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Neighbors without borders: Farm Rescue volunteers help those in need

Debbie and Dan Murphy, Jack the dog and Gary Krieger pose for a photo in front of the combine that Dan piloted to help harvest wheat for a Lafor farmer in need. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)1 / 2
Dan Murphy and Gary Krieger pilot this massive combiner to harvest the spring wheat at Keith Herold's farm while he battles with illness. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)2 / 2

LEFOR—Nothing beats having a good neighbor—no matter how far away that neighbor lives.

Dan Murphy is a man of action. When the call came down from Farm Rescue, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping farmers in need, he didn't reach for his checkbook—he reached for his keys. Driving from Texas with his wife, Debbie, and their floppy-eared mutt Jack, Murphy devoted a month of his time to hauling and harvesting hay in Lefore. Why?

"You're supposed to help your neighbor," Murphy said. "The definition of neighbor, well, in my mind that doesn't necessarily mean the guy next door. So I consider the Dakotas my neighbor. There are folks in need, I've got a few talents—just a few! Two or three—God's gonna take those talents in you and he's gonna work those talents to help someone in need."

The air is thick with the scent of cut grass and wheat. Murphy steps down from an immense combine for a brief respite from harvesting spring wheat for Keith Herold's farm. Herold suffers from acute myeloid leukemia, and has been focusing on treatment, leaving no one to harvest his wheat. The drought hasn't been kind either—weeds grow tall, and the wheat grows short, yet there's enough brought up by recent rainfall to try and bring a bit of relief.

That's where Farm Rescue comes in.

"It's been a tough year for these farmers," Murphy said. "They went so long without any rain and these weeds just sat dormant. Now they got a little rain and these weeds just sprouted. So I'm skimming across the top and getting the heads off the wheat that I can. What's makin' it tough is that they haven't had any rain so it hasn't grown very tall and it hasn't grown very thick."

Nevertheless, Murphy took the task with great gusto. He's not a farmer himself—he works in engineering back home in Texas—but he's got a kinship with Dakota farmers and their lifestyle.

"If I go back to my great grandfather (he lived in) Fairmont, North Dakota," Murphy recalled. "My grandfather in Graceville, Minnesota, and my dad, when he left the farm, after the war—the Korean War—he decided it was too cold up here, so he moved to Houston. He met my mother and became an accountant. The rest is history."

As for Murphy himself, he got his first taste of farming life at the age of 12, joining his uncles' farm to accompany his nephews in an honest day's work.

"At 12 years old, the nephews were run through farms," Murphy said. "Sometimes I tell the story that, us boys, when we reach that ripe old age of 12 we sort of become heathens. I would not be surprised if my dad and my uncle had a conversation and said 'Hey, work the devil out of 'em.' He did. He did, but I fell in love with it."

Gary Krieger was Murphy's co-pilot in the combine, an oil-field man with plenty of skills to offer, particularly when it came to transporting materials. He'd been helping out with Farm Rescue for a couple of years, and for him it's as much about the folks he meets along the way as the work that needs to be done.

"I'd like to (keep doing this)," Krieger said. "I enjoy the work, I always meet new people and there's a little fellowship that goes on too, it's not just helping the farmer—you gain new friends and keep new friends."

As for Murphy, he said that this higher calling is the sort of thing that brings out the best in people.

"I don't believe God wills anything to happen, I think he permits," Murphy said. "I think God does will volunteers and the good hearted ... he wills goodness in men, He wills that. He builds talents in us. I don't believe he wills chaos, but he permits it for us to learn from one another. To learn compassion for one another."

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