Group that aids farmers helping with 200th familyWYNDMERE, N.D. (AP) — Dan Dotzenrod is grateful for the help. After breaking his neck this summer when he fell off a semitrailer, the southeastern North Dakota man sought help from a nonprofit group that provides planting and harvesting aid to farm families in need.
WYNDMERE, N.D. (AP) — Dan Dotzenrod is grateful for the help. After breaking his neck this summer when he fell off a semitrailer, the southeastern North Dakota man sought help from a nonprofit group that provides planting and harvesting aid to farm families in need.
But Dotzenrod was clearly more comfortable with his neck brace Thursday than he was with the crowd that gathered in his cornfield to mark Farm Rescue's 200th good deed.
“I was hoping I would be the 201st,” he said, smiling.
Farm Rescue aims to help people on family farms who have experienced a major injury, illness or natural disaster. Since its inception seven years ago, the group has worked with families in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana.
Its founder and president, Bill Gross, 46, grew up on a farm near Cleveland, N.D., and left for a better job in the big city. He's a lifelong pilot, most recently for UPS. He said he was “driving down the road” one day when he thought an organization was needed to help family farms.
“The best thing about Farm Rescue is that it has created an avenue for people and businesses to help farm families in our region,” he said.
Some moments are bittersweet. Several of the families have relatives who have died or are critically ill. This summer, for example, Farm Rescue helped on the Ulen, Minn., farm of Matt and Staci Klemetson. She died last week of lung cancer, leaving behind her husband and five children.
“That was very difficult,” Gross said.
Dotzenrod, 62, was hooking a hopper-bottom trailer to a semi in June when he said an old pair of bifocals played tricks on him and he fell 4 feet. He landed on his neck and shoulders. When he hit the ground, he could hear a crunching in his shoulders. He was conscious the whole time.
“It didn't feel very good,” he said. “But my head didn't get hurt for some reason. If you're going to break your neck, I did it the right way.”
Dotzenrod was in a Fargo hospital for 12 days, during which doctors fused two vertebrae and inserted a plate and screws. He was told it will take 12 months to completely recover. He was on a feeding tube until three weeks ago.
With harvesting out of the question, Dotzenrod applied to Farm Rescue.
“It's quite an idea,” Rose Dotzenrod, Dan's wife, said of the group. “I think it's quite amazing that we are the 200th family and they have been able to assist that many families in such a short time.”
Staff and volunteers from Farm Rescue have spent the last two days harvesting soybeans and corn on the 1,000-acre plot north of Wyndmere. They plan to run day and night until the harvest is mostly completed.
Farm Rescue has a regular roster of about 100 volunteers. Most of the workers are local, but Gross said people came from 15 states last year to help. A minister from Oregon has come to drive semi. An information technology specialist from Arizona has shown up to ride a tractor and rig.
One of the local volunteers, Charlie Hardie, of Wahpeton, is a “past (age) 75” lifelong farmer who runs a museum of vintage restored tractors called Charlie's Green Acres. The first combine he ever took into the fields did not have a cab. The machine he operated Thursday steers itself.
“I'm out here in this advanced equipment,” he said, smiling. “It's just fun to go and work on a farm where farmers do need us, and the challenge for us is to try and get the best crop they ever grew.”
It should be a bountiful crop. The drought in the Midwest has driven up the price of most crops, including corn, but growing conditions in southeastern North Dakota have been nearly ideal. Prices and yields are up.
“All of us ought take some (of that money) and put it right here,” Hardie said, pointing to his shirt pocket, “because next year we could have that drought.”
Rose Dotzenrod, 51, said neighbors wanted to help but were busy with their own crops. She marveled at the organization among Farm Rescue staff and volunteers.
“The entire team is really a prayer in action, a prayer in motion,” she said.