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Transcript: Neighboring through Farm Disasters – 2021 Kansas Wildfires

Transcript for Plow and Podcast Episode: Neighboring through Farm Disasters – December 15, 2021 Kansas Wildfires

EMILIE: Welcome to Plow and Pencil the art of American agriculture where like, we recognize that farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil under 1000 miles from the cornfield. The Plow and Pencil podcast will paint a picture of American agriculture. Today, we will tell the stories of the producers, the products, the policies, and the platforms that provide feed and fuel to our nation and our world. Join the movement of farmers, ranchers and agriculture advocates plowing new ground and pencil lessons to your weekly podcast schedule. This podcast is brought to you by The tool 1000s of farmers and ranchers are using to buy sell higher and work in agriculture.

Hello HitchPin community Welcome back to plow and pencil the art of American agriculture. I’m your host Emilie Fink and today I’m honored to have Lynne Hinrichsen Development Officer for Farm Rescue joining me to share how her organization assists farmers and ranchers bridge crisis’s so that they have an opportunity to continue their operations. We’ll specifically talk about the four county wildfires that occurred in Kansas on December 15. For just a little bit about our guests, Lynne and her family own and operate a registered cow-calf ranch in Westmoreland, Kansas. Prior to joining farm rescue, Lynne served as a USDA State Director for rural development, and was an ag business development director for the Kansas Department of Agriculture. She brings a wealth of relationship building, sales and marketing and real-life ag experience to her role. And perhaps my favorite part is she’s my neighbor, you can follow them at at Farm rescue or go on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Welcome to plow and pencil, Lynne.

LYNNE: Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity to share our story with you.

EMILIE: And I like to start each of our podcasts with a little bit of ag trivia. And so I’m going to ask a question. And then before we sign off, you can tell everyone what you think the answer is. And those of you listening along, you’ll have a few minutes that you can think about the answer to so are you ready? Sure. All right, today’s question, what is the average age of all farmers, as our listeners now know, our founder, Trevor, he’s an aviation fanatic. So to use a phrase that I know he would appreciate, let’s start at the 30,000 foot level and tell us who is farm rescue?

LYNNE: Well, that’s a great segue into our story with Trevor’s aviation background, or love for it, because our founder, Bill Gross is actually a pilot for UPS. And while he was flying over the ocean with his co-pilot, he came up with the idea that this is what he wanted to do when he retired. But really the the elevator speech for what farm rescue does is we assist families in a moment of crisis. So whether it’s an accident illness, or natural disaster, farm rescue can bring their volunteers and equipment in and help bridge that gap so that the family can just continue on and be an operation down the road.

EMILIE: That’s awesome. And tell our listeners a little bit about what it means to be in your role as a development officer.

LYNNE: This is really one of the greatest jobs I’ve ever had, if not the greatest just because of the mission. And I’m in totally immersed in agriculture. And it’s from the business side of things to the production side of things and everything in between. But the role of the development officers is really first and foremost, let’s find those farm cases or ranch cases that we need to help and bring assistance to those families. And then second, it’s really trying to find more volunteers to help us fulfill the mission. And last but not least, since we are a nonprofit, we really want to find our donors and sponsors to help us keep going forward.

EMILIE: It is clear how much you love being in this role. And when exactly did farm rescue get established? And how long has it been assisting farmers and ranchers?

LYNNE: So like I said, Bill Gross that our CEO came up with the idea that this is what he wanted to do when he retired and his co-pilot basically asked him, why are you going to wait because I would say Bill was probably in his late 30s when he came up with the idea. So I don’t know much of you know, our listener base. But you know, I wasn’t thinking at 38 what I was going to do when I retired I was you know where’s the next step in my career. So I commend him for that to have that much vision and foresight. But it started in basically 2005 and the first case was handled by Bill when he has a family farm in North Dakota. He went and got their tractor planter and help the neighbor down the road. Because there was an issue or situation there. So realistically, since 2005, we’ve been in operation and growing. Every year, we now cover seven states officially, but we’ll be bringing Nathan on at the end of this year. And we have helped over 800 families to date.

