There really are still heroes in the world.
While most people talk about their plans for retirement with visions of sandy beaches and endless golf courses dancing in their head, one man had an entirely different vision.
While flying a commercial jet over the Pacific, Bill Gross commented to his co-worker in the cockpit, “When I retire, I’m gonna buy a big John Deere tractor and drive around helping farmers who need help.”
As the word spread of Bill’s comment, mostly his co-workers laughed at him. “You’re crazy!” is the comment he heard more than a few times.
As these words began to take root, it became clear to Bill that his idea might not wait till his retirement. The idea hatched a non-profit organization, Farm Rescue, that “helps farmers bridge crises so they have an opportunity to continue viable operations,” according to the group’s Web site.
The mission statement explains, “Farm Rescue provides planting and harvesting assistance to farm families that have experienced a major illness, injury or natural disaster. Qualifying farmers may be eligible to have their agricultural land planted or harvested free of charge.”
Bill Gross is a 42-year-old pilot for UPS who says he enjoys stepping in to help farmers when illness or injury keeps them from being able to plant or harvest for themselves. Since starting this non-profit organization in 2006, he finds himself pulling all-nighters in a tractor cab or a combine on his days off.
When his schedule will not allow him to be in the fields, his 50 volunteers and two staffers figure out who is needed where.
The Web site, www.farmrescue.org, lists some impressive corporate contributors to this cause, so there is hope that the idea will be sustainable. Donations are used to pay for the expenses associated with planting and harvesting crops, while labor for operating the equipment is provided by Farm Rescue volunteers.
The organization has already helped about 60 farmers in the Dakotas and Minnesota, and various stories are shared on the site.
Jessica and Justin Metzger, the first family helped by the volunteers, had lost everything when a tornado destroyed their farm in Eureka, S.D. Janet and Brad Staudinger of Richardton, N.D., received the blessing of volunteers who came to combine their wheat after Brad’s right arm and hand were seriously injured in a combine accident.
Another couple, who had four daughters all in college, said they were used to being the ones who helped neighbors in need. Suddenly, after a fall from a ladder which left this man with two badly broken wrists, the couple wondered how they would combine their massive wheat crop. Farm Rescue came to their rescue, and the stories go on from there.
People magazine carries a feature story in the current issue (Aug. 11) in their “Heroes Among Us” series.
In this feature, farming is described as one of the country’s most dangerous occupations, with 715 deaths and 80,000 disabling injuries last year. It comes as no surprise that Farm Rescue remains busy helping those who stand to lose their farm without miraculous intervention, even if just for one crop season.
Having grown up the son of a third-generation farmer, Bill Gross grew up helping on a 4,000-acre farm in North Dakota and saw his father suffer through minor injuries over the years, but the single story that instilled fear in him was hearing his father sometimes talk about a hired hand killed in a farming accident.
This bachelor, who landed a job with UPS in 1994 after having studied aviation at the University of North Dakota, spent time volunteering with orphans in Romania and helped rebuild homes in Croatia.
While on that long flight over the Pacific Ocean one night, his idea of helping those at home sprouted. While friends and co-workers laughed, he went ahead with his plan by withdrawing $10,000 in savings and he began seeking volunteers to help put this plan in to reality.
Retired farmer Smokey Wright is one of Farm Rescue’s volunteers. At age 71, Wright has seen his share of farmers in need.
“Years ago,” Wright told People magazine, “if you got sick, neighbors took care of you.” Now, the demands of large-scale farming makes it much harder for a farm family to survive a devastating injury. One quote sums up the driving force behind this non-profit organization.
“When we show up, you can see a cloud of worry lift,” says Bill Gross.