Do something.

Two weeks have passed since our trip to Kansas. The suitcases are unpacked; the dust is washed off of the trucks; our days have settled back into a routine. Although our lives are returning back to normal, the stories we heard and the people we met are etched on our hearts.

Although not as frequently as the week leading up to our trip, occasionally, I still receive phone calls from reporters wanting to share our group’s story. One question that always makes its way into the conversations is, “Why did you do this?”

Typically, the answer I give has something to do with being involved in agriculture and feeling empathetic toward the needs of the ranchers in Kansas. In a good year, farming and ranching is challenging. When a catastrophe like this hits, all bets are off. We know that if we were to face a similar hurdle, farmers we’ve never met would be knocking on our doors to help.

All of that’s true, but there’s more.

The world needs more doers. People who see a problem and step up and pitch in. People who don’t wait for someone else to take care of each other’s needs. People who take charge and make the world a better place. There’s a song by Matthew West that says what I’m trying to say way better than I can say it.

For me, one of the neatest things to come from this project has been the ripple effect. I cannot count the number of convoys that have headed west from our state. Groups that have jumped up and said, if we can do it, then so can they. That’s true, you know. There’s nothing stopping any of us from doing something to help. Whether it is ranchers we’ve never met 1100 miles away or our next door neighbor, we all of the potential to make a difference. All we have to do is something.

“…If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something…”

The top 10 takeaways

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Written by Candace Lease

Well, it has been a week since we left Kansas behind us, the ashes and sand have been cleaned from under my nails, and the ash and soot that covered my bib overalls is washed away. My mind has been in constant reflection mode over the last week though, and I could go on and on forever about the things seen, stories heard, people met, and actions completed through our time to Kansas. I have decided to instead go about this ‘Late Show’ style, and compile the Top 10 takeaways from an extra-long weekend in the Panhandle.

10) You learn a lot when you’re in a van for 30 hours with the same folks – there were so many incredible people who made the decision to give their time and resources to the people of the Panhandle, and it was great to get to know people from across the state who chose to be involved in the effort. I think I was fortunate to be trapped in a white van with some of the best of our fine state, and the stories swapped and stupid moments on the journey forced us into friendship, for which I am lucky.

9) It doesn’t matter your age or occupation, there are people who go the extra mile for neighbors near and far – the oldest members of the trek out west with supplies were retired men, the youngest a young man in the fifth grade. Those are just examples within our group that had made the journey from Ohio; from Clark County, it was easy to see that extra mile mentality in people such as the volunteer fire departments saving homes even as their own houses went up in flames, or seeing the disc marks circling places like the community’s school, keeping people safe. There are some people who are hard-wired to make a difference when they get the chance, and the world is a better place for it.

8) Sometimes you’ve just got to dig a big hole, fill it with your garbage, and then burn it up, bury it, get rid of it all – this was standard procedure on one of the ranches we spent some time on. Am I trying too hard to make this an analogy for life? Probably. Oh well.

7) If a beer tastes good after a long day of work, it tastes even better after a long weekend of working to help others get back on their feet – ‘nuff said, thanks for the cold one, Derek/Darrell.

6) Tough times don’t last, but tough people do – in agriculture, we are all at the mercy of factors out of our control, from commodity markets to Mother Nature. You learn to be steadfast in your passion for your work, but formidable in your methods to success.

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5) The American farmer and rancher is a resilient species – the fires were still fresh wounds to the terrain, but everyone we talked to was beyond dwelling on the destruction, and focused on the rebuilding of their land.

4) Nothing gives you goosebumps quite like truckload after truckload of hay covered in American flags, signs, and other signs of love headed west on I-70 – cool convoy if I do say so myself.

3) Clark county Kansas may be low in quantity about human beings, but they are darn high in quality – every person we talked to, worked for, roomed with, or encountered in Ashland and Minneola treated us with the kind of kindness and appreciation that made me even more honored to be able to help these people of God.

2) We are all blessed to be from communities that look out for one another, I have all the proof I’ll ever need in that fact thanks to strangers who quickly became friends in Clark County, Kansas.  

1) “I don’t care what Trump’s slogan is, America is pretty great already, look at all this.” -a paraphrased quote from one of the ‘Two old guys in a truck driving to Kansas’ as we awaited the group of trailers to have dinner on our way out – and a statement I thought about as we helped others and were helped by the Clark County community. I think we should all be proud to be Americans.

Living an “Arrows Out” kind of life

Written by Luke Dull

So much to say, so little space to say it.

The decision to go to Kansas was an easy one for me. I lived in Kansas for 4 years, met my wife there, and got married there.  I’ve always considered it to be my second home.  Of course I was going to load up and head west.  I’ve made the long drive down I-70 a hundred times: straight through Indy, around St. Louis and finally past Arrowhead Stadium to Kansas City.  Obviously, this particular trip was different.  I rode by myself the whole way and spent the majority of the time with the radio off, imagining what I was going to see when we reached Ashland.  Approaching the top of every hill I prepared myself to look out onto the damage of the fire that came through just weeks before.  The illuminated sign on the side of the road reading ‘Warning: Fire Damage Ahead’ gave way to a landscape that the 14 hours of driving barely prepared me for.  It seemed like we would have to drive forever to see the green on the other side.

