Farm Rescue, a nonprofit based in Horace, North Dakota, is working to help family farmers and ranchers when they experience an illness, injury, or natural disaster.
Founded in 2005, Farm Rescue has rescued hundreds of family ranches and farms from life-altering states of emergency. The organization uses donation-based funding and volunteer labor to assist family farms with planting, harvesting, and livestock feeding throughout the Midwest.
“Our mission is based on the age-old concept of neighbors helping neighbors,” Dan Erdmann, Farm Rescue’s Program Manager, tells Food Tank. “Our help simply comes from a little farther away than the farm down the road.” Farm Rescue’s volunteer program draws on more than 1,000 volunteers from nearly all 50 states.
“Having a sufficient labor force on a family farm can easily be the difference between continuing operations and ending a family’s legacy,” Erdmann tells Food Tank. “Every member of a family farming operation is vital to its success.”
Unexpected crises can be one of the largest sources of financial distress on a family, especially during a farm’s season of peak productivity, Erdmann says. He explains that because family farms often rely on a small handful of individuals to keep their operations afloat, even a few Farm Rescue volunteers can be a lifeline for them.
For Nikki Johansen, it was her husband Jamie’s diagnosis of E.coli and kidney failure that put her family’s livelihood at risk in 2018.
With her husband out of commission and unable to plant crops, Johansen was forced to consider the possibility of losing an entire year’s worth of income. “If you don’t get your crop seeded, you don’t get an income,” Johansen tells Food Tank.
After a friend submitted an application to Farm Rescue on the Johansens’ behalf, the family was approved in a matter of days. “The volunteers we encountered were the most amazing people,” Johansen says. That season, Farm Rescue seeded half of the Johansen’s crop – over 800 acres – in four days. “Without Farm Rescue’s help, none of it would have happened,” says Johansen.
Erdmann explains how both geography and the insular nature of family farming in the Midwest make it difficult for families to find labor in times of need.
With fewer smallholder farms dotting the rural American landscape and large, corporate farms covering a growing number of acres, the amount of readily available farm labor is dwindling. “Recruiting help to these rural farms and communities can be a challenge without many of the amenities offered in more populated areas,” Erdmann says.
While government-sponsored aid programs continue to benefit large, corporate farms of the American Midwest, smallholder family farmers like the Johansens feel that they are often ignored. But with their community-based approach to crisis relief, Farm Rescue is hoping to breathe new life into the region’s local support system.
“Farm Rescue is not a long-term solution for farmers,” Erdmann tells Food Tank, “but rather a life preserver to keep them afloat amidst the rough waters of crisis, and hopefully, extend their livelihood to the next generation.”
Johansen hopes to keep her family’s farm operating long enough to see it passed down to her son. “He’s going to college for farm and ranch management,” Johansen explains. “It’s so essential for us to keep our farm going so that he can carry it on some day.”
Photo courtesy of Farm Rescue
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