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Ohio Volunteers Help Flooded Farmers in Nebraska

On a chilly Saturday in late March, North Bend Central High School juniors worked frantically to finalize prom decorations in the gym – an ordinary rite of springtime. At the same time, at the other end of the building, volunteers were scrambling to accomplish the extraordinary.

Flooding had submerged this town of 1,200 about 50 miles northwest of Omaha, Nebraska, two weeks before 30 volunteers from Ohio’s Rural America Relief (Ohiosruralamericarelief.wordpress.com) arrived with supplies for the massive farm cleanup. 

Sycamore, Ohio, farmers Rose and Greg Hartschuh organized the initiative. “We watched videos of the Bomb Cyclone of snow and rain, ice jams, and flooding,” she says. “We saw a lot of people hurting.” 

The Hartschuhs had been moved to action in 2017 when wildfires in Kansas and Oklahoma devastated farmers. Now incorporated as a nonprofit, their organization reassembled farmers and agribusiness employees, and added six volunteers from the Wynford FFA Chapter in Crawford County.

Ten drop-off donation locations were set up across Ohio, and cash gifts were accepted to cover the group’s travel and lodging. 

When the 10-truck Ohio convoy arrived after a 16-hour drive, farmer Jordan Emanuel and FFA adviser D.J. Mottl met them to unload and stack supplies. “They had almost anything we’d need – hay, feed, gates, T-posts, barbed wire, chain saws, power washers, even portable bunks,” Emanuel says. 

Lending a hand

Although the devastation in town was obvious, farmers were reeling from the impact of flooded homes, grain bins, closed roads, washed-out bridges, and the needs of hungry livestock. The Ohio volunteers fanned out to eight farms. 

“When something like this hits, it’s easy for farms to take a backseat, with so many issues in town,” Emanuel says. “It’s amazing anyone would come so far to help us.”

The Ohio volunteers brought four Gators to access the saturated fields. “They spent a lot of time in pastures along the Platte River to see if fencing could be salvaged,” he says.

A broken levee 1½ miles west of Greg Beebe’s farm had ruined center pivots and unleashed debris. “We didn’t realize how much we needed a little help until this Ohio group showed up,” he says.

FFA alumni grilled burgers for the Ohioans at Frontier Co-op, and area farmers hosted them at Leroy’s Steakhouse. “We had lots of farming conversations,” Emanuel says. “We compared yields, practices, and property taxes.” 

The local Boy Scout troop provided lunch on Sunday, and the Ohioans headed home later that day.

“We have to take care of each other, especially in agriculture,” Rose Hartschuh says. “Farmers are farmers no matter where you go. They said we gave them a jump start on the cleanup and hope for tackling the work.”

Heavy lifting ahead

In the early days of the flooding, Linda Emanuel, Jordan’s mother who is also a farmer and an AgriSafe Network community health nurse, waded the streets, going door to door to see what residents needed. She supplied personal protective equipment kits to volunteers through the Central States Center for Ag Safety and Health in Omaha. “The mental health stress has come in waves,” she says. 

She adds, “We learned how strong we are and how much heart our community has. Prom did happen, and it was what our community and high school students needed. Everyone just wants to get back to some normalcy.”

At home in Ohio, Rose and Greg Hartschuh washed away visible remnants of their trip. “We brought home a lot of Nebraska mud,” she says. 

The Ohioans also brought home enduring memories: the blood, sweat, and tears of farmers faced with unimaginable loss and their grit to persevere. “North Bend was a place on a map,” Rose says. “Now it’s a place in our hearts.”

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