Our Voice: Farm Rescue making social change

Farm Forum

As a pilot for UPS Airlines, Bill Gross would look down from the window of his plane on the patchwork quilt of farmsteads and see a disturbing sight.

“[F]ewer farms, less children per family, fewer neighbors,” he recounts on the Farm Rescue website.

It bothered him that the farming way of life might be fading away.

So in 2005, Gross, a North Dakota native and former farmer, created Farm Rescue, a grassroots movement in every sense of the word.

The term “grassroots” can refer to either ordinary people or to the agricultural or rural areas of the country. And in this case, both.

Built on the concept of paying it forward, and perhaps paying it back, Farm Rescue offers assistance with “Planting, harvesting and haying to farm families who have experienced a major injury, illness or natural disaster,” for up to 1,000 acres, according to

This nonprofit organization relies on donations of equipment and money, and volunteers who show up from as far away as Texas. Some of these volunteers had themselves once been a beneficiary of Farm Rescue.

And this truly is a uniquely Midwest phenomenon. The central office is in Jamestown, N.D., and has assisted more than 300 farms mostly in North Dakota and South Dakota but also as far as Chester, Mont., and Carlisle, Iowa.

Any one of a number of disasters can befall a farm family; farming is truly a risky business. Accidents from farm equipment or cattle; burns, back and knee injuries, detached retina, respiratory problems, cancer, stroke, heart attacks and Alzheimer’s disease. The farm itself can be damaged by fire or tornadoes.

A single bad year can devastate a farm family. If they can’t get a crop planted or, if once planted, it cannot be harvested, the income lost might prove to be the final death knell for a farm that has stood for more than 100 years.

And for farmers who are already dealing with the expense of lengthy medical treatment, the problem is compounded tenfold.

Family farms are already an endangered species. No one wants to see any more lost due to bad fortune.

But thanks to the foresight of Bill Gross, hundreds of farms have already been helped and hundreds more will be in the future.

Only a few miles away from Aberdeen, a team from Farm Rescue, as well as several concerned neighbors, stepped in to harvest the crops of Steve Schaller. Schaller, who developed a severe infection after a rotator cuff injury was simply unable to do it without help. “It was tough to see so many doing my work,” he said.

Sure it’s tough, because farmers are nothing if not independent. And it can be hard to swallow one’s pride and accept help.

But in the case of Farm Rescue, the help given to 300 family farms may be causing a ripple affect of social change.

Remember the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

— American News Editorial Board