Celebration Spotlight – Farm Rescue
This week in the Celebration Spotlight, Dan Erdmann visited with me about Farm Rescue and National Farm Rescuer Day. During our conversation about the mission and the volunteers, we talk about the impact the Farm Rescue mission has on communities, the volunteers, and the farms and ranches they’ve helped each season. It’s a community of volunteers who set out to help independent people who are many times the first to offer help but rarely ask for it.
Michele: What is Farm Rescue?
Dan: Farm Rescue is a 501c3 non-profit organization. We are dedicated to preserving the livelihoods, hopefully extending livelihoods, of farmers and ranchers throughout a seven-state service territory. We started small here; I’m in North Dakota. That’s where my home office is South of Fargo, North Dakota. Farm Rescue is now up to seven service states—started in North Dakota. Added South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and most recently Kansas. It’s a bigger footprint. We’re helping more families, but we do that volunteer-led. Planting, harvesting, haying, commodity hauling, livestock feeding assistance is being done on farms and ranches just helping farm families that may be going through that extreme crisis, whether it be an injury, illness, or natural disaster.
We all say farming and ranching are hard enough in a normal year. But when you throw in an unexpected crisis like injury, illness, or natural disaster, it can be kind of a backbreaker that prevents them from continuing their livelihood for that next generation.
Michele: It’s saving family farms. The foundation started in 2005 – a grassroots movement, right?
Dan: It’s the ultimate grassroots movement. You’re right. And it’s not a new concept. It all started on the principle of neighbors helping neighbors. That’s what farming has always been about.
The Beginning of an Idea
The president and founder is Bill Gross. He was a North Dakota farm kid. And like a lot of families, his wasn’t able to continue on to his generation. So Bill became a pilot, and he still does that. Works for UPS Airlines and goes all over the world doing that. But this was again years ago, 2005ish, around the time we were founded, he was having a conversation with one of his co-pilots and talking about those plans after retirement, and Bill’s response was that he just wanted to buy a tractor and go farm to farm and serve as this good Samaritan helping families who need help. And his co-pilot kind of challenged him there and then. “Why wait to retire. You could be doing that now.”
That was kind of the seed that was planted and has grown into Farm Rescue today. And again it started real small with a handful of volunteers that very first year; 2006 was our very first year of actual operations. It was planting. It was basically Bill, our president, and another volunteer also named Bill, strangely enough, that traveled locally here in North Dakota to these farms that needed help planting. And the year after, you gain more notoriety and attention and more volunteers that felt a calling and a connection to our cause, and it’s just grown exponentially since then. We have around a thousand volunteers that are signed up now. Kind of serve as our boots on the ground and help these families that are going through a tough time.
Michele: You know, it’s kind of a natural continuation of the farm community’s traditions. They all came together to clear the fields, to raise the barns. And all those things seem to be a natural occurrence in the farm community. Am I imagining that?
Dan: No. Absolutely. That’s the foundation of what we do. It goes back to the old-fashioned barn-raising days and neighbors being around to help one another to get through a season, especially if something bad happens to the neighbor, you’re going to going to feel that desire to help them through that tough time. People still do that, and those are amazing stories, wonderful stories to see but not always a possibility in today’s age.
So many of the farms and the operations around are bigger nowadays, which means smaller windows to get your own work done, and they may want to come help their neighbor. Sometimes it’s just not in the cards, and that’s why Farm Rescue was founded, and that’s why we exist today is to be that stop-gap and provide that bridge to the next season for any individual family who needs a hand up, not a handout. We’re not handing money to any of these folks. It’s tangible support in a growing season that gets them through that tough time and over the hump to the next season.
Michele: What are some examples of situations where you’ve been that stop-gap?
Dan: It’s been a pretty long track record since 2006. We just helped our 800th farm family here this past fall, so I imagine many stories go along with those 800 families, a lot of heartbreaking stories. A lot of what we do is a case of ongoing cancer treatments. They’re very dangerous professions. As careful as they can be, there are always going to be accidents on the farm. A lot of times, it’s a fall that’s happened on the farm or loss of limb, as you can imagine. Just a lot of heartbreaking stories. What kind of binds them all together, I guess, and what we hear so often, is “Someone else needs the help more than I do.”
It doesn’t matter how severe that situation might seem to us. Farmers and ranchers are such proud people; it’s never easy to ask for the help we provide. We rely very heavily on referrals for that reason, too. Sometimes it takes a little nudge from a neighbor or a lot of times a spouse to say, “I know you want to do this. There’s no shame in asking for help or accepting that help.” Because we want to keep you doing what you love to do, we’re not taking that away. We’re not coming in there to say, “This is how we think you should run your operation.” We take a lot of pride in working with all the families and making sure we’re doing it exactly the way they would do it if they were able.
“Farmers and ranchers are such proud people; it’s never easy to ask for the help we provide.” Dan Erdmann with Farm Rescue
Michele: It’s their business. Their baby.
Dan: And it’s their livelihood. They’re feeding the world, and it’s the least we can do to get them through that and on to the next season. The long-term goal is to have something there to hand down and pass down to the next generation farmer. We’re very proud to have helped over 800 of those families and hopefully keep them doing what they love to do.
