(Photo by Randy M. Cauthron) [Order this photo]
Iowa has officially become the fifth state eligible for services from the Farm Rescue program. Founder Bill Gross was in Spencer Thursday morning, conducting a press conference with local sponsors, to explain the program and make area farmers aware of the services his group of volunteers provide.
Farm Rescue, is a nonprofit organization which plants and harvests crops free of charge for farm families facing unexpected crises resulting from major injury, illness or natural disaster.
(Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)
"There's no catch," he continued. "We provide the equipment and manpower. Our main goal right now is to raise awareness. Fifty percent of our cases are from families who contact us directly, the other 50 percent come from neighbors or family members nominating someone."
Armed with dedicated volunteer labor and sponsored farm equipment from RDO Equipment Company, Farm Rescue has planted or harvested crops free of charge for nearly 200 farm families facing a crisis situation such as injury, illness or natural disaster in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana.
Local sponsors in the effort, Vander Haag's Inc., Pizza Ranch and Walmart - an original corporate sponsor - took part in the Spencer announcement, conducted in the Spencer Walmart parking lot.
"We are dedicated to supporting the ag community, and we believe that Farm Rescue is a perfect way to give back," Steve Bootsma, sales and marketing director at Vander Haag's, said. "A health crisis or natural disaster can be devastating to a family and to a rural area. If a family farm goes under due to a one-time, unexpected crisis, it hurts the whole community."
Michael Dendinger, Walmart store manager in Spencer, was enthused about his company's involvement from the beginning. "We are extremely excited to be helping out in Iowa and are always happy to help when called upon by the communities we're in."
Tony Madsen, an owner-operator with Pizza Ranch, pointed to the obvious role agriculture plays in northwest Iowa.
"Farmers support small towns and rural communities. Many of these towns exist because of farmers. Pizza Ranch exists in rural communities across the state. Without farmer support, a lot of these communities might not be here."
Gross' efforts have been recognized on a national level. He has been named a CNN hero, featured in People Magazine's "Heroes Among Us," and DirecTV's "Small Town Hero" for his creation of Farm Rescue.
Raised on a family farm in Cleveland, N.D., he wasn't able to remain on the farm due to financial reasons. For the past 18 years he has been a pilot, and is currently a captain flying a Boeing 747 for UPS. He frequently runs routes to Australia, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dubai and other foreign destinations.
He had been involved with mission efforts in overseas locations and began wondering what he could do to assist those with needs stateside.
In discussions with fellow pilots, Gross had openly shared a desire to return to his roots once he retired and help in the farming industry. A friend, who also happened to be an Army chaplain, challenged Gross not to wait until retirement, but to begin his service work immediately.
He took the challenge and what has become Farm Rescue began forming, first in Gross' mind, then in a more practical form.
"There are fewer family farms and less children. It's harder for neighbors to help one another when there is an unexpected crisis," Gross said. "There should be a place farm families can turn to."
He added, "My mission field - for my own thinking - is helping farm families in their fields."
Farm Rescue served its first family in April 11, 2006 in North Dakota, and continued to serve 10 families in its first year of operation. Today, the database of volunteers - predominantly retired or volunteer farmers - numbers close to 1,000.
Farm Rescue relies solely on the generosity of its business sponsors, individual donors and grants.
Applications for assistance are obtained online at www.farmrescue.org or by calling 701-252-2017.
Farm Rescue in Spencer
The Farm Rescue implement will remain in Spencer for the next five or six days, located in the Walmart parking lot, to try and raise awareness for the nonprofit program. Members of the community are encouraged to stop and attempt to guess the weight of the piece of equipment for a $100 Walmart gift card which will be given away by Farm Rescue.