Farm Rescue touches down at Clarion

Wright County farmer battles health concerns, while Farm Rescue comes to help

-Submitted photo
Grant and Nicole Woodley each faced major health challenges this year, but thanks to Farm Rescue, their soybean harvest is now complete.

CLARION — Piloting a 747 over the Pacific Ocean may be about as far away from a Wright County farm as one can get on this planet, but it gave Capt. Bill Gross time to think about what he’d like to do in retirement.

A North Dakota farm kid, Gross may have left the farm for his career, but farming never left his heart. As they were flying high above the ocean, far removed from the farms and ranches he knew as a child, Gross told his co-pilot that one day he wanted to retire, buy some equipment, and help farmers in need. His co-pilot had a challenge: Why wait?

Gross didn’t wait and founded Farm Rescue, a non-profit organization that travels much of America’s heartland providing critical help to farmers facing serious health issues.

Grant and Nicole Woodley never imagined they would be the beneficiaries of such a high-flying dream of helping farmers in need. But as September faded to October, it was Farm Rescue that pulled into the couple’s Clarion-area farm to harvest some 425 acres of soybeans.

“I am absolutely so grateful,” Grant Woodley said. “It helped me so much. It even helped my neighbors, because I know they would have been wanting to help and they needed to do their own beans.”

-Submitted photo
A Farm Rescue combine harvests soybeans at the Grant and Nicole Woodley farm near Clarion.

Farm Rescue brought in one combine and one grain truck, along with volunteers to operate the machinery. That, combined with Woodley’s own grain cart and two more trucks were enough to finish the job in a timely fashion.

“They brought in a guy from John Deere in Ankeny to operate the combine, and he told me he was glad to get out of the office and into the cab,” Woodley said.

Derek Nord is the John Deere representative who helped on this Farm Rescue operation. He is just one of a number of current and retired John Deere employees who have signed on to volunteer, according to Dan Erdmann, marketing manager for Farm Rescue.

Keith Barkema, a Farm Rescue volunteer from Klemme, came to drive the trucks. The two trucks came from Woodley and a neighbor, with whom he shares work each season on a “handshake agreement.”

The timing was perfect, as central Iowa had been experiencing record high temperatures and soybeans needed to come out of the fields promptly. The combination of high heat, followed by very strong winds was drying the soybeans down rapidly.

“This year was really unique,” Woodley said. “I’ve never seen a year quite like it. The beans went from 14 percent to 8 percent in a matter of hours, so it was just really critical that everybody get their beans out ASAP.”

Woodley said he was very impressed with the professionalism of Farm Rescue and how efficient the group was in getting the work done. From juggling schedules, and getting the right equipment in place at the right time, with the right people to get the job done, was simply amazing to watch.

“They don’t move equipment just from one end of the county to the other; they move it from one state to the next,” Woodley said. “They work hard, and I was just really impressed and grateful to the people involved in making it happen.”

Farm Rescue also got some help from Iowa Corn and First Citizens Bank, which delivered meals to the men on the move. Doll Distributing, of Des Moines, also contributed food, beverages, and apparel items at a post-harvest celebration.

Having the soybean harvest done removed a big worry for Woodley and his family. He and his wife, Nicole, have five children, all teenagers. In addition to farming, they are both ordained ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Because Farm Rescue helps with just one operation per family, per year, Woodley is still working on a plan for his corn harvest, but for now is grateful beyond words to have the beans done.

But how did this Wright County farmer, who as a youth earned his American FFA Degree renting land as a 19-year-old, get to the point of needing a ‘rescue?’

Woodley’s journey began in March when he started experiencing seizure-like episodes. He was eventually diagnosed with brain abscesses and went through multiple neuro-surgeries.

“I went to the University of Iowa for my treatment, and their job was to keep me from dying,” Woodley said matter-of-factly.

With that goal of saving his life accomplished, Woodley had to get on with life, and in July went to Ankeny, where the name of the facility — On With Life — describes perfectly the mission that teams of therapists set for Woodley.

“They told me their name is not an accident,” he recalled. “We want to know what you want out of life, and we’re going to set goals to help you get there.”

Woodley hopes to return to farming full-time. He continues to receive physical, occupational, and speech therapy to make that goal a reality.

“My endurance is coming back, but they taught me to live life 45 minutes at a time,” Woodley said. “I can do anything for 45 minutes, and then I have to do something else, alternate. The old me would have been working 15 hours a day at harvest. Now, there’s just no way.”

But Woodley is encouraged by his progress and devoted to the “homework” that On With Life has assigned him.

“I’ve been doing my homework,” he said of the physical and other therapy skills they have taught him to practice.

Shortly after Woodley began having seizures, his wife, Nicole, found a lump. She had had breast cancer some 10 years ago, but this was not a recurrence of breast cancer, but a very rare sarcoma that resulted from the radiation treatments originally used to treat the first cancer.

Nicole underwent her own series of surgeries and treatment, first in Des Moines and then at M.D. Anderson in Texas. She battled infection and progressed to a life-threatening sepsis before recovering.

Today, her prognosis is good, but the risk of the cancer returning means the couple must be extremely vigilant.

“It’s an aggressive cancer, and it can come back quickly and grow quickly, so she goes back to Texas every three months for scans,” Woodley said.

One year ago, the family could not have imagined how different this harvest would be, but with help from Farm Rescue, they are a big step closer to wrapping up another harvest. The corn remains to be done, but Woodley trusts that living 45 minutes at a time will see him through whatever comes next.

Founded in 2005, Farm Rescue has provided assistance to more than 1,000 farm and ranch families in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. The organization will help plant, harvest, hay, feed, and even haul.

Applications for assistance, as well as a history of the program, even how to volunteer, can be found on the group’s website at farmrescue.org.


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