Michele: That’s a fantastic number. You have some stories on your website. It’s farmrescue.org. You can go out there and check out some of those heartwarming thrilling stories of farm rescue. Let’s talk about National Farm Rescuer Day. It’s on March 17th this year, the third Thursday in March every year. This year it’s on St. Patrick’s Day. What made you come up with National Farm Rescuer Day?
National Farm Rescuer Day
Dan: I just had my five-year anniversary with Farm Rescue and was very familiar with the organization before I came here. I have a background in agriculture, and my dad was a farmer, much like Bill Gross’s family, who couldn’t make it work. So, this was always one of those organizations close to my heart, seeing your own father go through the process of selling the equipment he’d spent years building he had always hoped to leave to one of us in my family—something that was always close to my heart when I heard of Farm Rescue opening. I’m kind of on the marketing side of things, so I have the pleasure of going out and filming a lot of those stories you might see on our website or YouTube channel.
When I started here, they had already laid the groundwork for National Farm Rescuer Day with the National Day Calendar. It’s just a way to recognize and thank the many folks who make our mission possible. Again, it’s the volunteers who truly serve as our boots on the ground, the individual donors business sponsors who bankroll this whole process. We all feel the connection to what we’re doing and believe in the mission. It’s the folks who are referring those farm families; they’re farm rescuers. Anyone who shares our mission through social media or word of mouth. These are all people supporting what we do, furthering our mission, helping spread the word that help is available, and it’s available through Farm Rescue.
So, National Farm Rescuer Day is just a way for us as an organization. We don’t always get to provide the recognition that so many of these folks deserve. It’s that singular day of recognition that we can stop and say, you’re all amazing.
Michele: And most of them are so humble any way that they don’t want the recognition.
Dan: They’re not going to pat themselves on the back. We felt the need to have that day of recognition so we could provide that to them. There are so many people who make that possible. Volunteers specifically are such incredible stories in and of themselves, too. You would imagine it’s farmers, you know. It’s retired farmers who might come up here and hop in a combine or hop on the tractor to help another family, but that’s not always the case.
We have plenty of farmers with that type of background, but we have plenty of pilots, pastors, retired military veterans, and active law enforcement. We have a rocket scientist that works for NASA. He comes up in the spring every year. Just a crazy amount different backgrounds and stories of the volunteers who are up here supporting this mission, too. Those are some of the stories that I always take a lot of pleasure in sharing with folks, too—just letting people know who’s behind the wheel of those machines assisting the family on the farm or ranch that’s going through a tough time.
“You would imagine it’s farmers, you know. It’s retired farmers who might come up here and hop in a combine
or hop on the tractor to help another family but that’s not always the case.” ~ Dan Erdmann with Farm Rescue
Michele: What do you ask others to do on National Farm Rescuer Day?
Dan: It’s an opportunity to say thanks to those who make our mission possible, but it’s also an opportunity to kind of light a fire under others to make Farm Rescue possible. So signing up to be a volunteer for our organization, donating to our mission or hosting a fundraiser in support of what we do, or simply sharing our mission on social media or word of mouth. We talked about how big referrals are to what we do. You can be a Farm Rescuer by referring a family that you know of that is going through a tough time and could use a little support, whether it be through planting, haying, harvest, livestock feeding support.
Michele: Even if they say they don’t need help. It’s kind of like bringing that casserole to the door when you know a family is ill or struggling. It’s that midwestern thing of bringing food. In this case, you’re helping make the food.
Dan: That’s a great way to put it. We’re always talking about that age-old concept of neighbors helping neighbors, and these neighbors come from a little further up the road.
Michele: I can imagine a lot of those faces coming out of the woodwork with all those backgrounds, and they may have a farm background in their life at one point, maybe a generation or two removed, but coming back and knowing they can help out is just something that is in their nature. I myself grew up on a farm, a generation removed at this point—dairy farm. My dad one time had a severe injury with an auger, so I know what it’s like to have plenty of people coming around to help out, especially when we’re talking about a dairy farm, 24-7, 7 days a week.
“We’re always talking about that age-old concept of neighbors helping neighbors
and these neighbors come from a little further up the road. ~ Dan Erdmann with Farm Rescue
Dan: It’s dangerous work, and no matter how careful you try to be sometimes, accidents happen. It can happen anywhere in daily life but especially on the farm.
One story we talk about is individual stories, this one in particular. He was servicing his bailer and had reached down for something, his sleeve caught and he became entrapped in that bailer I think he said for 45 minutes and was able to free himself and had the wherewithal to compose himself and march back to the house where his 8-month pregnant wife was waiting. His only thought was not trying to terrify her with what had just happened, so he kept his calm demeanor. What gets me about that story is he actually taught farm safety. It just goes to show that no matter how careful you are, sometimes accidents just happen. You just need that extra hand behind you to help get you through.
Michele: Do you have events that are coming up or events throughout the year?
