This picture is a stump of a Christmas tree I cut down last December on my family’s farm in northwest Ohio. My niece noticed the heart-shape and asked me to take a photo. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it caught my attention later as I scrolled though my phone photos.
As I looked at the photo more, I began to see it as a symbol of the farm that is more than just a place of labor or source of income. My heart is in it. The family farm — the soil, weeds, trees, buildings, wet spots, the critters that roam it, all of it — is a part of me. And no matter where I go or what I do, that farm will always be there. I know that most of you feel the same way.
Now, imagine that this piece of you — your farm — was devastated despite your best efforts to save it. That is exactly what happened to many farmers in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado when horrific wildfires blackened the landscape to the distant horizon burning more than a million acres and claiming the lives of thousands of cattle. That piece of them that is also their life and their livelihood has been irreparably destroyed.
When you read the stories and see the pictures of farmers and ranchers affected by the horrific wildfires in the west, it affects you. It is hard to be a part of the agricultural community and not want to do something. Many Ohioans are, because as it turns out, at the heart of agriculture is a helping hand.
Rose Hartschuh and her husband, Greg, farm in Crawford County, where they raise corn, soybeans, and dairy cattle. They are planning a late March trip to the wildfire area to deliver supplies and lend some helping hands to the relief effort.
“It really started by reading the stories of these ranchers out west, specifically the ones in Texas who gave their lives protecting their animals. People do not understand how much farmers care about what they do. Those people really demonstrated that in a tangible way. They gave their lives to protect their livestock. I was just feeling like we needed to do something,” Rose said. “We started with a contribution of hay but it seems like there was more we could do if we were going to make the trip clear out there and do some things to make a lasting impact. We put an ask out on Facebook to see who would be interested in joining us and we were blown away by the response. From there we started putting together some plans. We reached out to the Kansas Livestock Association and they have been instrumental in helping us develop a plan for our time in Kansas and help fine tune the details.”
The area has already received substantial amounts of hay from farms around the country and now the greatest need may be fencing.
“It seems like they have a fairly good supply of hay. There is some need for some trucking to pick up hay and deliver it to where it needs to be. Fencing seems to be the biggest need so we are collecting fencing supplies like t-posts and barbed wire. Another need is cash. A lot of us have the desire to do something physical but money is just as important,” she said. “It sounds like fence building is going to be a pretty big project we are going to undertake. The Livestock Association is going to put us in touch with some ranchers who need help getting back on their feet. We hope while we are there we can make a difference in that way.”
As it stands, there is quite a group from Ohio heading to Ashland, Kansas.
“We anticipate over 30 vehicles of hay and supplies and 50 volunteers coming from all corners of the state,” Hartschuh said. “Many of the hay haulers will turn right around and head back to their other responsibilities in Ohio. Approximately 25 of us are staying in Kansas with host families to volunteer our time and talents for a few days.”
I am very fortunate to be able to go along with the Hartschuh group later this week to help with the effort. Be sure to follow along with me at ocj.com and the Facebook page. It looks to be a grand adventure to help out on the farms of some folks in need.
Any additional donations to the group will be used to fund travel and to pay hauling costs for the Ohio-donated hay. Funds left at the end of the project will be donated directly to the Kansas Livestock Association.
“Our plan right now is to pay for our group’s fuel and hopefully lodging there and on the way back, if donations allow,” she said.
PayPal donations for the Ohio group can be made at paypal.me/KansasWildfires, or checks can be made out to Ohio’s Kansas Rancher Wildfire Relief Efforts and mailed to 6348 Parks Road, Sycamore, OH 44882.