Farm Rescue – A Thousand Families Later
Neighbors helping neighbors. It is an age-old concept that has carried many individuals and families through difficult circumstances. Nearly two decades ago, this same concept became the basis for a nonprofit organization born at 40,000 feet called Farm Rescue.
Founder and President Bill Gross, is a Cleveland, N.D., native who spent his childhood surrounded by agriculture. Like many farm kids before him, Gross realized at a young age it would not be possible to continue his family’s farming legacy due to financial constraints. His parents encouraged him to seek higher education in pursuit of a better life so Gross attended the University of North Dakota to secure an undergraduate degree in business administration.
While at UND, he also secured several pilot ratings and an Airline Transport Pilot certificate. This career path sent him to places around the globe, but Gross’ heart never left the farming community in which he was raised.
From a bird’s-eye view as a Boeing 747 captain, flying back and forth across our nation, Gross kept looking at the farms below. The changing demographics of rural America – fewer farms, less children per family, fewer neighbors – troubled him. In the back of his mind, he remembered his father’s concern about what would happen to their farm should anything debilitating occur.
So, on a long flight over the Pacific Ocean while discussing retirement plans with a co-pilot, Gross didn’t hesitate: “I’m going to be this Good Samaritan that buys a tractor and goes around helping farm families plant their crops when they have a major injury or illness.” That generated some laughter until his co-worker realized he was serious. “Well, why wait until you retire?” he challenged. Bill Gross launched Farm Rescue in 2005.
In the spring of 2006, Gross and other Farm Rescue volunteers planted the very first crop for a family in crisis. Little did he know those seeds would grow into a movement that now spans eight Midwest states and will soon extend a helping hand to its 1,000th family operation.
Farm Rescue continues to offer free assistance to farmers experiencing a major injury, illness or natural disaster. These assistance services have expanded over time to include planting, haying, harvest, commodity hauling and livestock feeding support. The nonprofit’s service territory has also grown to include the states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, with Illinois joining the list in 2023. This growth is a direct result of the goodwill and generosity provided by many individual donors, grantors, business sponsors and volunteers.
The year 2022 was another interesting one for Farm Rescue, with a wet spring resulting in a later-than-average finish to planting season for much of its northern territory. On the other end of the spectrum, a prolonged period of dry weather created some dire circumstances across much of its southern region. The nonprofit once again responded with a hay hauling relief effort for ranchers affected by wildfires and catastrophic drought, but these dry conditions will likely impact the fast-approaching planting season, as well. Despite these challenges, Farm Rescue was honored to assist 78 farm and ranch families in crisis during its 2022 operations.
This coming spring, the nonprofit will reach an important service milestone with its 1,000th farm family served. The impact of this assistance is much further-reaching than these individual farming operations, however. Each family is vital to the areas in which they reside. Affording them an opportunity to continue farming creates a ripple effect within their community. These operations breathe life into rural America by supporting local businesses, organizations and civic programs. Farm Rescue works tirelessly to keep family operations intact, with the hope they can remain in these communities for generations to come.
Farming is rooted in tradition, with knowledge, land and equipment often passed from parent to child. It’s about leaving a legacy for the next producer in line, with a chance to succeed. Sometimes that involves accepting a hand-up when it’s offered. Neighbors are still helping neighbors and Farm Rescue is living proof of that. These neighbors simply come from a little farther up the road.