by Carol Duerksen
The concept was simple: Urban people bought cattle, and farmers fed them.
Simple, but in the early 1970’s when Elbert Koontz began to sell the dream to Western District Conference officers, the responses were mixed. Some thought it might work for a while and then die out. Others weren’t sure why the conference should be “in the cattle business.” But the idea had a huge factor going for it: it offered a program for farmers and urban dwellers to join hands and raise funds that would benefit the conference. When the vote came up at the 1971 fall conference of WDC, it passed by a wide margin, and Agri-Urban was born. Later, the committee decided to expand the plan to include Bethel College and the General Conference Mennonite Church. A farmer selling Agri-Urban livestock could designate them to any of the three institutions; if profits were undesignated, they were split one-half to WDC, and one-fourth each to Bethel and the General Conference (later Mennonite Church USA).
Between 1972 and 2016, $1,676,845 was distributed to the Agri-Urban beneficiaries. The program expanded beyond beef cattle to include dairy calves and milk, hogs and grain. Several thousand people in Kansas and Nebraska contributed funds, purchased feed certificates, fed livestock, or donated grain. Thousands enjoyed Agri-Urban’s annual Day no the Farm, an opportunity for all ages to enjoy interacting with animals and farm-related activities.
The Agri-Urban board has now decided to close its doors. Board president Alan Entz said, “The Board felt that with the way the agricultural landscape has changed over the years, and with fewer farmers feeding cattle for Agri-Urban, it was time to close this organization when we still have a sizable amount of money to distribute.”