South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Volunteer group helps rescue farmers ailing with COVID-19

- By David Pitt

The wet spring offered only a tiny window for planting, sowhenNort­hDakota farmer Paul Ivesdal fell ill with the coronaviru­s he knew the timing couldn’t be worse.

The 63-year- old man knew if he didn’t recover quickly and plant his crop of wheat, barley, canola and flax, it could mean an end to his decades of farming 2,300 acres just south of the Canadian border. But his condition deteriorat­ed and, dueto the badweather, even his neighbors had no time to help.

“We didn’t get some crop in,” Ivesdal said. “It just got too late and started raining again.”

That’s when Farm Rescue stepped in. When Ivesdal was rushed to a hospital where he spent eight days on a ventilator, volunteers from the nonprofit planted his crops and made sure his farmwould endure.

Ivesdal, who spent the summer in rehabilita­tion, regaining strength and the ability to walk, said he tires more easily than before, but that he plans to continue working the land.

“If we wouldn’t have got

whatwe did, I don’t knowif I would have kept on farming,” he said. “I’dlike to farm for a couple more years but if it wouldn’t have been for themwe might have just decided to quit.”

Thefounder ofFarmResc­ue, Bill Gross, is a North Dakota native who grew up on a farm, but he did not follow in his parents footsteps. Grosswent to college,

became a pilot and has flown Boeing 747s for United Parcel Service for 27 years.

But in 2005, he launched Farm Rescue, inspired by the 1980s farm crisis that forced his parents to sell land andmost of their cattle. He traveled to farm shows where he set up a card table and asked for donations. With help from a John

Deere dealership, he bought a tractor and that first year provided assistance for 10 farming families.

Over the years, individual donors and big companies, such as Deere & Company and Chevrolet trucks, have stepped up, and Farm Rescue now has 1,000 volunteers nationwide.

“My heart never left the farming community,” Gross said.

The group has given assistance to about 700 farm families in the last15 years in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. The group usually helps farmers beset by injuries, illness or natural disasters, but volunteers have this year been helping those taken out of commission by

COVID-19.

“We’ve helped several farmers that have had COVID, including some who have been on a ventilator for three or four weeks and have survived and are back farming now,” Gross said.

The pandemic has rippled through the farm economy, leading to yet more bankruptci­es.

“It’s affected farmers drasticall­y. They were already at what I feel was the breaking point,” Gross said. “There’s been persistent­ly low commodity prices, natural disasters and now COVID, and then when you add amajor injury or illness to the challenges they already faced, it just can be overwhelmi­ng to them financiall­y and emotionall­y.”

Farmers and ranchers can apply for help from FarmRescue by filing out an online applicatio­n, and some are referred to the organizati­on by concerned friends.

The group is planning a country music benefit concert Dec. 9, to be streamed live on YouTube from the Brooklyn Bowl Nashville in Tennessee.

Viewers can watch the event for free, but all donations willgotoFa­rmRescue.

 ?? DAN ERDMANN/FARM RESCUE ?? Volunteers plant crops in June on Paul Ivesdal’s farm while he was sickened by COVID-19.
DAN ERDMANN/FARM RESCUE Volunteers plant crops in June on Paul Ivesdal’s farm while he was sickened by COVID-19.

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