The life of any farmer is laced with hardships and difficult times. Everything from the weather to crop diseases to insects can yield the need for assistance. Other causes like a death in the family or a serious illness can also cause hardship for a family. Farm Rescue, based out of Horace, ND, is an organization that offers help to farmers and ranchers in need.
By Lisa Nowatzki
Volunteers from the organization came out on Friday, August 17 ready to help Langdon residents Michael and Cheryl Muhs bring in their wheat harvest. This day was not only a day of celebration for Farm Rescue, but it was also the birthday for the Muhs’ youngest three children.
During the spring, the Muhs family planted about 6,000 acres including 800 acres of wheat. Farm Rescue Operations Manager Levi Wielenga said that they should finish harvesting within the week.
Wielenga and Marketing Communications Officer Dan Erdmann came out to the Muhs farm prepared. They brought some new equipment with them to help with the harvest. The Engelstad Foundation gave Farm Rescue $250,000 grant which they used to buy a new John Deere combine that was first used to help the Muhs family. Our very own Langdon Implement Co. also donated the use of a new 40 foot, 640FD flex draper head to help out with the harvest.
Two special volunteers came with Wielenga and Erdmann, David Frueh, a retired farmer from Martin, ND, and Mike Platt, a retired truck driver. During the harvest, Frueh drove the combine and Platt drove the grain truck.
Other local volunteers from the US Consolidated Farm Services Agency (FSA) in Langdon showed up with lunch for the family and volunteers and a birthday cake for the three youngest Muhs family members. On hand to serve their homemade BBQ was FSA Director Julie Howatt, Erica Brown, Katie Hoffarth, and Kimberly Wenzel.
Erdman and Howatt said that Farm Rescue occasionally works with the local FSA because the local FSA is sometimes involved with the verification process. Howatt noted that her office tries to provide dinner for the Farm Rescue volunteers when they come out to help members of the community. Howatt gauges they average helping out roughly one farm family per year.
“It’s kind of humbling,” Mike Muhs said, “I’ve been battling cancer since the spring, and you quickly realize what kind of support system you need. To have people that just show up to help from across the country is great. It’s hard to believe there are people out there that will do that.”
Mike also spoke about the community benefit held for him on July 25. An estimated 1,000 people came, and more than 800 were served.
“It was a very happy but sad day,” he said, “Just to know that there’s that kind of support out there in the community, it’s humbling. Until you go through it, you don’t understand.”
The process to qualify for Farm Rescue help began during spring planting when a friend of the family recommended that Mike and Cheryl fill out an application on the website. They decided that they could make it through spring planting without assistance. However, later in the year, after Mike’s health declined, the couple decided to apply for help from Farm Rescue.
Mike and Cheryl began by filling out the Farm Rescue application. Next came verification. The family had to send in some paperwork including a doctor’s note to show that there was a legitimate need. The family got word they were approved about a week after they filled out the application.
Operations Manager Wielenga said that a one week turnaround time is normal. He also said that the timeline could be expedited in some cases, if needed. Wielenga noted that to ensure that his organization can help as many farmers and ranchers as possible, a producer or rancher is eligible for assistance once every three years.
Farm Rescue founder Bill Gross states on the website, “We see that one of the biggest financial drains on a family is an unexpected medical injury or illness and, of course, a natural disaster. It is even more pronounced on a farm where a family’s livelihood depends on the ability to plant, harvest or provide for their herd. Farm Rescue gives families a chance to continue their livelihood by providing the necessary equipment and manpower (free of charge) to get the job done.”
Many in the surrounding community understand and know that this year has been difficult for the Muhs family. Mike was diagnosed with a type of cancer called adenocarcinoma of unknown primary site in April 2018. The unknown primary site means that the doctors do not know where the cancer first occurred in the body.
The cancer is affecting his lymph nodes and some of his bones. Currently, Mike has finished radiation treatments and is receiving chemotherapy about three times a month at Altru in Grand Forks.
“This type of cancer is very difficult to treat, and it’s a difficult diagnosis,” Cheryl said. She goes on to say that the doctors have also said that while you feel good, live your best life. Do what you are happy doing. “Harvest makes him happy.”
After this statement, Mike and Cheryl shared their life’s philosophy. “You live your life the way you feel it should be lived, and you hope you are doing it the right way. You hope you show your children that you are living life the way you should or teaching them to live life the way they should, by giving back.”
Then Mike goes on to say, “I must be doing it the right way. The turn out at the benefit, the general support of the community, and the financial support from all over the area is just…there is no words for it until you experience it yourself. It’s humbling.”
The couple’s strength and bravery is mirrored not only in their desire to thank everyone who has helped them along their journey but in their accepting grace for whatever comes next. At times it was hard for them to speak or express what they felt, but their farmer’s determination to weather the next storm would not be diminished.