September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
After exchanging text messages with a fellow tractor puller, Alma Center, Wis., dairy farmer James Giese decided he wanted to do his part to help those affected. Giese, who milks 120 cows with his father, Emil, helped deliver two loads of hay and fencing supplies donated by farmers across Jackson County to Knowles, Okla.
"It all started when a friend in Iowa that I pull tractors against, Alan Mohr, asked if we could go with him over the weekend," Giese said. "I sent out a mass text message on March 27 to the farmers in the area, and it just grew from there."
Coordinating with Mohr's efforts, Giese's original intent was to deliver the donations to Ashland, Kan. After contacting the company collecting donations, however, he decided a change of plans were in order.
"I called Ashland Feed and Seed in Kansas," Giese said. "After talking with them, they asked if I would be able to take it Knowles. It wasn't much further of a drive, so I said, 'Of course.'"
In a few days' time, Giese had confirmed enough donations to fill two semi-trailers with hay. The giving hearts of the farming community in his area were so great that he was forced to turn some donations away.
"We filled up the trucks in no time. Everyone wanted to lend a hand, but with two trucks, there was only so much we could fit," Giese said. "It was incredible."
Donations of hay and fencing materials were given by Bill Laufenberg, Matt Murray, Rick Hentsch, Nate Kling, Tom Giese, Emil Giese and Brian Massman. One trailer was donated by Greenleaf Trucking and fuel was donated by Federation Cooperative and Shortlane Ag Supply. Giese donated the use of his two farm semi-trailers, another trailer and time to make the drive to Knowles.
After spending much of April 5 collecting bales and preparing the trucks for the road, Giese and his hired driver set out on the 1,075-mile journey to Oklahoma. Giese's cousin, Ray Buttke, also kept him company as a passenger.
As they grew closer and closer to Knowles, Giese said the extent of the wildfires' damage was unfathomable. While he had kept up with the development of the wildfires across Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, nothing prepared him for the sheer level of devastation before him.
"There's nothing left; it's gone," Giese said. "When we burn a ditch here in Wisconsin, the grass comes back green. Out there, it has burned over very sandy soils; the grass hasn't grown back and there really is nothing left."
As he went through photos after returning from his trip, Giese said it was hard to put into words the uphill battle farmers and ranchers are facing across the three states.
"I knew it would be bad, but not in my wildest dreams did I think it would be like that," Giese said.
While their travels did not align with the fleet of trailers coming from Iowa, Giese said his journey introduced him to another group of farmers with a similar mission. As he pulled into Knowles, he was greeted by a group from Michigan.
"We met a 21-truck convoy from Michigan that was also bringing in donations," Giese said.
As Giese and the Michigan fleet rolled into the Knowles Community Center parking lot April 7, they were greeted by over 50 community members, including the local Clinton County Michigan 4-H club. Giese said their excitement and appreciation was undeniable.
"People were taking pictures, cheering and clapping," Giese said. "They were very, very appreciative."
Included in the crowd was Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Jim Reese. Moments after arriving, Giese and Buttke sat down with the secretary as they shared a meal together.
"He sat right next to us, and we just assumed he was another rancher from the area," Giese said. "After he told us who he was, we couldn't believe it. He thanked us for coming down, and we talked about the agriculture within our states."
After conversing over lunch, Giese was handed a token of Reese's appreciation.
"All of the government officials have a pin in the shape of the state of Oklahoma on their jacket," Giese said. "He took his pin off his jacket and handed it to me. That was pretty neat."
While spending much of the afternoon helping unload the hay and interacting with the people of Knowles, Giese said he tried to remain upbeat to keep the community's spirits up.
"Ray and I were laughing and having a good time with everybody. We wanted to try and make people feel better; that was important," Giese said.
With over 2,000 miles accumulated round-trip, Giese returned to Wisconsin April 9. As he reflected on the trip, he felt a sense of pride for his community's efforts. He said donating and delivering the supplies to Knowles had a deeper message for the entire agriculture community.
"It was impressive to see the support of farmers in my area for a group of people we had never met," Giese said. "In farming, you never know when you're going to need help; but if you need it, it will come."[[In-content Ad]]