Farmers get ‘baled’ out
Farmers are well known as being ready, willing and able to help their neighbors when they need some help.
But, what if those neighbors include someone four states away?
In the case of the Eric and Amanda Volsen family, you go help them, too. The Volsens, who farm near Walters, made a quick decision early this past April to go help some farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma who had been hit hard by wildfires.
Amanda Volsen says she first learned about the wildfires from a Facebook group she is part of called “Women in Ag.”
“I saw all the devastation from these wildfires that struck that area in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma last March,” she says. “Over 1 million acres were burned, and much of that was pasture land. Seven people also had lost their lives. Not many people here in Minnesota and Iowa were even aware of this disaster.”
Volsen also saw on Facebook that convoys of donated hay were being organized across the country to help farmers and ranchers in the fire area feed their cattle at least those cattle still left that were not lost in the fires.”
Eric and Amanda were considering taking some of their hay down to the area on their own. Eric Volsen, a sixth generation farmer, bales hay all summer, both for the cattle he raises, as well as selling it to customers in the area as a business.
But, then Amanda found out that there was a hay convoy being organized in the southern Minnesota area.
“I saw a Facebook post that a convoy was being put together by a farmer near Sargeant, John Scott,” she explains. “We connected with John and decided to join in on the convoy.”
That decision was made on Friday night, March 31. The convoy was leaving on Monday morning, so the Volsens spent the weekend getting ready to roll.
“Eric posted that we were going on this trip, and that if anyone wanted to help, by donating money to pay for gas, or donate fencing supplies, to contact us,” she says. “In 48 hours we had more than enough money to cover our fuel costs, and some barbed wire and fence posts. The extra funds we left there as a donation for the purchase of more fencing supplies. A lot of donations came from family and friends and our church family in Iowa.”
The couple decided they would take their four young children with them Ruby, 5, Grady, 4, Gunnar, 2, and Betsy, 2 1/2 months.
“Our faith is the foundation of our family,” Amanda says. “We felt is was important for our kids to see how we can help people we don’t even know. And our 2-year-old son loves hay bales and wanted to see where they were going.”
There were 25 people, 16 semis and pickup trucks and 700 large bales of hay in the convoy. Most were from the Austin/Owatonna area. As the convoy headed south, people would honk and wave as they drove by, smiling and giving them a thumbs up sign.
“Eric had written ‘Farm Strong’ on one side of the bales and ‘Mark 12:30-31 Fire Relief MN’ on the other side,” Amanda says. “So we even had truckers saluting us along the way.”
The first night they stayed in Salina, Kansas.
“The motel staff came out and greeted us in the parking lot,” Amanda says. “They gave our group a discount on our rooms and a local rancher in the motel restaurant picked up the tab for our entire convoy group about 25 people in all. And the next morning we woke up to find out we had made the front page of the Salina newspaper. They called us ‘Hay Heroes.'”
Some of the hay from the convoy was dropped off in the town of Englewood, Kansas. Due to rainy, wet, muddy conditions, the bales could not be delivered directly to the farmers and ranchers.
“We continued on to Oklahoma,” Amanda explains. “I had some contacts from my Women in Ag group, so we delivered our bales to a drop point in the small town of Knowles, Oklahoma. There was a relief center there, manned by volunteers.”
At the relief camp they met some of the ranchers who had been affected by the fires.
“One rancher told us that he had lost 32,000 acres of pasture land,” Volsen says. “They estimated it was consuming 1,000 acres per minute. We saw pictures of the damage, including piles of dead livestock.”
But, the Volsens also saw a lot of the damage for themselves.
“I was blown away by how incredibly huge the fire’s devastation stretched,” Amanda says. “We drove for miles and miles and all you could see was what looked like a desert with sparse brush here and there because all the grass was gone. Miles and miles of fencing were also burned and will need to be replaced.”
So was the 1,650 mile trip with four young children in the truck with them, worth the effort?
“We would do it again, if it was needed,” Amanda says without hesitation. “We knew the trip would be chaotic at times because we had the kids along, but we also knew it would be a very meaningful trip as well.”
Those two verses from Matthew that Eric had spray painted on the side of the bales have to do with loving God and loving our neighbors, Amanda explained.
“We wanted our kids to see what it looked like to love our neighbors even if they were several states away,” Amanda adds. “It was our hope that they would learn about putting other people first and showing them God’s love by providing for a very practical need.”
It was a classic case of farmers helping out other farmers. No matter whether they live just down the road, or several states away.