EMILIE: Ah, I just gave me goosies. That’s awesome. And, you know, it’s so similar to agriculture and startups both exactly what he said, you know, his co-pilot said, like, what just get started. And I think that’s really great advice for anyone listening to dream about what it is that they want to do. And just try, that’s, that’s kind of what we’ve been doing here. And it’s been, you know, we want to make a connection between people who need things and hamstrings, and you just kind of got to jump in with both feet don’t do?

LYNNE: Absolutely, you know, it all goes back. It’s a picture of what we do, what we term neighboring, you know, if someone has a piece of equipment that you don’t, maybe you can rent it from them and, or if you are in this type of crisis situation, the neighbors step in and, and can help you or a family member but, but that’s where we as farm rescue can come in and alleviate some of that because you know, everybody’s busy. But we don’t want anybody to ever hold back is just like in volunteering, if you think oh, I’ll wait, you know, maybe next year when I’m not as busy or the kids are a little older, or I don’t have as many other volunteer things going on. You can step right in now and just go for it. I’m an entrepreneur at heart as well. And we’ve built our cattle operation, my husband and I have owned our own business. And that was the thing, we sat there and go, should we do this? Should we do it? Yes, go for it. Why not?

EMILIE: Yes, exactly. And what would you say the best part of your work is for you and your team at Farm rescue.

LYNNE: It’s, it’s really, you know, pretty basic, knowing that we have helped a family get through a situation that they are just in shock still from, you know, whether it’s a diagnosis of an illness, whether it’s a death in the family, you know, like, or it’s just an accident, because no one ever sees those coming. And, and just, just like everything we do, we try to be there to help. And that feeling you get from helping somebody and knowing that they’re going to be okay, when you leave. And even when you check back in on them. It’s the best feeling in the world.

EMILIE: Okay, we’re gonna dive into something that happened recently. And I’d like to ask you to think back to December 15. And I want you to walk us through the events of that day. I know for some of our listeners who are really involved in agriculture, it’s something that they heard about or experienced, and maybe read in some of the Ag media, but for a lot of this country, they still don’t understand and comprehend what happened on that day. So when would you just walk us through the events that took place on December 15?

LYNNE: Sure, as most people in Ag in this area knew, the wind was constantly blowing all day long, anywhere from 50 miles an hour to 100 miles an hour. I mean, just literally, that wasn’t even with the wind gust. And it was just relentless. And, you know, from my personal experience, I went out to do chores for our place with Ron, my husband that evening, probably about 4:30. And you know, like most people were in the middle of calving. So we’re, you know, we were starting to calves. So you know, we’re checking cows, and we’re feeding hay and doing all the stuff and we just kept thinking, it’s like, who is burning on this type of day, and the smoke just got thicker and thicker. And so we’re obviously on our phones, we have our county emergency alert system and the alert system just warned us that it was not anything in the recent area. These were further out west and named the counties and there was a fire out there and but the wind had just blown it into our area, you know, and we’re basically two hours two and a half hours from Russell County. And so to smell the smoke and actually see it in the air that thick. It was just you know, made my stomach just turn because I knew it wasn’t good. So when we got back in the house, obviously, we have friends out there really close friends so we started texting them and trying to see where they were and how you know because again, we knew it was in those counties and We started getting phone calls from other friends that knew people out there. And then the word got out that friends, other families, everything, lost everything. Homes, barns, livestock. Fortunately, we were getting reports that no, no people had passed away at this point. So we’re grateful and felt the blessings there. But again, to know that grass fires, and having seen other friends and the families that went through this and Kansas in 2017, the pictures were already in our mind, because we had gone out there as a family to help in the aftermath, in the Clark County fires, so it just made you sick, knowing that this is what was going to happen. So of course, we rallied around on a personal level, but also in my mind, it was like, okay, what can farm rescue do because that’s one of the things is natural disasters. So I loaded up the very next morning, and it was just to assess the situation and see, what would we need for equipment, what would we need in terms of volunteers, just what could be done at that point from the aspect of bringing foreign rescue in. Because you know, we are a free service. And this is how we react.

