Posted 9/06/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
Farmers have a tough job. When commodity prices aren’t making the going tough, they are at the mercy of the whims of the weather.
Even when everything comes together just right, the unexpected can happen. When illnesses or injuries prevent farm families from doing the work, their livelihoods are at stake.
That’s where Farm Rescue comes in.
Over the past 10 years, the nonprofit has provided assistance to 400 farms in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Iowa and Minnesota.
Volunteers with the organization were in the Tioga area last week, helping Casey Almer with his harvest. Almer’s situation wasn’t a typical case for Farm Rescue. His equipment is tied up in an estate dispute, and the non-profit helped him harvest with custom work at a reduced cost.
“They saved me. I can’t thank them enough,” Almer said.
In most every other case Farm Rescue provides planting, harvesting, and haying assistance at no charge to families in crisis, including natural disasters.
They do not provide any cash assistance
“It’s all services,” said Carol Wielenga, program coordinator.
Wielenga said in the days before they came up to the Tioga area she and her husband, Levi, were working with farmers in Montana and South Dakota who are currently impacted by drought conditions.
“It’s all about that unexpected crisis,” Wielenga said.
They were also doing some work in Arnegard and New Rockford.
The 2015 list of farmers they assisted includes people in Drake, Woodward, Scranton, Jamestown, Stanton, and Bowman.
The reasons they needed assistance include crushed leg, bypass surgery, broken ankle, tractor accident, child with leukemia, and several cases of cancer in the family.
One case involved a couple in Minot. The wife was battling breast cancer. Farm Rescue planted oats and flax in two days just so the husband could be with his wife during her treatment.
The Wielengas live in Sioux City, Iowa, and do all this work with their two young children right there with them in the fields.
“They’re just amazing. They come from hundreds of miles and live in hotels after working all day. It’s hard to find people like that,” Almer said.
Levi Wielenga said the organization operates with four employees and an “army of volunteers.”
“I really enjoy it. It’s very rewarding to see the impact we have,” he said as he hopped out of the combine with his infant son, Elon, in the seat next to him.
In addition to its volunteer force, Farm Rescue has over 100 corporate sponsorships and donations from private individuals.
Farm Rescue was started by Bill Gross, an airline pilot and native North Dakotan who grew up in Cleveland, N.D.
While his career took him to international destinations at 400 knots, his roots were dug deep in the farm he grew up on.
“He’s got farming in his heart,” said Carol Wielenga.
On a flight across the Pacific Ocean, a co-pilot asked Gross how he was going to spend his retirement. Gross told him he was going to buy a tractor and help farmers in need.
His co-pilot laughed at the suggestion, the story goes, but then realized he was serious. So, the co-pilot asked Gross why he needed to wait for retirement.
The organization was officially launched in 2005.