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Farm Rescue Helps 300th Family

Farm Rescue hit a milestone October 30, 2014, when volunteers deployed their mobile farm operation for the 300th time. Founded in 2006 by Bill Gross, a UPS pilot seeking a mission to feed his North Dakota farm values, the nonprofit organization has grown into more than he expected. Instead of him driving a tractor to help out farmers, more than 900 volunteers have joined the cause to plant or harvest crops for producers dealing with major illness, injury, or natural disaster. Generous sponsors cover the travel expenses of volunteers and to move equipment donated by RDO Equipment Company.

The support is incredible, says Faron Wahl, regional operations manager. Just two years before, he first assisted Gross at the 200th case. Since then, Farm Rescue ( has added haying services and has stretched its region to Iowa, in addition to the Dakotas, Minnesota, and eastern Montana.

“The people we are helping are the first to deserve and need the help, and are the last ones in this country who will ever ask for it,” says Wahl. “They are, by nature, independent.”

As with about half the producers they work with, the 300th project was a referral. “Our neighbor took it on his own to call them and got preapproved with Farm Rescue,” says Paul Dubbels, who farms with his brother, John, in rural Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The brothers knew nothing about it.

Harvest Help

After feeling lethargic in the spring, a blood screen revealed that John, 60, had a precursor to leukemia. He underwent chemotherapy from July through September, then he received a stem cell transplant on October 8, which required him to stay at the Mayo Clinic for 100 days. 

“Farm Rescue has been an absolute blessing for us since I’ve been in treatment for cancer,” says John, as he recovers with wife Sheree’s support.

“It’s quite a process. They all knew what they were doing, and we got to meet some nice people in the process,” says Paul as he observed volunteers harvesting nearly 500 acres of corn. 

While Paul, his son, and a part-time employee harvested soybeans, Farm Rescue took the pressure off harvesting corn without John’s help. The family also used their equipment and worked with the volunteers to help haul part of the harvest.

Dedicated Volunteers

“People need help. It’s the right thing to do, and I take time to do it,” shrugs volunteer Dwayne Diers, a retired Howard Lake, Minnesota, dairy farmer, explaining why he is involved. He remembers when he was a child. His family went through a tragedy, and the neighbors helped.

That’s not always possible when people have their own work during short planting and harvesting windows. That’s where Farm Rescue fits in.

“Growing up on a family farm, I think what this would have meant for my family, had something like this happened. It has a huge impact on the families we’re helping,” says Levi Wielenga, 30, a volunteer on dozens of projects in four years. 

Wielenga works as a train engineer out of Sioux City, Iowa, three weeks every month and spends one week a month from April to November with Farm Rescue, maintaining and operating equipment and handling paperwork. Like other volunteers, he and his wife, Carol, program coordinator for Farm Rescue, believe the organization is a calling, which takes them and their young sons on the road often.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to serve God, serve others, and also farm,” says Wielenga.

It’s all about ensuring that producers can continue to farm, Wahl says, by helping them make it through emergency situations that could be devastating.

The farmers pay for fuel and all the inputs. Farm Rescue provides the equipment and manpower.

“Hopefully, our help takes the pressure off, and they will be well on their way next year,” says Wahl.

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