EMILIE: Now you and I touch base that day, and you shared that you were heading out there, and our team at HitchPin felt strongly that as a platform that connects buyers and sellers, people who have things with people who need things, we wanted to make sure that we were there to help also and we knew that it was going to be an overwhelming task to start assessing. But we were grateful that you were keeping us posted when you were out there. So share with us then the next day on December 16. Arriving out in the aftermath. What was that like?

LYNNE: It was it was tough. You know, I didn’t personally travel up to the Clark County fires my family did and helped in it, like I said in the aftermath there but driving down those roads, and just seeing fence posts still smoldering. Seeing basically a pile of rubble, knowing that that was somebody’s home or their barn is seeing equipment and vehicles burned out. Obviously, the most devastating is when you see the livestock in the ditches that they were past the fence line knowing that they were trying to get away and didn’t make it. As a livestock producer, it hits you hard as a friend, it hits you hard because you never want to see your friends go through that. But again, I kind of kicked my mind in neutral as far as don’t look at some things just keep the focus going forward as I was driving. But just like he said, Emilie, driving out there. I was like, okay, who do I need to call to start this rolling? So of course, I reached out to the Kansas Department of Ag the FSA offices to say alright, I’m headed out there. Are you sending anybody do you need me to meet someone and knowing that they had the emergency management teams, they have the resources on their website, reaching out to you all knowing that we could start connecting people with hay resources because people were already loading up hay and any types of supplies and I was seeing them already on the road as I left that morning. So it was almost like we all knew what to do because unfortunately, it wasn’t that long ago, we had already done it. And neighbors were pulling together but been pulling up to certain families headquarters or you know, seeing them out there in town and just being able to give them a hug, you know, tell them it’s going to be okay, but just the relief on their faces as they saw people coming together that was probably the most heartwarming and, you know, the owners of several of the livestock barns or sale barns in those areas, as hay was already just being brought in and basically dumped in their parking lots trying to figure out what we’re going to do with it at that point and where it needed to go. So we just started a list and people just pulled together but seeing that really is something you just never forget because there’s absolutely nothing left. Just everything was gray from the ash that was laying on top of everything. Yeah, hard to get it to matter how many times I tell the story. It still gets me and the reaction is the same as you again you feel for everyone because it’s their livelihood. It’s their business. Yeah.

EMILIE: You is a term that I think is very appropriate and neighborly and community really comes to mind when I think about how quickly people joined together and the ag community from across the nation really responded quickly. And the ag organizations that you and I both are really proud to be associated with here in the state of Kansas. I mean, they were, they work very quickly to say, all right, unfortunately, we have gone through something like this in the past. And so let’s, let’s get to work. And I’m sure, just like we did, you probably heard from people all across the country wanting to help do whatever they could to support the folks out in four counties.

LYNNE: Yes, I got calls immediately. There was a gentleman in Southeast Kansas that was he was already on the phone, he had taken the day off from his job just to start calling to get because again, people personally, you take it even more to heart, but it’s the at some families, I don’t know, that we’re proud that we’re helping and, and again, the phone calls as they were coming in again, I was writing them down, I was just asking them to text me their contact information. And we started the list. And then once I was out there, there were already groups being formed, you know, Paradise fire, wildfire relief group is one and then churches and again, the local co-ops, and that even though these people were affected as well, you know, they lost homes and livestock and, and barns and equipment, but yet, they were still organizing and trying to get things going for the community members, the other families in the area. And, and so that’s, you know, we just started picking what we were going to use for like a home base, or, you know, a point of where we can just keep on loading the hay, but then it was like, Okay, we don’t want to put too much hay, because the flare-ups that continued over the next week. And, you know, so again, strategically trying to figure out where it needed to go. It’s the neighbors really came together and whether, regardless of feelings towards one another, or you know, that,we’re all competitive, because, you know, we’re all trying to find the same grass, and we’re all trying to find same resources sometimes. And but you know, nobody cared, it was like, if you needed something, basically, here’s a shirt off my back, here’s my jacket, because, you know, the weather was 50 plus degrees that day. And then by Friday, it was 30. So, literally, people were rallying to each other see, what do you need, I’ve got extra, here you go.

