Bill Lemma of Enderlin is too sick to harvest beans this year, but because of Farm Rescue, Bill can focus on healing instead of worrying about harvest.
Bill has cancer and is in Rochester undergoing a bone marrow transplant. On Friday, volunteers, including Bill's son and a former neighbor Steve Mark navigated combines flying both the U.S. flag and a Farm Rescue flag, through Bill's soybean fields.
Unfortunately the weather wasn't very cooperative; the moisture level in the beans grew to 20-22 percent and volunteers had to move to another location. But they will keep trying until they get it done.
Steve, a retired Enderlin farmer and railroad employee who now lives in Fargo, rents out some of his land to Bill. A first-time volunteer for Farm Rescue, Steve enjoys the work, in fact, "driving combine was always my favorite part," he said.
Steve volunteered for this job because he knows Bill, but if the organization ever has another job nearby, he'll volunteer again, he said.
Crew leader Jack Rutludge, J.R., a retired college teacher and pilot from Peachtree City, Ga. has been a Farm Rescue volunteer for about three years. While the the rain fell Sunday, volunteers couldn't work on harvest, but J.R. was still busy. There was equipment to be moved, trucks to pick up, and a lot more.
J.R. decided to volunteer with Farm Rescue when he retired. He has time to donate, and as a retired pilot for Delta Airlines, he gets free airfare, so he can fly out for a few weeks during planting and harvest to help out. Currently, J,R, is awaiting the arrival of of grandchildren he can add to his posse. In fact, he was driving his daughter from a successful in-vitro appointment when he got the call informing him Farm Rescue needed him in North Dakota.
Also on J.R.'s crew is Andy Wittenburg, a minister from Oregon who used vacation time to help out. Originally a farm boy from Iowa, Andy hadn't actually gotten to help harvest yet because of the rain, but he's been busy helping out in other ways.
Farm Rescue is an non-profit organization that plants and harvests crops – free of charge – for farmers who are unable to because of injury, serious illness or natural disaster. The organization serves farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Eastern Montana. Since 2005, when pilot Bill Gross started the organization, Farm Rescue has assisted more than 200 families.
Back at Bill Lemma's farm Friday, volunteers wanted harvest as much as they could before another snap of wet weather forced them to stop.
According to Steve, Bill lost his wife about a year-and-a-half ago to Lou Gehrig's disease. Currently Bill is at the lowest point in his treatment, chemotherapy will take him near death, then the new bone marrow will take over to rebuild his immune system. Without help from Farm Rescue, Bill and other farmers facing the same hardships would face disaster if they couldn't harvest their crops.
Volunteers come from all over the country, many of them retired farmers or folks who grew up on a farm and want to give something back.
While volunteers are the heart of the organization, it wouldn't operate without companies and individuals who donate everything from cash, equipment and even meals and lodging. In fact J.R. and his crew are staying in donated rooms in Valley City's Three Oaks Guest Inn.
To become a Farm Rescue volunteer, make a donation, or inquire about planting or harvest assistance, call (701) 252-2017 or visit farmrescue.org.
Read this story in Monday's Times-Record.