This past summer, two neighboring farmers knocked on the door of our farmhouse which Marilyn and I share. “Would it be alright,” one of them asked, “if two elves showed up someday to turn your woodpile into firewood?”
I didn’t know what to say and it took me a few seconds to respond, “Only if you keep what you need for yourselves. It’s a huge pile,” I added, as I considered the ten-foot high pile of well-seasoned elm, oak, ash and mulberry logs that have accumulated over years of trimming trees and cleaning up after storm damage.
“We don’t have fireplaces,” they replied. “We’ll bring our log splitter and chainsaws someday when we’re looking for something to do. Where do you want us to stack it?”
I pointed to my closest machine shed where there are a few remaining logs and smaller pieces of firewood that we didn’t use up last winter in our fireplace and wood-burning kitchen stove. For the past 30 years I have stacked firewood in the shed.
Two years ago these same two men stashed substantial split wood in my machine shed. Were they perhaps considering my gradually worsening physical limitations or something else in their generous offer? Probably not, they just want to do something for someone else.
Marilyn was as stunned as I was, for she had overheard the conversation from the kitchen that adjoins our front entryway. After they left, she commented, “We’re so fortunate to have farm neighbors who look out for one another.”
Again, I didn’t have a ready follow-up response. Even though Marilyn suggested I write in this column about farmers’ willingness to help one another, I knew these generous people would not want me to reveal their identities.
Marilyn is right in suggesting that people everywhere need to know about farmers’ generosity. Acts of kindness are especially needed in today’s life arenas.
It has long been known that poor people donate a larger percentage of their earnings than wealthy people to help others in need. There are many exceptions however, like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, who have pledged to donate most of their lifetime accumulations before or shortly after they pass on.
Recently a social movement has evolved which can be best described as random acts of kindness. I deliberated my neighbors’ generosity.
Theirs wasn’t a random act of kindness. It was a planned act of kindness but also without expectation of anything in return.
Like my neighbors, most farmers are imbued with a strong sense of looking out for their neighbors. Planting and harvesting when a neighbor is unable to due to health or other incapacitating experiences have always been common in my community.
People everywhere usually help one another, especially during and after a disaster. For many years, AgriWellness Inc., the nonprofit organization I directed for a dozen years, provided behavioral health services following disasters in Iowa when the governor or the U.S. President issued a disaster declaration.
Our basic expenses were reimbursed by the Iowa Department of Human Services or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Trained volunteers, whose basic expenses were usually covered by their affiliating organizations, also helped provide recovery services, such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and many other church-based groups.
We made sure that we had farmers who were well trained and prepared to assist farm families, just like we had crisis counselors who matched various ethnic backgrounds (e.g., Hispanic, Sudanese) of Iowans affected by floods, tornadoes or whatever the disaster. Understanding our varying cultural backgrounds is key to being helpful.
Farm Rescue (www.farmrescue.org) is a contemporary example of a nonprofit organization of volunteers that plant and harvest crops free of charge for family farmers who have suffered a major illness, injury, or natural disaster. Since 2006 Farm Rescue has assisted 400+ farm families.
While most recipients of aid have been in North Dakota, Farm Rescue has assisted many families in other Midwestern states. Farm Rescue has the capacity to help in 60 locations in 2017. Benefactors greatly assist Farm Rescue just like many organizations helped AgriWellness when we served Iowa for almost ten years until the Iowa Department of Human Services established a permanent cadre of trained crisis responders that was modeled after the AgriWellness approach.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that many farmers I know look after one another. Several call each other on their phones one or more times each week to check on each other.
Some are without spouses and others have partners who are gone regularly to salaried day jobs off the farm. The farmers need to talk with someone they trust. These connected people are mostly men, but a couple of the farmers are women.
In an ideal society, everyone would help each other in the ways that are needed. Kindness is necessary, without expectations in return, and especially now in America.