EMILIE: So, you know, as we really think about it, there’s, you know, some immediate short-term needs, that obviously you and your team helped address. And then there are the longer-term needs also. And I think that’s something that I really hope listeners if they were affected, or if they ever go through a situation where they need this type of assistance. I know both farm rescue and HitchPin from our end, we are really committed to trying to make this something that is there whenever they need it. And we recognize that it might not be something that they can even process immediately. From a rebuilding standpoint, we know that doesn’t happen overnight.

LYNNE: Right? I saw that from being there the day after. And again, just the look of shock in you know, you’re standing there with these, you know, farmers or ranchers and they’re looking around and they’re going okay, where do I start? Yeah, and that was a cool part. Because when the people came to their location, it was like, You just worry about directing people will do the labor part. And this is where we’re going to start. So you know, it’s like, once that first step was made, then the next step, the best thing was when so the farm rescue team came out on that following Monday, and we brought equipment and just started hauling hay and redirecting hay loads that were there instead of load, unload, reload, and all that. Yes, that to see them the following week, the same people and whether it was they got the help they a little bit of help, and they just knew it was going to be okay, but just to see that they were a little more normal in their reaction and their demeanor. And that’s what really hit home to me as well that this was how they were going to survive. And that’s the farm and ranch community. If we’re going to get knocked down but we get picked up, we dust off and we step forward and that was really the coolest part and so farm rescue came in, and we hold everything for a few days at that time. And of course, you know, we’re right on a holiday. So I, I sent the volunteer home, and because he needed to be with his family over the Christmas holiday, so he did, but he left the day after Christmas to come right back down. And, you know, again, I met him on that following Monday. So when our, you know, almost two weeks post-fire happening, and then we just started hauling it more hay again, and then redirecting and in, in just keeping it going. So we are, again, save another three days there. And we’re at that point where I’m getting, you know, I’ve been fielding calls again, as okay, when are you guys coming back? Or can you come back and, and definitely, we’re looking at maybe two weeks from now we’ll be bringing equipment and volunteer back down to just start hauling again. Because they’re there through that cycle, either. The neatest part is in some of these calls where you think, you know, when we initially hold hay, everyone was okay, we’ve got enough for what I have remaining in my livestock, whether it’s cattle, horses, goats, whatever it may be, they’re like, Okay, we got enough right now. So now we’re basically 60 days after the fact. And they’re like, Okay, I went through that now I need a little more, or, Hey, guess what? I went and bought a new another set of cows are bred heifers or something. And you’re like, yes, they’re going forward. So absolutely. We’re going to get back down here and start hauling some more.

EMILIE: Yeah, it’s incredible. We, you mentioned the the Christmas holiday overlapping. And we heard from someone in Missouri who decided that for Christmas. That’s what she wanted to do. She wanted to drive out and just be of help however she could. And she loaded up a flatbed trailer with supplies, fencing, supplies, and equipment. And the thing that just warmed my heart so much was, you know, she said, I don’t care if I need to do laundry, or cook meals or build a fence. I just want to go and help. And it’s just such a great example of how everyone really came to help and whether there was an experience that they went through themselves that has led them thinking, Okay, I want to pay this back. Or there’s a lot of people we talked to who said you never know, it could be asked next time. And we just this is what we do when we’re part of the ag community. And it’s really the heartwarming piece that comes out of these crisis’s for sure.

LYNNE: Absolutely. And I saw all of that, you know, one person even made a comment that they had gone down to help in 2017, the, you know, southwestern Kansas fires, and he said, you know, he goes, almost makes me feel like I didn’t do enough. And I’m like, No, every little step, every little piece that one can do whether you gave an hour of your time or two weeks of your time or more. All of that, you know, just helps everyone get down the road a little further. So it’s always enough if you’re doing something. Yeah. And it’s just great to know that in this country that regardless of where anyone is from or what their background is, they still have servant hearts and do want to give back because we never know when we may be in that situation. And it’s not, they’re not doing it because they expect to be repaid down the road or anything like that. It’s just, this is what you’re supposed to do as as a good person. And that’s why I say it doesn’t matter your background, if you’re involved in ag or not, there’s a place for everyone. And that’s what I love about our volunteer base is we have scaled equipment operators and CDL drivers and all that. But then we have the people that drive the vehicle to go pick up lunch or, like you said, do the laundry or just clean up something and stack stack would mean it’s whatever is needed, they’re going to be there and they can find a use. Sometimes you’re just the person directing traffic. I know when I was out there, there was one person just totally she had her clipboard and or a spiral notebook. And it’s like, as people were bringing things in, she was just writing down names, what they brought in, you know, just knowing that the families out there might want to send a thank you note or even something, even months from now when they have the time. It was you know, whatever the need was, she was she was there to do it. So it was great just to see how everyone unfortunately, you know, that kind of disaster to see some really good things come out but probably the best is again, knowing that this is what the ag community does, and good people all around will do. They’ll just they’ll do anything to help their neighbor