Dan: We do. Yes. A lot of what we do is based around fundraising campaigns. We just took part in Giving Hearts Day; some of your listeners may be familiar with that. A huge event for all non-profits in North Dakota and eastern Minnesota. So that was a big success for us back in mid-February was Giving Hearts Day. As far as in-person events, we’re kind of just getting back into the swing of things with covid. We had an annual banquet every year to show our thanks to those folks who make our mission possible. And it’s an opportunity to kind of get these people all together in one room which doesn’t happen always happen.
As a business sponsor, you know that your dollars are going to support our operations there in the field, but not all those sponsors get to take a field trip out to the field and see the impact their dollars are making. It’s a great opportunity to show our sponsors where their money is going. And it’s an opportunity to reconnect the families that we’ve supported over the year but especially that given year with the volunteers providing that support. It’s those three groups that make our mission possible. Getting them together for an evening of fellowship and hopefully fun. We get to hear from our sponsors and our volunteers and especially those families that receive support that year.
“…not all those sponsors get to take a field trip out to the field and see the impact their dollars are making.” ~ Dan Erdmann with Farm Rescue
And for us, it’s the most impactful portion of the night. We save it for the last portion of the banquet because it reminds everyone what’s being done through Farm Rescue and why everyone is in that room, and why everyone is supporting that mission. It takes everyone out on a high note to hear first hand from the families that have received the assistance – the impact that our operations and our assistance have had for their families moving forward.
It’s something we look forward to and something we’re very happy to bring back after a couple year hiatus. The banquets is coming up soon. It’s in Bismarck on March 19th at the Ramkota Hotel in Bismarck. So anyone listening who would like to attend and check out the evening, we’ll have some entertainment, delicious meal and some door prizes to go along with it. Just a wonderful evening to bring everyone back together and remind them of what we’re doing and the importance of being a part of our mission.
Links and Things
Michele: You can find that information on the website at farmrescue.org. There’s a lot of information out there. There are applications, volunteer links, all of that information. If somebody wanted to volunteer, what would you recommend?
Dan: Our website, like you just mentioned, is kind of a catch-all for everything you want to know or sign up for the Farm Rescue. It’s kind of that initial portal for anyone who is interested in volunteering. You can learn about what goes into volunteering before you actually sign up. There are links to hear from those volunteers if you want a first-hand account of what that process is like. But probably the most important part of our website is being able to refer a family in need or to sign up as a family in need. It’s right there at farmrescue.org, and again as a non-profit, we rely heavily on the generosity of others so there’s obviously that donate button there on our website if you’re looking to contribute monetarily to our mission.
Michele: There’s gas, there’s equipment, there are all sorts of things that go into helping farmers out when they’re in need.
Dan: Absolutely. And with seven states, it adds up pretty quick. So every dollar makes a difference. And we take a lot of pride in stretching it to its limit.
Michele: One thing that we talk about on Celebration Voices is the ripple effect of the days we’re talking about and the people involved. I think Farm Rescue has a huge ripple effect beyond the farm. How does that impact the farm community?
Dan: That’s something we talk a lot about in just spreading the word of our mission. We’re helping that individual family in a community, a lot of times a rural and small community; it is that ripple effect that maybe we don’t see first hand when we’re there, but their ability to stay on that farm and continue their operation hopefully for the next generation and multiple generations. Think of the impact that one family has in a small community throughout that time span. They’re involved in civic groups and clubs and the inner workings of that community.
Michele: The small business, school programs—they’re an integral part of that, and to keep them going, it’s valuable for a small town. The other thing we always talk about is our mission – to Celebrate Every Day. What does that mean to you?
Celebrate Every Day
Dan: I think, again, it’s that we have this one day to give thanks, but as a full-time staff member, again, we’re a small staff at Farm Rescue. There are six full-timers right now to cover seven states and all that we’re doing. We are thankful every day to be a part of this mission. I like a lot of our staff members have had previous jobs, and a lot of times it’s supporting an owner of that business who the harder you work, the better off they’re doing and get some thanks for that. As a non-profit, you’re seeing the tangible results of your hard work out there in the field, and it’s making a difference. It’s something you can take pride in daily and take pride in the fact that your work is making a difference for so many families.
So, we’re thankful to play a small part role in this organization, but it’s something I’m thankful for every day. Definitely, each day is worth celebrating, just being alive in general and especially being a part of farm rescue.
Michele: Farm Rescue is a testament to what is going on in the Midwest especially, but your growth is a testament to how important and valuable it is the Midwest overall.
“…each day is worth celebrating, just being alive in general and especially being a part of farm rescue.” ~ Dan Erdmann with Farm Rescue
Dan: Absolutely. We realize, too, that this isn’t an issue contained to seven states. There’s always a crisis that occurs on farms and ranches across the country and around the world. We’d love to be there to support each and every one of them. It’s a slow progression for us. Farm Rescue wants to make sure that we have that foundation in place to be able to support the folks that are in any given state when we launch into that state. The organization calls it controlled growth since the beginning. We’re not closing the door on expanding to any states, but right now, this is where we’re at and the bandwidth we have to support these families in the seven states that are on our list of service states.
Michele: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you would like to share?
Dan: There are a lot of incredible folks involved in our mission, and those are the folks we really love to celebrate on National Farm Rescuer Day on March 17th.