Story by Donna Fisher
MOFFIT, NORTH DAKOTA -- Dave and Renae Silbernagel know how to make dashed hopes into a rich harvest. Their hospitality, industry and practical witness to God’s goodness offer fertile ground for Haiti Solar Oven Partners (HSOP).
Photo: Dave Silbernagel harvests tomatoes at the chilly season’s end. Neither he nor his wife Renae have experienced Haiti’s tropical climate as HSOP volunteers. “We’ve had chances to go, but something always came up—but we can give,” Dave says. Photo courtesy of HSOP.
On the Silbernagel farm near Moffit, North Dakota, Renae and Dave thought about planting a garden to generate some extra cash for their passion—buying aluminum to fabricate reflectors in the HSOP workshop there.
Planning and planting the garden
When a neighbor remarked last fall that potatoes were bringing 50 cents a pound, Dave started thinking. “What if we do a garden for Haiti Solar Ovens? I started contacting seed companies to ask about donating seed.” Farmers Seed in Fairmont, Minnesota, gave seed for pumpkins, watermelon, beets, carrots and squash.
Dave’s sister Jane, and brother-in-law Jim Heier, are veterans to donationg lots of produce to their church. The couple donated 150 tomato plants and some potatoes for the HSOP garden. Another brother donated more seed potatoes. Faithful volunteers from Mandan United Methodist Church (UMC), a youth group of Eureka UMC in South Dakota, and Dennis Benz planted the two-acre HSOP garden.
Produce is sold
Photo: Assistant Director Cathy Hoss shows off the squash harvest from Dave and Renae Silbernagel’s two-acre Haiti Solar Oven Partners patch near Moffit, ND. Photo courtesy of HSOP.
The garden started producing and the Slibernagels began selling their produce in area churches. The sales from the produced raised $2000.
"It was a great success! It could have even been better—we just didn’t get enough marketing done. About one-third of the cucumbers just rotted in the field. But God is good—and rotten cucumbers make great fertilizer for next year!” said Dave.
Potatoes sold well. A few green tomatoes are still ripening inside after they were rescued from frost. There were a lot of pumpkins. One pumpkin was 2 feet in diameter. Sales from 160 pumpkins brought in an average of $7 per pumpkin. All sales were a free will donation.
Next year, Dave and Renae plan to concentrate on potatoes and pumpkins, leaving the tomatoes and cucumbers to backyard gardeners.
Silbernagel have a deep committment
Raised Catholic and divorced 20 years ago, Dave took a 10-year break from church. Renae invited him back to church. “We were both starting over and finding the Methodist Church—their openness and acceptance—that’s when I got more of a heart for missions.” Encouraged by a close friendship with Pastor Warren Wenzel, Dave started lay speaker training and soon became Sakakawea District Lay Leader.
When HSOP Director Rick Jost asked Dave, then the general manager for Wallwork Trucks, about buying a truck for Haiti, Dave thought to himself, “I know trucks, I can help with this.”
A stroke in 2010 brought a switch to part-time work, bringing Dave less stress and more freedom to say ‘yes’ to missions. Soon Dave was on the HSOP Advisory Board where discussions started him thinking about a workshop where the new aluminum reflectors could be fabricated.
Dave and Renae Silbernagel have never been to Haiti. That did not stop the Silbernagels from making a major commitment to house a fabrication workshop right on their own land, involving a huge investment of time.
Now they play host to ministry teams of pastors and work groups from around the Dakotas. Teams from Mandan United Methodist and Faith Lutheran in Bismarck come every other week. Another team from Bismarck, called Men in Mission, a Lutheran group, come every week.
Photo: Casual conversation during a work session is the way that Dave Silbernagel shares what a solar oven can mean to a Haitian family. Photo courtesy of HSOP.
‘While we work, we talk,” describes Dave. “We talk about water and how the ovens help pasteurize water; we talk how people in Haiti pay $15 for an oven—that’s a lot of money for them—and how not spending money on charcoal allows more money for a family’s food. We talk about how a church can do the Oven-a-Month Partner Campaign. We describe how people learn to cook in a two-day seminar and what one oven means to a family. The more you know, the more involved you get.”
These days Dave’s energy is focused on HSOP’s Oven-a-Month campaign in local churches. Dave and Renae are thrilled that the 28 member church in Moffitt has pledged $1800—one $150 oven a month! “Any church can do this,” they say.
So while some of that 2014 cucumber crop turns to fertilizer, the Silbernagels are organizing for another work team at their Moffitt workshop and thinking about pumpkin planting next spring.