EMILIE: So true. So do folks apply for assistance through farm rescue? Or do you accept nominations for families who might be obvious when there’s a natural disaster that’s a little bit different, but talk us through how you identify the different farmers and ranchers who need help.

LYNNE: So knowing that, typically when a family needs help, not only in a natural disaster, but you know, if it’s an accident or illness, and they’re in planting, harvesting, hay baling, livestock feeding, those are the four major things we help with. If somebody typically needs help, and they can do the online application, that’s the easiest, or if a friend or family member can do the application for them. Turnaround time on approval is usually within 48 hours because it does go through our board of directors. In this case, knowing one person lost everything, and probably their computer at the same time if they had one, and maybe even their cell phone. Because you know that just it was that fast. I started taking names and contact information. If it was a name, address and phone number. That’s really all I need it, it’s a very simple application to ask for help or assistance. And so I would sit in the hotel in the evening and just input all that information myself. There were others I mentioned the Paradise Fire Relief Group, through one of the churches, they have a spreadsheet of a lot of families that are going to need hay delivery going forward. So with their help, we’re putting those applications in and just again, sending it up to our headquarters in North Dakota, and you know, they’ll approve them and then we’ll start again, start hauling hay to those families or redirecting hay that still coming in and getting them to those places. The application is a very simple process that does not take long to fill out online. I even took paper applications with me out there in case somebody was just adamant about doing it online, or they couldn’t. And if they wanted to do it themselves, we could just leave those with them. So different avenues, just whatever they’re comfortable with. But again, anyone can input the information and send it on someone else’s behalf.

EMILIE: It’s great. Yes, keeping it simple, right?

LYNNE: Absolutely.

EMILE: How could someone listening today help whether that be, you know, these types of natural disasters or just in general, what is the best way for them to help farm rescue efforts?

LYNNE: Probably first and foremost is helping us spread the word. We are in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and soon to be Illinois, in eastern Montana. So I say that I myself cover Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Illinois. So I can’t be everywhere at the same time. And we have one other development officer, Tim Sullivan, who handles the other states, but we just ask people to spread the word. And, and help us find those cases because we can’t be everywhere at once. And we don’t know everyone in the local communities like your listeners may know. So don’t be afraid to either call me or you know, go to the website and find out how you can nominate somebody. And so that’s first and foremost is helping us spread the word so we can get more cases. Secondly, it’s volunteer, we’re always looking for volunteers. And as I’m working these states that I oversee, harder, I’m gathering more volunteers. So our response time again will be a lot faster, which is great. Instead of having I mean, we have volunteers in 49 states. So to be able to call somebody from, you know, Maine to get over here to Kansas or Iowa, it will take a little while to get them here. But if we have more local volunteers, then we can do that. And logistically, we’re trying to keep our equipment, basically Kansas and North Dakota so that again, response time is faster. Now that I’m down here. And once we do that, get the volunteer base again. I mean, we have 1000 volunteers in our database, but probably 300 of those each year are active, but we really need more. And then the other thing obviously is if you’re able to help us further our mission through donations and sponsorships and whether it’s monetary or in-kind. We’re looking for everything. But we are a nonprofit. So we are constantly looking to find those funds to keep us moving forward and expanding. Because we’re not stopping at eight states.

