September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"It sort of messed up my knee," said De Groot who, with his wife, Marla, milks 200 head and farms 500 acres. "The doctors scoped it several times over the years, but it never really got much better."
In 2005, De Groot had his right knee replaced. The artificial joint soon became askew, so De Groot had another new knee installed in February of 2012. Shortly afterwards, his new knee developed a staph infection.
Aggressive use of antibiotics seemed to clear the infection. But this past March, the staph infection returned with a vengeance.
De Groot was taken to Mayo Clinic in Rochester where doctors removed his artificial knee and put a cast on his leg. De Groot would remain in the cast and without a knee for the next two months. Doing chores or performing field operations were totally out of the question.
"Our neighbors were wonderful about coming over to do chores and we are very grateful for their help," said De Groot. "We eventually hired more workers so our neighbors didn't have to come over so much. We didn't want to feel like we were imposing on them. We realize that they have their own things to take care of."
When this spring's planting time approached, a friend of the De Groots suggested that they contact Farm Rescue.
"I had never heard of Farm Rescue," said De Groot. "But I'm glad that I called them."
This past May, a new John Deere tractor and 24 row planter came to the De Groot farm and planted all of their corn and soybeans in a day and a half. The equipment was on loan from RDO Equipment and was operated by volunteers from Farm Rescue.
Farm Rescue is a charitable organization that was started in 2006 by Bill Gross, a full-time 747 captain for UPS Airlines.
"I grew up on a cattle farm near Cleveland, N.D.," said Gross. "When I was in high school, I could already see the trend of fewer and larger farms and kids leaving the farm for job opportunities elsewhere."
After high school, Gross took pilot training and eventually landed his current position. Having been raised in a Christian household, Gross felt compelled to give back to the world. He went on mission trips to such places as Romania and Croatia where he helped build homes and worked at orphanages. But the farm life continued to tug at his heart.
"One night, we were flying over the Pacific at 40,000 feet when one of my crew members asked what I was going to do when I retired," said Gross. "I told them I was going to buy a John Deere tractor and be a random Good Samaritan farmer. Someone asked, 'Why wait until you retire?'"
That simple "why wait?" caused Gross to look at things differently. Over the next seven years, as he crisscrossed the globe in gigantic cargo jets, Gross pondered that question. Everything crystallized one evening when Gross discussed his idea with a former college roommate who is now an Army chaplain.
"He pointed out that I shouldn't wait because we never know what tomorrow will bring," said Gross. "He also said that instead of being random, I should do something that's organized in some way. As I drove from his home, I thought, 'That's it. My mission field will be in the fields of farm families.'"
And so the idea of Farm Rescue was born.
Gross faced some intimidating hurdles. How would he structure the organization? Where would he get funding? How would he find volunteers? Is there even a need for Farm Rescue?
"I knew there would be others like me who have farm backgrounds and would be willing to volunteer to help with planting or harvesting," said Gross. "And I thought that surely businesses would sponsor such an organization. It would be good PR and good for their local economy. It's a win-win for everyone."
One of the earliest and biggest sponsors was RDO Equipment Company.
"RDO Equipment Company loans us millions of dollars worth of equipment to use free of charge," said Gross.
More than 250 entities are sponsors of Farm Rescue. They range from private individuals to seed companies and commodity groups to corporations as large as Wal-mart. Farm Rescue takes no funds from the federal government; it relies entirely on private and goodwill donations.
"We do not give out money," said Gross. "Our mission is to do harvesting or planting for farmers who have had an illness or an injury or suffered a natural disaster."
This mission has met with a good deal of success. Over the past seven years, Farm Rescue has helped more than 235 farmers from Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. This assistance is provided at no cost, although the farmer being helped provides diesel fuel, seed and fertilizer.
Some farmers have been hesitant to reach out to Farm Rescue.
"About half of the farmers we help contact us directly, while the other half are referred to us by a neighbor or business associate," said Gross. "Anyone can refer a farmer to us anonymously. Many farmers find it easier to ask for help from Farm Rescue because they feel that their neighbors are too busy."
Farm Rescue has a database of more than 500 volunteers that can be called upon. These volunteers come from all across the nation and all walks of life, including doctors, ministers, plumbers, dairy farmers and pilots.
"All of our volunteers receive rigorous training because they are representing our organization and our sponsors," said Gross. "Pilots make some of the best volunteers because they can often fly in on short notice and are accustomed to operating large machinery."
While they currently offer only planting and harvesting assistance, Farm Rescue is looking into the possibility of adding help with haying.
Levi and Carol Wielenga live in Sioux City, Iowa and have done volunteer work for Farm Rescue for the past four years. Levi is an engineer for BNSF railroad and Carol is a stay-at-home mom.
"We just love working for Farm Rescue," said Levi. "It's a way to serve God and serve others while helping the farming community. I grew up on a family farm located just a few miles from the De Groots, so it was very special when we helped them plant their crops this spring."
"Meeting the farm families is really a blessing," said Carol. "We often become part of the families that we help. They feed us and sometimes put us up for the night. It's nice to be a part of that family culture."
De Groot has since had a new knee installed and was hoping to be back and moving around Sept. 1.
"It was a real blessing when Farm Rescue came to help us with the planting," said De Groot. "I don't know how we would have gotten everything in with the wet spring that we had. I can't thank the volunteers from Farm Rescue enough. They are some of the most Godly people on the face of the earth."
You can learn more about Farm Rescue at: www.farmrescue.org[[In-content Ad]]
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