everything we have, from a stewardship perspective, belongs to God. If you just focus on first fruits, God will take care of the rest.”