EMILIE: That’s awesome. And we will absolutely include links in our show notes section. So be sure to check that out for links to all of these resources that Lynne described here today that are available at Farm Rescue. Um, you know, the thing that I want people to hear to from a, from a HitchPin perspective is if you have something that is willing to be donated, or if you are in an affected area, and still need something much to what you just described, when as you’re 60 days out, 90 days out six months out, please remember to use HP HELP as a coupon code. And that’s also a way that folks can search through the inventory available on hitch pin to find things that are either discounted or able to be donated, for those who need it. So I love being able to collaborate with farm rescue and the other ag organizations, you know, really just all of us together, wanting to support those who need it. And we’re really grateful for everything that you do, Lynne.

LYNNE: Thank you so much. And again, it’s the networking and the partnerships, like we have, you know, with HitchPin, and, you know, I was very grateful you were just down the road. Absolutely, it’s so much easier. But again, it’s great, you have a great organization as well and in business that, you know, together, we can always be much more successful.

EMILIE: I want to ask you one more question a little bit broader in just being involved in agriculture your entire life. And now seeing it even from this perspective, what’s something you wish everyone, regardless of their connection to ag knew about farming and ranching.

LYNNE: There’s so many things I would have to say, if what I keep picking up on this, because this is a common theme that everyone says we’re such an independent group, we don’t need the help, or you know, I can do it myself, or the neighbors and family will step in, they assume all that. So if there’s organizations out there that they’re aware of like farm rescue, like HitchPin, like your local, you know, ag groups and associations within your state, do not be afraid to ask for help. I have been using this example, in a few presentations I’ve done since the fires and being out there to help. Because I heard that from several people when we show up and we’re like, okay, you’re next on the list. We’re going to pick up a load of hay, where do you want it? And they would be like, Oh, no, no, my neighbor needs it more than me. I don’t need that. I know, it’s hard for us to ask for help when, you know, they just kept saying it’s hard for us to ask for help, or I don’t know, if I want to say you don’t owe anybody anything. And I finally thought about this as I was driving back, we’ve been hauling hay all day. And I had heard that from a local couple. They were like, it’s just hard to ask for help. And I didn’t have a good response other than Oh, no, that’s my job. And this is what we’re here for. This is why we do what we do. You know, farm, this is farm rescue mission. And it hit me as I was driving back to the hotel that evening that it’s like, you know, what, if people are stepping forward and offering help, they’re doing it because they want to not because they have to, and who are we to take away that kind of joy from someone else. So if it makes the ad community feel better, or individuals build better, for asking for help, just think how, because they were like, I don’t know what I can do to repay it. It’s like you’re giving joy to somebody else. And it just, that really made me feel a lot more at peace with what we were doing. And now I have a really good response to come back and say, you know, that’s what you’re giving back to somebody when they offer the help. You’re giving them joy in knowing that they’re serving you or the community or just ag in general. So yeah, ask for help. It’s okay.

EMILIE: It’s perfect. I love it. I love it. Okay, we’re gonna circle back to our ag trivia question. Are you ready?

LYNNE: Sure.

EMILIE: Okay, so to restate it. What do you think is the average age of all farmers?

LYNNE: I want to say 62.

EMILIE: Oh, yes. So close. Yes. There must be just a few younger people that are deciding they’re going to have a go at it because the average is just a little bit less than that. So 57 and a half.

LYNNE: Oh stop it, no, Because when my husband and I were first married, and we’ve been married 30 years, when we were first married, we started attending producer meetings. And you know, we’re in there. We’re like, wow, how old are people in here? And I say, older. And we just kind of laughed about it when we went home. And yeah, just a lot of older people, you know, do we really fit into this, this demographic, or, you know, this group and all that. And now it’s funny because we attend the same producer meetings and we look around the room. We’re like, who me and we’re the older people.

EMILIE: What a ride right?

LYNNE: Whatever it is, it’s great. We’re still going.

EMILE: It’s awesome. I can’t thank you enough not only for being our guest and giving our listeners a little glimpse at the work that you do with farm rescue, and specifically at the Ford county fires in December, but thank you for all that you and your family do for agriculture. And we just are so grateful to have you as a partner.

LYNNE: Well, thank you so much again, for just doing our jobs and yes, the more people we can help pave the way you know, just makes you feel even better and better every day and go forward.