Chapter 6

A Grain of Wheat

Not often does a single Bible verse lead to an experiment that gains international attention, being carried by newspapers, magazines, radio, movies, and word of mouth around the globe, and affecting the lives of thousands of men and women. But that happened in connection with my friend Perry Hayden.

He and I had worked together in the 1920s on the Michigan Daily, student newspaper at the University of Michigan. Often he had confided to me his dream of founding a large city newspaper.

That was not to be. His father died and Perry had to take over as head of the family business, the flour mill in Tecumseh, Michigan. He married. Years passed. Five children were born. Instead of presiding over a great city daily, he literally had to keep his nose to the millstone to support his family. But there was time, also, to serve their small Quaker church, right next door to their Tecumseh home, as Superintendent of Stewardship. The mill did well and Perry was so conscientious in his work at the church that he was made Superintendent of Stewardship for the entire Quaker district, including southern Michigan, and northern Ohio and Indiana. His task was to increase the level of tithing in the district.

So Perry worked at the mill, he worshipped at the church, he raised his devoted family, and kept on dreaming.

Sunday, September 22, 1940 a student preacher from the Cleveland Bible College filled in as pastor at Perry's church. His text was from John 12:24: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."

Wheat! That was a large part of Perry's life. Much of the rest of his life was concerned with raising the level of church tithing. Where the idea came from he nor anyone else knows, but four days after hearing that sermon Perry and his family had obtained one cubic inch-360 kernels—of Bald Rock red soft winter wheat and planted it on what became known as the world's smallest wheat field—a plot just four feet wide and eight feet long. The rows ran north and south so that every ray of precious sunshine would help to nourish the tiny shoots when they appeared.

Autumn, winter snows, spring, summer. And prayers of the Hayden family.

Some ten months after planting, came the harvest. The grain was cut by sickle—yielding enough stalks to make one small bundle. The heads were clipped off by shears, and placed in a cotton sack to dry. Perry acted as thresher, whipping the sack with a carpet beater. For the winnowing, the contents of the sack were poured on the Hayden dining room table; for two hours Perry and his wife and the children applied lung power to separate the wheat kernels from the chaff. After Mrs. Hayden had searched diligently in every corner of the room to retrieve several lost kernels, it was found that the one cubic inch of wheat had yielded a crop of fifty cubic inches-18,000 kernels, enough to nearly fill a quart jar.

A tenth of that crop was tithed to the church—two and a half ounces, worth two-tenths of a cent, which was made into cereal and "entered the ministry."

A plot the size of a city lot was required for the second planting; luckily Henry Ford owned a large farm close by and the farm manager gave permission to use a small bit of that land. The second harvest and threshing resulted in a crop of over a bushel of wheat; the tithe was 7 pounds, worth 14 cents.

An entire acre was required for the third planting. Although on his land, Henry Ford knew nothing about it. One day, driving out to Tecumseh, he asked his manager: "I read in the Country Gentleman about a wheat experiment here. What about it?" He became interested. When the third harvest time arrived, Henry Ford, along with some 300 other spectators, watched as 93-year-old Harmon Russ began the harvest by driving an ancient "self-rake" reaper from Ford's museum at Greenfield Village near Detroit. A chorus of school children sang "Bringing in the Sheaves"; students and professors from agricultural colleges were there to watch and to wonder. By the time the harvest was completed, several days later, a thousand spectators were on hand to watch. Ancient equipment from the Ford Museum was used in the threshing and 16 bushels of grain resulted. A tenth was tithed to the church, with a value of $2.67.

The fourth planting and harvest? Fourteen acres of Ford land were required; interested people donated fertilizer and labor; modern Ford tractors were used. At the fourth harvest, not only were Mr. and Mrs. Ford on hand to watch and participate, but the governor of Michigan, congressmen, officials of Michigan State College and the agricultural department. Ford himself rode a 70-year-old reaper; cradling contests were staged between juniors, seniors, and pioneers. The harvest from that fourth planting resulted in 380 bushels of wheat; the tithe amounted to $70.97.

Nearly ten thousand people came to a lunch in hopes of witnessing some of the fifth harvest, on 230 acres of the Ford land. Columbia and NBC broadcasters were on hand, Life Magazine and Readers Digest covered the event.

And the sixth planting and harvest? Perry and Ford had run out of land. But this entire project had been started to help raise the level of tithing among Quakers in Southern Michigan, and northern Ohio and Indiana. Many of those Quakers were farmers. Perry's persuasive powers were effective; the wheat from the fifth harvest went out to volunteer farmers far and wide. Five thousand acres, throughout three states, were planted, a $200,000 crop resulted, and $20,000 was tithed to the church.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT summarized the project: In six years, 360 kernels had grown to 55 billion kernels.

And what of further plantings? If this continued three more years the crop would come to over a billion bushels, more than the entire wheat crop of the nation. Perry turned again to his Bible and found his answer in Leviticus 25:3 and 4: "Six years thou shalt sow thy field...and gather in the fruit thereof; but in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest unto the land, a Sabbath for the Lord, thou shalt neither sow thy field nor prune thy vineyard... ."

In the six years of Perry's experiment, per capita tithing in his local church increased sevenfold; every family became tithers. The tithing in his district jumped from $69,000 to a quarter of a million. Perry had given publicity to the idea of tithing all across America and throughout much of the world. Over $20,000 in tithes had come from sale of the sixth wheat crop; since World War II had just ended, the remaining $180,000 from the wheat sale was given to European relief. Perry Hayden kept on dreaming. "Dynamic Kernels Foundation" was formed to carry on those dreams.

There is an interesting—but unrelated—sequel to this story. Having flown from our California home to Michigan to pick up a new car in Flint and fill several lecture engagements, I was driving from Albion to Toledo, on Sunday October 29, 1951. Not having seen Perry for some time I took a short detour to Tecumseh, hunted up his house next to the Quaker church, and knocked. No answer. The time was 11:30 a.m.; probably the Haydens were still at church.

Opening the church door I found the sanctuary half-filled with a men's Sunday School class. Quietly I tiptoed in and joined the group. The man teaching the class was talking about sheep. After making two or three references to passages about sheep in the Bible, he continued: "Do you know, there is a place out in Arizona where there is a great trek of sheep very much like the sheep raising of Bible lands. I read about it in the National Geographic Magazine."

The man went on to relate, in excellent detail, the story which I had written for the Geographic, published in the April, 1950 issue, about Rosalio Lucero and the sheep trek which I had followed and about which I had made my movie, Sheep, Stars, and Solitude. To me this was so incredulous that I could hardly believe it; I had come all the way from California and tiptoed into that class not two minutes before he had started telling about the sheep trek which I had followed. I had a hard time to keep from interrupting him but I restrained myself until he had finished the story, then spoke up:

"It's a strange coincidence," I began, "but I wrote that article. Perhaps you would like to hear more of the details."

Everyone in the class was as incredulous as I had been. After their surprise subsided, they had me come to the front of the class and I retold the whole story, with additional details.

One of the class members was superintendent of the whole Sunday School; obtaining my permission, he rushed around, broke up all the rest of the classes and in five minutes the whole sanctuary was filled. The church service, it seems, had preceded the Sunday School session. I related the same story to the entire group, stressing the unusual coincidence that had occurred.

It developed that Perry was away but I had a fine visit with his wife and children and learned that he would soon be on a trip to California to give lectures about his Dynamic Kernels project, and would visit me.

In fifty minutes elapsed time I had arrived in Tecumseh, attended a Sunday School class, made two talks, visited the Hayden family, and departed.