By Matt Reese
Ted Blohm and his wife, Sue, were kicking around vacation ideas when she said, “How about we plan a trip to Iowa and help the farmers?”
The Blohms had been part of a similar effort back in the 90s on a trip to Missouri to help the flooded farmer victims with great success so they decided to give it a shot. They contacted the Iowa Farm Bureau and got in touch with a Linn County representative who told them they could essentially go down any country road in the area and pull in a driveway and be received with open arms. They were told the destruction of buildings, homes, and fields was devastating due to the derecho and high winds that swept through the area on Aug. 10, 2020.
This conversation led to a connection with Lana Robison from the area, who has been coordinating people with places to go and help. Her small town of Atkins, Iowa lost roofs on their fire department, multiple schools, and more. She said nearly every house in their town has damage and farmers are in desperate need of help and many of them did not even know where to begin. She said cleaning trees and, more importantly, field clean up were huge needs for them as they are unable to even till the corn under until they get the debris cleaned up. It is a huge, daunting task.
The Blohms also worked with the Lutheran church camp in Solon, Iowa to potentially set up base camp for a team of Ohioans to visit and offer some help. They ended up with a group of 7 who traveled from Fulton County in northwest Ohio to Iowa from Sept. 12 to Sept. 20, unsure of exactly what to expect. They initially toured the area when they arrived on Sunday, Sept. 13 in the Cedar Rapids area.
“It was heart-wrenching and overwhelming and we wondered what we were getting ourselves into. For some reason there just was not a lot of media coverage,” Ted Blohm said. “When you get there and see it, it is actually really devastating, especially when you see the flattened fields. Soybeans bounced back pretty well, but there is no way you could ever pick up the corn. Farm devastation was everywhere with buildings completely gone.”
On Monday, the Ohio crew went to work on area farms.
“We did two days of cleanup on one farm. There were four bins and the farmer wanted to save the aeration floors out of two of them. We got those cleaned out. That took almost an entire day to get those floors out of there and stacked up. He had a loft in his pole barn that was insecure and we helped get that down. We pulled nails and screws so he could reuse any timber possible in his reconstruction,” Blohm said. “The remainder of the trip was a lot of debris clean up. We had several families on farms with health concerns who just do not have the capacity to do things like cutting and trimming trees. A lot of the trees were snapped off partway and hanging over a house. We cut trees down and moved the limbs into manageable piles so they can be used later for firewood or cleaned up further.
“They are trying to disc crops under but you can’t do that until the fields are cleaned up. In a field we helped clean up, 2X4s that were 16 or 18 feet long had slid underneath the corn. You can’t see them unless you are specifically looking for them. Then you have to slide them out. You can’t just pick them up. There is also lots of metal strewn through the field that just has to be picked up.”
Even once a farm has been cleaned up, there are few building materials available to rebuild.
“Another big challenge is material and supplies. Immediately prices went up 30%. You can’t get anything. There will be people going through the winter with roof damage on their homes and they can’t get materials to repair their homes and barns. On one farm where we helped, the farmer has a team ready to build a barn and grain bins but he can’t get materials,” Blohm said. “He is on a list and he’ll be lucky if he can get the grain bins restored by next fall and he is looking at December to get a barn kit to put up, if then. Once they get crops in next year, that harvest could be a challenge as well with no bins.”
Blohm did not see or hear of many other groups, outside of some Red Cross folks in town, undertaking similar efforts to help on farms. The Ohio group was welcomed and appreciated.
“We got a lot done and we felt really good about what we accomplished. The folks out there are absolutely phenomenal. We had prepared to fix our own meals and had our own accommodations and the families out there made sure we were fed. We didn’t use any of our own food except for breakfast. Their lives were already busy and then when you throw a tragedy like this in it is multiplied 10 fold, but they had no qualms about taking care of us. They insisted. They just appreciated our hands and our help after we had come so far. It was just amazing and we now have forever families that are very close,” Blohm said. “When you work with somebody that closely and that intimately for several days on end, you get to know each other very well. You get to learn their struggles and their frustrations and you just come alongside to be there for moral support, which is a lot of what these trips are, but also to give them a helping hand in moving forward.”
Blohm said it is important to plan some breaks on these types of trips.
“We took a day off. I could see the team was exhausted and we had been putting in 12-hour days cutting firewood and handling 16-foot sheets of steel. We took a day off on Thursday,” he said. “Having that time of rest was really good. You have to take care of yourself because if you’re worn out or injured you are not any help to them out there.”
There were some great challenges for the Ohio team, but even greater rewards.
“It was a phenomenal time. There is something about going and helping someone else. Farmers are a special breed. They are individualistic, they are tough, they are entrepreneurs, and they’re rugged because they have to be. They have gone through a lot and this can take a toll on their emotional and physical wellbeing. When a stranger comes up and says. ‘Hey, I’m here to help. What can I do?’ That can really be an encouragement to them,” Blohm said. “I had sore muscles where I did not know I had muscles, but the energy and the restoration we got from this was amazing. You just come back a different individual.”
Feel free to contact Blohm at 419-822-4015 for more information about planning a trip to help in Iowa.