Help from strangers
BY KAREN SCHWALLER
MILFORD – Tom Soat doesn’t speak seriously all that often. But late last week, his joking skidded to a minimum as he stood in his corn field and watched while complete strangers harvested his crop for him.
That’s the story of Farm Rescue.
Farm Rescue is a non-profit organization based out of Jamestown, N.D., which plants and harvests crops free of charge for farm families who have experienced a major illnesses, injury or natural disaster. They bring in the necessary machinery, donated by a North Dakota implement dealership, and all the volunteer labor needed to run that machinery.
And they were all smiling last week as they harvested a crop for a man they didn’t know.
Will Rudolphi is a first-year volunteer for Farm Rescue.
A retired commercial airline pilot from Champagne, Ill., he said it has been one of the most rewarding things he’s done. He stepped down from the combine to talk about his involvement in Farm Rescue.
“I heard about it on the radio three years ago as I was driving on I-90 through South Dakota, listening to someone from Farm Rescue talk about it at the South Dakota State Fair,” he said. “I decided that I would probably get around to doing that sometime. And now I’ve done it. If (the organization) will have me back, I’ll be doing it again.”
Soat, 56, has been farming southwest of Milford for 38 years. In February he found himself at Avera Hospital in Sioux Falls undergoing five-way bypass surgery and repair for a hiatal hernia at the same time.
As he recovered, he thought about how his livestock would be cared for, and how he would be ready to get his crop planted. But his friends – Jim Ebel, Larry Tewes and Zach Tewes – planted his crop over a half section of corn and soybeans, making one less thing for Soat to worry over.
Friend Brian Peck visited daily, along with other neighbors and friends, to assure Soat’s sheep had feed and care.
But as the drought continued to bear down on the Midwest this summer, Soat’s crops were deteriorating rapidly. A family member had heard about Farm Rescue, contacted the organization. Soat filed an application and the organization approved it.
“I lost 80 acres of corn in the drought,” Soat said in a serious tone, unlike his usual character. “What we’re getting out here is 2.9 bushels per acre for the corn, and the beans did five bushels per acre. I told them (the Farm Rescue people) that I would understand if they didn’t come for no more than there was here to harvest, but they said they would come. It’s a big relief.”
Soat paused briefly to control emotions that surely would have shown plainly if he had been alone. But it was plain to see what this labor of love meant to him as someone who underwent a large and delicate medical procedure, is facing large hospital bills now because of it, and is also faced with a crop that returned less than a bounty. He said the Farm Rescue effort will now save him the expenses that are typically associated with harvest, including machinery costs, fuel, parts and farm labor.
“Their generosity is overwhelming,” Soat said as he watched the combine swallow up more rows of corn. “For total strangers to travel hundreds of miles to do this, and only for a simple ‘thank you’ – it doesn’t quite do it.
“I hated to see them go through all the hassle for no more than there was here, but I do appreciate it.”
Levi Wielenga and his wife, Carol, traveled from Sioux City with their 10-month-old son, Lincoln, to the Soat farm to help with the harvest. Wielenga is a train engineer based out of Sioux City, for the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad, which is also a sponsor for Farm Rescue.
Wielenga, who is in his third season with Farm Rescue, said he learned about Farm Rescue from an article in a newspaper that his brother showed him. He was immediately interested in it and considered joining as a calling. He has worked with Farm Rescue in North Dakota, Minnesota, and now, Iowa. Wielenga and his wife spend about nine weeks a year volunteering to help out farm families in this way.
“God gave us this opportunity to be able to help farmers and their families in need,” Wielenga said, calling his volunteer work more of a ministry than a helping hand. “I’m proud to be part of Farm Rescue, and my love for Jesus Christ drives me to do this, to show my thankfulness for the graces that I’ve received from him.”
Wielenga said he grew up on a farm and has seen how quickly financial struggle or ruin can enter the picture. He said it could happen to anyone.
“Before Farm Rescue I would rather have chosen to do some kind of church ministry, but with this, providing volunteer service to farm families who really need it it’s a calling from God. We’re providing a valuable service to these people. (Founder) Bill Gross’ heart is really in it. He believes in it, and so do I.”
Wielenga said that although it doesn’t always happen, it’s rewarding to meet the families for whom he and his fellow volunteers work.
“It’s showing them that you can love someone sacrificially,” he said.
Wielenga’s wife, Carol, works beside him in this volunteer effort. That, he says, never ceases to amaze him.
“She was willing to learn how to do all of this. She got her CDL and everything. It means a lot to me to have her working with me on this,” he explained. “I can’t take them with me to work on the railroad, so the opportunity to do this with them is very special.
“I can vicariously live that dream of mine, to spend that time together in a tractor or combine, and enjoy the conversations that take place between a parent and child. It’s very special and I get to anticipate that in the years to come as Lincoln grows up.”
For more information on Farm Rescue, visit www.farmrescue.org, or call (701) 252-2017.
Farm families in need can also contact the organization at email@example.com.
Farm Rescue has planted or harvested more than 100,000 acres for 200 farm families since it began.