Victims tell how nonprofit group picked up the pieces

NOME, N.D. -- Angela Strand gave her husband, Brent, a hug from behind, as he gazed out at the Farm Rescue crew, busily putting in 700 acres of soybeans on his farm May 15.

NOME, N.D. -- Angela Strand gave her husband, Brent, a hug from behind, as he gazed out at the Farm Rescue crew, busily putting in 700 acres of soybeans on his farm May 15.

It hardly seemed real.

"This is a great organization," Strand said later. "It's great what they do."

A recent stroke victim at age 40, Strand, is among the 2008 crop of farmers in trouble that have gotten help with his cropping when disaster struck. The Jamestown, N.D.-based nonprofit organization held its spring media events May 15 on his farm, introducing three of this year's clients and telling about another season of growth.

Bill Gross, a UPS pilot who started the organization in 2005, was on hand for the event. The program gets bigger, Gross says. It runs two and sometimes three planting crews of volunteers who operate in North Dakota, South Dakota and adjoining areas of Minnesota and Montana.


This year's volunteers have come from Montana, Kentucky and even New Jersey -- a husband-wife team, Gross says. Some of Gross' fellow UPS pilots also have pitched in.

In 2006, there were only a couple of volunteers running equipment, including Gross himself, he recalls. In 2007, the organization planted for 14 farmers and harvested for seven. There were about 10 volunteers in the field.

In 2008, the plans are to plant for 28 families -- double last year's activity. There are about 30 volunteers in the field, with another 15 to 20 on standby.

"Harvesting? We don't know the numbers, but I'm sure it'll go into the 30s. We're taking harvest applications now," he says.

Donor support also has doubled, with the entity bringing in some $200,000 in cash donations, on top of the many companies that donate equipment. RDO Equipment is the first and largest.

Gross says the word has gotten out about the program, but some still wonder if it's some kind of financial bailout or handout.

"They incorrectly think Farm Rescue might be about giving out money," Gross says. "We don't, of course. Companies become much more receptive when they realize we're a unique, nonprofit company, run largely with volunteers, that helps people with an injury, illness or natural disaster."

Mostly, farmers in need don't call for themselves.


"That'll never change," Gross says. "Farmers are hesitant to ask for help. They have pride. Quite often a neighbor calls in."

Here are three of this year's stories:

Brent and Angela Strand

Nome, N.D.

On April 5, Brent Strand went to bed with a severe headache.

"I took some aspirin, and the next morning, when I woke up to get out of bed, I stepped down and fell backwards on the bed," says Brent, 40, a farmer. "I sat back up again, and thought that it felt funny -- how your leg goes to sleep, but there wasn't any tingling feeling like you usually have. I got myself up and managed to get to the closet to get clothes on, but then I tripped and fell on the vacuum and my wife took me to the emergency room."

In Lisbon, N.D., a doctor told him he may have high blood pressure and possible diabetic problems. His regular physician sent him on April 7 to Fargo, N.D., where they discovered that, at age 40, had just suffered two strokes.

Brent went back to the hospital April 10 and got out April 1l.


"I started physical therapy in Lisbon, and I've been going there ever since, three times a week," he says.

Brent immediately thought about the farm.

The Strands have 70 beef cows and raise soybeans, corn and wheat on about 3,500 acres. "It's just me and my hired man," Brent says, noting that his father retired in five years ago. They have two children -- a daughter in high school and a son in grade school.

Brent had much of the machinery ready for planting at the time of the strokes, but he knew he'd need some help if he was going to get the crop in.

"As soon as I found out I had a stroke, I'm thinking, 'How am I going to get the crop in?'" he says.

Brent's father, Arlyn, had been working with him, but he wasn't used to seeding the whole crop anymore. His hired men typically don't run the sprayer. His local crew got the wheat and corn into the ground.

Meanwhile, friends started calling Farm Rescue.

"The only person I know that 'turned me in' was Linda Cory," Brent says of a family friend who lives in Moorhead, Minn. The organization took the references, checked out Strand's situation and approved him for planting about 700 acres of soybeans.


