Ohio farmers pledge to help the South

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VAN WERT, Ohio — A group of farmers from northwest Ohio know all too well the devastation a tornado can bring, especially to the farm. In November of 2002, a deadly tornado swept through Van Wert, Paulding and Putnam counties.

Nearly 10 years later, those same farmers are planning to “pay it forward” for those affected by the tornado in Alabama and the Southeast. The most recent tornadoes resulted in more than 300 fatalities.

The official name of the group is “Ohio Farmers Pay it Forward,” and it consists of a growing number of farmers and nonfarmers who want to get involved.

Action plan

Volunteers are planning a service trip to Guntersville, Ala., said Jennifer Wilson, the local organizational director for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

“Our area definitely understands the destruction of a tornado,” she said.

She has worked with Leah Dorman of the Farm Bureau’s Center for Food and Animal Issues to contact some farmers in Alabama. What they need most are some able-bodied laborers.

“They called back and said they could use people to get debris off fences and they also need fencing supplies,” Dorman said.

At least 10 farmers from northwest Ohio are interested in planning a trip. And the number is growing to include other parts of the state.

But the trip has been delayed indefinitely, due to the unusually wet spring here in Ohio. At first, farmers were eager to go because it was so wet, but a few dry days last week meant they were more focused on their own work.

Need continues

Wilson sympathizes with Ohio farmers, and others, who are behind in their own outdoor work. But according to the farmers in Alabama, volunteer help will be important throughout the summer.

“They say there is so much they need to do that if we send farmers now, that’s great — if we send them in June, that’s great,” Wilson said.

The group has close ties to Farm Bureau, but members and nonmembers are participating and making donations.

A chef from Independence, Ohio, near Cleveland, had pledged her catering expertise to cook meals for those on the trip.

Chef Mary Wills of The Good Fork, said it’s a great farmer-to-farmer program and she’s excited about being involved.

“I’ve always wanted to help out,” she said. “I’d love to just go down there and cook for all of the farmers and help with the cleanup effort.”

Stocking up

Wills already has a strong pledging of food items, including potatoes, cornmeal waffles, several loaves of honey bread, pork and she purchased 25 locally raised chickens.

Dorman said the trip has a lot of potential. But she reminds volunteers to look out for their safety, and be mindful of some of the dangers that can be involved with recovery efforts.

Still, she sees it as a good example of farmers working together to help one another — even in other parts of the country. She described it as a “farmer-to-farmer kind of thing.”

Although the departure date has not been set, Wilson said it will be “as soon as possible.”

Get involved. Trip organizers know not everyone who wants to help will be able to travel to Alabama.

But if you’d like more information about going along, or about sending supplies or monetary donations to the cause, email info@ofbf.org. Or, call Jennifer Wilson at 419-615-8861.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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