It’s the reality of the scope of this disaster that hit me hardest and has stuck with me since we returned from the trip to Ashland.  When I parked my trailer in the lot to get unloaded I remember contemplating: “What difference is this really going to make?”  I spent the next few days ripping out and repairing fence and getting really good at rolling barbed wire.

The night before we left, I had a conversation with the woman we’d been working for.  Earlier in the day I had noticed that she got emotional while we tore out a fence along the cedar row that had burned behind her old house at their ranch.  That night she sat in her chair and described her childhood memories of playing out in that row of trees and even saving them all during a drought years ago.  She described how proud her grandfather was that she took the time to make sure they all survived.  That row was what made that place home to her and now every tree sat there, blackened by the fire, waiting to be ripped out.  She cried as she continued to recall memories of the time she spent out on the ranch and I was happy to sit with her, listening to her stories.  Toward the end of our conversation her disposition changed and she began to share her plans to replant and nurture new trees so the next generation could find use for them.  I watched and listened as her language changed from ‘what was’ to ‘what will be again.’

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It was in these moments that I found the difference that we made by travelling out there.  While we couldn’t save everyone’s ranch in 3 three days, we certainly made a big difference for a few small families.  When I met Jackie and Dean on Sunday morning they seemed unsure about the way forward with the amount of work yet to do.  Jackie admitted she hadn’t even had time to think about her cedar trees prior to our arrival.  When we left Monday afternoon I could tell things looked clearer.  It had rained a bit the night before and we had rolled up miles of fence and set more than a few posts.  After watching the Ohio boys at work I think Dean was forced to rethink his ideas about ‘those Yankees’ from up north.  We had got them to the point where they were close to having the fencing crews come in to put up new fence and at that point, it was a game changer for them.

Driving away from Ashland, I didn’t know how to feel.  It was hard to feel good or fulfilled because the drive north takes you past miles of fence and pasture that needs work still.  I honestly felt guilty for leaving.  The 6 hour drive to Kansas City by myself, once again, offered a lot of time to gain perspective on what just happened.  I finally arrived at a place where I felt hopeful about the work we did for the people who needed it most.  By being people of action, not just words, we were able to make a real difference for a few families.  The church I used to attend in Kansas City had a motto that encouraged people to ‘point their arrows out’ and be active in the lives of others.  My ultimate hope is that by taking a trip like this, I can encourage others to live an ‘Arrows Out’ kind of life.

A Sense of Pride

Written by Amanda Kramer

We’ve been home for a few days now and looking back on my trip to Kansas, I couldn’t be more proud of my community, state, and farmers from all across America. What started as an absolutely devastating natural disaster has turned into hope for so many. There were five times on our trip that I stopped what I was doing, and compiled my thoughts.

When you pull into a rest stop along I-70 in a van full of complete strangers, and you see nearly every parking space full of loads of hay, feed, fencing supplies, and household items, all being gathered by people who don’t know each other, being hauled by people who don’t know each other, and then being taken over 1000 miles across the country to complete strangers, it literally sends goosebumps down your spine. That was the first time this trip that it pulled at my heart strings.

The second time I felt all of the love for those affected by the fires was several hours later rolling down I-70 coming through IL and MO. As our group in the van started to pass members of our convoy with American flags flying from all corners of their trailers full of hay and supplies, you can’t help but look. It shows signs of unity.

The third time I felt the power of love and support to our fellow farmers and ranchers in the west was driving down 34 heading south into Ashland, KS. When you start to see charred grass, burnt out trees, and structures that are unrecognizable your eyes start to well up, you can’t breath, and your heart races. You have all these thoughts that start to run through your head, the thoughts of what if, what if this was me? Would complete strangers drive all the way to Ohio to help us? But then you remember you are part of the few farmers left in this country, you are a dying breed, and every farmer has the next farmers back.
By this time I still had goosebumps and we are pulling into Ashland Feed & Seed, the hub of deliveries of supplies from all across the nation. The amount of hay stacked there was unbelievable, piles and piles of fencing supplies. My jaw hit the ground in utter disbelief! American Farmers are literally the best people on the face of this planet, that was the fourth time of shock and awe.
The fifth and final time that I was stopped dead in my tracks was riding around in the truck with Kyle. Kyle is the herd manager at Rhoades Ranch, Ashland, KS where I spent 1.5 days working at tearing out burnt out wooden fence posts. Listening to Kyle tell me the stories about what was there and seeing what isn’t there anymore was heart wrenching. Seeing the look in his eyes as he told me about the number of cattle they had lost, the cattle they had to put down, and the fact that they were still missing three; it tells a person that yes all farmers care about their livestock, and being put into that situation is one of the hardest situations that I’m not so sure that I could endure.
I am beyond grateful that I was given the opportunity to go on this trip, and given the chance I would go again. “Farmers Helping Farmers” was our slogan for the week, and you better believe it, we helped those farmers in their time of greatest need, knowing that one day they’ll still be here to help us if we ever need it.
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Thank you.

