The Biblical Wheat Experiment

by Brenda Ervin

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” These words from John 12:24 inspired Tecumseh, Michigan, mill owner Perry Hayden to take one of the biggest risks of his life, the Dynamic Kernels Wheat Tithing Experiment.

In 1940, 360 “sturdy Bald Rock wheat seeds” were planted in a plot of ground measuring 4 feet by 4 feet. The early steps of this epic test, officially named Dynamic Kernels, were bathed in prayer by Perry Hayden and his family. The initial goal was to see how much one kernel of wheat could produce over time. A devoted tither, Hayden’s main objective was to tithe from the produce of each harvest.

The first crop was successfully harvested, cut with a hand sickle on August 18, 1941. Family members harvested the 18,000 kernels and carefully separated them from the chaff – a process called threshing. “This first harvest provided 50 times the original amount of wheat,” said Hayden. “Enough to almost fill a quart fruit jar.” Out of the 50 cubic inches of wheat from the first harvest, 5 cubic inches were tithed to Hayden’s local church. Bolstered by the initial success, Hayden meticulously planned for the second harvest.

During this time, Detroit automobile manufacturer Henry Ford read an article about Dynamic Kernels and soon became personally involved. Born in 1863, Ford grew up on a farm and despite his international fame remained a farm boy at heart. He invested much of his life and resources in his love of agriculture, resulting in numerous innovations. Besides his many conversations with Hayden, he also loaned antique farm vehicles for harvests from his Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum. He also physically participated in Dynamic Kernels. During one harvest celebration, Ford, then in his 80s,  cut the wheat with a scythe and delighted in sowing seeds in the field by hand at the next planting.

Often called the Biblical Wheat Experiment, God was indeed at work in many ways as goodwill and Christian fellowship spread across Lenawee County. The tithing aspect drew many Christian industrialists, and spiritual zeal increased as prominent manufacturers of the day were drawn to Perry Hayden’s vision. Among them, R. G. LeTourneau (world’s largest manufacturer of road and grading machinery), Harvey Fruehauf (Fruehauf Trailer Company), James L. Kraft (Kraft Cheese Company), and Kenneth S. Keyes (a successful Florida realtor).  Dynamic Kernels continued to expand through the work of Hayden, Ford, and others. News of the success spread, and excitement skyrocketed as people all around the nation and world waited to see what God was going to do next in this southeastern Michigan farming community.

But in 1945, Dynamic Kernels was struck by an unexpected and disappointing blow. In a letter, Hayden learned that Henry Ford was ill and would not be able to participate in the fifth harvest and beyond. Without the use of Ford Farms’ tractors, trucks, and land, harvesting the fifth year’s wheat crop before it rotted in the fields would be challenging. Hayden was bewildered and disheartened. He had sacrificed for this God-given biblical plan. Now all of his work over the past five years seemed thwarted.

But Hayden was a man of faith, and when fear and faith collided, Hayden and his wife took their concern to the Lord. After much prayer, they decided to go forward. He set a date for the final harvest and planned for a “modified celebration.” When no hope could be found, prayers were answered.

In the middle of the night, the townspeople of Tecumseh were shaken awake by the rumblings of motors. Without explanation, a  team of men and tractors from Ford Farms harvested the wheat. The Dynamic Kernels experiment was given another opportunity to reach its destiny. Challenges remained, however, since the wheat still needed to be stored and threshed. At a pivotal moment, both the Tecumseh and the Michigan Granges stepped in, offering to thresh the wheat and transport the 5000 bushels to a regional farm. The fifth harvest was saved.

Still, Hayden’s problems were far from over. Without the participation of Ford Farms, he would have to find much more land to plant the final wheat crop.  He soon learned that Dr. Samuel Harrison, president of local Adrian College, was spreading word of Dynamic Kernels to farmers across the region. Why not ask these farmers to take some seed and plant the wheat at their farms, Hayden thought. The idea took off, and soon a total of 276 farmers from across the Midwest agreed to participate, all of them promising to tithe their crops to their own local churches.

On August 1, 1946, a parade of vehicles and farming machinery from all over the Midwest drove through the center of Adrian, Michigan, for the sixth and final harvest. While standing on the platform of the Adrian Fairgrounds, Perry Hayden quoted Romans 8:28 saying, “We know that all things work together for good for those that love God.” An audience of more than 10,000 watched as the 72,150 bushels of wheat was ceremoniously ground by two old stone mills. After the ground wheat was rebagged, a portion was set aside and loaded into a helicopter and airlifted to an Ohio baking company. Within hours, boxes of graham crackers returned and were duly handed out to the crowd.  William Danforth, president of Ralston-Purina Company, was given the remaining wheat flour to be made into cereal, which would later be sent to war-torn Europe.

From humble beginnings, a plot of land 4 feet by 4 feet, Perry Hayden’s dream produced a far more bountiful harvest than ever expected.  Despite the challenges, Dynamic Kernels succeeded both in the field and in bringing people together. Consecrated to the Lord and depending on God’s grace, Dynamic Kernels remains one of the country’s most impressive displays of Christian fellowship.

Brenda Ervin lives in Michigan.

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