One of Eden Foundation’s most significant fundraising events, the Visit the Villages Tractor Trek, has officially surpassed $1M.
"The fact that we’ve reached this milestone signifies that this is a very important and significant cause," said Armin Ens, event founder and lead tractor driver. "We live in an incredibly generous community,"
Bathed in sunshine and blue skies, the 16th annual parade of old tractors left Winkler following a community breakfast, winding its way through the villages of Reinfeld, Blumengart Hutterite Colony, Gnadenthal, and Neuenberg.
"It is very good to see all these different people come together, even from Steinbach and from other communities, and just the camaraderie and then the visiting and some of the reminiscing," said Eden Health Care Services board member Ron Gerbrandt, who was there to lend a hand because of his interest in older tractors. "And then of course, the fact that we're raising money for the mental health issues, which is important. It's getting more airtime these days and I think it's good. We're finally talking about stuff that was always hidden. So in that sense, it's very good to bring it out in different ways that are not threatening to people."
In 2007, Eden Foundation's board of directors decided a new fundraiser was needed. Ens, a board member at the time, came up with the idea of a vintage tractor parade.
"The one we had was a golf tournament and that was becoming more popular. We found out we could only receive about 55% of our donations because of the way CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) was set up and the way we had set up. We wanted something where we had a better rate of return. This is a copycat from Legend Car Club doing cancer run. We made the official entry form enough to cover all our expenses so when we go and ask for donations, 100% goes to Eden."
The original event was designed to attract 40 tractors that were at least 40 years old, driving 40 kilometers in an effort to raise $40,000 in honour of the Eden organization’s 40th anniversary. By 2007, total funds raised equaled $51,195. In 2022, the trek raised $92,833, raising the revenue total to $975,177.
"This is a special event for Eden Foundation, and for the community of vintage tractor enthusiasts," said Jayme Giesbrecht, Eden's Director of Development, in a news release. "To see the drivers put in the time and courage it takes to ask friends, family members, and local businesses for financial support is exceptional. And many of the trekkers have returned year after year, so we build relationships with them, and they learn Eden’s story, and how those funds are making a difference."
Every year, Ens has been seated on the lead tractor, a role that he downplays even now.
"At the beginning, I designed the routes most of the time, so I knew where to go. Otherwise, being number one there doesn't matter as much as just that it gets done right. That means a lot. I know we're doing good things for other people and we're having an enjoyable time and so far it's always been perfect weather."
With 49 trekkers participating in this year's event, Ens says one advantage to being out in front is that he doesn't have to eat anyone else's dust.
Mavis Dyck is one spectator who usually shows up to watch these classic tractors rumble by.
"We enjoy it very much. It brings back old memories of farm life. When we bring our children they can see something that they didn't experience any other way. It keeps history alive."
Hitting the $1M mark in 2023 means the Foundation reached its goal nine years ahead of schedule.
Funds raised go to support the Winkler-based organization's Mental Health programs.
With files from Abigail Wall.