At a time when fruit growers in British Columbia, Canada, were feeling the pinch of a sinking economy, they reached out to help needy people in Third World countries.

A six-week program initiated by the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association called Farmers Helping Farmers collected $4,530 from its members for World Vision Canada to buy tropical fruit trees in countries such as Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Congo, India, Mauritania, North Sudan, and Sri Lanka.

The program, which ended in December, was the idea of BCFGA Vice-President Fred Steele, who believes the association needs to be even more proactive and community minded during difficult economic times.

"I think there is a need to set out and help other farm communities," he said. "When you’re rebuilding a society, it starts with agriculture."

Canadian growers can have a bad year, but if people have nothing, their bad years and their good years are all the same, he said. "That’s really sad."

Steele said charity is only one way the association is attempting to be more involved in community endeavors.

"The BCFGA is trying a whole lot of different things," he said, pointing to the association’s involvement last year in apple month, the sponsorship of the Kelowna Apple Triathlon, various children’s festivals, the Interior Provincial Exhibition in Armstrong, British Columbia, and the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, Ontario.

"It’s looking into the future, it’s building for the future. If you make friends, you build a loyalty base," he said.

"I believe we have to build a relationship with consumers, especially in western Canada, and especially with a recession coming, because if we don’t, we’re going to find ourselves in a position that if they don’t know who we are, why wouldn’t they just buy someone else’s product?"

The BCFGA represents 805 commercial orchards in British Columbia, with a mandate of fostering long-term prosperity for tree fruit growers.