"We still have some left to go, but they got us caught back up. We'll be able to finish it now, he says."

Stan and Judy Horst

Valley City, N.D.

Stan, 60, works fulltime as maintenance man for the Barnes County (N.D.) Courthouse and farms a half-section of land on the side. For the past five years, he's put in only a single crop per year -- either wheat or soybeans -- which makes his operation more attractive to the custom harvesters he hired.

He was pulling a container of books Feb. 29 when he was working. He lost traction on the ice, fell and broke his upper right leg. The doctor told him he'd be in a cast for eight weeks.

"When you get to the end of March, it's time to get things ready," Horst says of farming. "I wasn't able to do anything. You can't climb on anything, and you can't get at the machinery. It's just the last 10 days I've been able to get around."

Horst went back to his courthouse work after about three weeks, doing limited-duty work, but farming was out of the question. "The first seven or eight weeks I didn't go out of the yard, hardly," he says.

Horst had read about Farm Rescue in Agweek and other farm publications and submitted an application for help by March 15.


"A week later, they called and said they'd accepted me. I was really happy. It took a lot of the pressure off."

The group seeded about 300 acres. "If the drought continues, maybe we'll seed a few more," he says. "We need a little shot of rain if we can get it."

Gross kept in close contact with Horst through April and arranged for the planting to happen May 16, Horst says.

"Every once in a while, he would call and kind of tell me what was going on. They'd tell me they'd be in Barnes County in about 10 days. That way you kind of know what's going on and when to go get your seed. They want you to have your seed and fertilizer there."

Richard 'Dick' and Peggy Olson

Ellendale, N.D.

It was 15 below zero Feb. 20. Dick Olson, now 62, was home alone, grinding feed for his calves at about 4:15 p.m. The farm is six miles northeast of Ellendale, N.D. Peggy was at work in town.

"I stepped up on a trailer to look at how much corn was left," Olson says.


The power-take-off had a shield, but there was a little bolt sticking out of a knuckle on the machine.

The wind blew Olson's right pant leg of his Carhartt coveralls in there. The spinning PTO immediately threw Olson to the ground.

"I caught the hitch and held on to keep from being pulled in and I think that did the most damage to my arm," Olson recalls.

When the machine snapped his leg, the clothes slipped off and Olson finally fell out. "It got everything but my underwear and my belt loops," Olson says.

With his cell phone thrown so far he couldn't find it, Olson crawled nearly naked, 150 feet to his farm shop for a land line.

"I stood up twice and didn't realize my leg was broken that bad," he says.

Somehow, Olson was able to phone his wife. When the paramedics arrived, they told him he had a compound leg fracture, with a bone sticking through the skin. It seems odd now, but he hadn't noticed it before.

Olson remembers that as soon as the accident happened, time seemed to slow down.

"You do a lot of thinking," he says. "I thought about my wife. I thought this was all over; I was going to be gone. These power-take-offs are unforgiving. I was very lucky."

As Olson lay alone on the farm shop floor, waiting for help to arrive, he was making decisions about the farm.

"When my wife came, I told her, 'Sell the cows and I don't know what we'll do about the crop.' She didn't sell the cows, and later we heard about Farm Rescue."

A week later, the Olsons contacted the organization. "I'd read about it three years ago, when it started, and thought, 'This can't be. Nobody does this for people.' Of course, I never thought I'd have to use them."

Olson isn't the kind of fellow who craves the limelight, but since the accident, he's been interviewed by CNN and local papers.

"I was careless; I made a mistake," he says. "Hopefully, by me telling about this thing, someone else will think about it." And he's a big fan of Farm Rescue.

With the help of a retired friend, Olson has put in his corn and some small grains. Farm Rescue helped by planting 800 acres of soybeans.

"They took the brunt of it on the beans," he says. "Those guys running the air seeder -- they're something. They just work, and they don't sit around. They just keep going."

As for his own injuries, Olson hopes for a complete recovery, although he isn't certain about the shoulder injury. He's already been back on the tractor.

"I can't get out and fix anything if it breaks down. I've got to call for help."

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