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It seems unfair that our group that stayed in Ashland, Kansas, this weekend received the praises. The trip was never about us. It was about something so much bigger.

The list for thank yous could go on forever. We owe our gratitude to the Ohioans who loaned trailers, filled loads of hay, pitched in fence posts or wire, and shared our story. The countless donors who sent us cash and told us they wished they could do more: they deserve our thank yous, too. It was the efforts of many who enabled us to make a small difference this weekend. We may have been the hands, but the hearts were many.

For all of your who enabled our group to do what we did, thank you is not enough.

A hard day’s work

There’s nothing like a hard day’s work. When you can look back at the end of the day and see what you’ve accomplished, it brings a sense of joy. However, that joy is escalated when you’ve put in a hard day’s work for someone you don’t even know to take a load off of their shoulders.

Our group has spent the last day and a half in Ashland, Kansas, the epicenter of the damage from the Starbuck Wildfire. We’ve stepped out of our comfort zones as we’ve stepped onto the properties of strangers. We’ve heard their stories; we’ve seen their struggles. We’ve learned how to do new jobs, and we’ve made it our goal to get through just “one more stretch of fence” before we call it quits.

It’s been a couple of hard days’ work, but gosh, it’s felt good.

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Thumbs up for farmers.

17498470_10154196643676784_2715516265563401642_nIt was kind of a last  minute decision to order some of these banners. In fact, it was 11:00 Monday evening when I hit submit on the internet order, and thanks to the miracle of speedy shipping, the banners were dropper on our porch Wednesday afternoon.

This week, the media attention to this project has been humbling to say the least. Greg and I have been quick to point out the efforts of the other Ohio groups participating too. In fact, it was because of several groups joining together into one band that the project has grown to the magnitude it has. One thing that we’ve said again and again is that we hope that what we’re doing in Ohio will draw attention to the challenges our counterparts in the west are facing.

This project has been about farmers helping farmers. That seemed like a simple message to convey on these 3’x5′ banners that adorn several loads of our hay. As we caravanned across the country today (umm… 700 some miles), the thumbs up from passing drivers showed us that they read our banner, but, more importantly, that they understood our message.

Farmers helping farmers, or even more widespread, people helping people: that’s what humanity is about. I’ll give a thumbs up for that.

 

 

One day closer to Kansas

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What a week it has been. It was just last Monday when Greg shot me a text to ask if I wanted to ride to Kansas with him to take hay. He laughs and says I’m the crazy one who took that idea and ran with it. I say I’m just the organizer for lots of crazy ones who have a heart to help others. At the same time Greg and I started pulling together a plan, tons of others across the state felt a similar call to reach out to ranchers we’ve never met. I’m more than willing to be the crazy one who works behind the scenes to make this happen. I can’t take all the credit. There are so many hearts and hands working together to pull together volunteers and resources to reach out to Kansas friends we’ve yet to meet.

Here is a quick run-down of our group’s plans:

  • Everyone from the initial Ohio convoy that is leaving on Friday will meet at Ohio mile marker 3 near the Indiana/Ohio state line on Interstate 70 at 8:30am.
  • We anticipate over 30 vehicles of hay and supplies and 50 volunteers coming from all corners of the state.
  • When we meet up Friday morning, we hope to quantify the Ohio donations. I imagine we will all be overwhelmed by the generosity of the Ohio farming community.
  • From that stop, we will convoy west, stop for a few hours of sleep, and arrive in Ashland, Kansas, around noon on Saturday.
  • 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.

As we get closer to Friday, the plan continues to evolve, and the fine details start to take care of themselves. We are excited for this week’s adventure and for the opportunity to help alleviate a burden from ranchers who sacrificed much in the past several weeks. Stay tuned to see how our project continues.

In the beginning…

Our farming and ranching friends in the West have suffered tremendous losses. Their homes, belongings, and livelihoods have been destroyed. I read in awe the stories of the cattlemen in Texas who gave their lives to protect their animals. I was overcome with emotion realizing that they demonstrated the passion that all of us have for our industry.

Some young farmers from our area began organizing a load of hay to go west. Of course, our farm was willing to help. However, as I talked with my husband, we wanted to do more. We decided to gather a small group to travel and volunteer for a few days. The response we received has blown us away. This project has become a true group effort of farmers here in Ohio who want to give of themselves, because we know others would do the same for us.

Now, we are inviting others to join us. We have contacted the Kansas Livestock Association, who is the main contact for relief efforts in their state. They are organizing fence building and clean-up projects for an Ohio group to undertake in the Sunflower State. Please visit this link, where you will find a form to pledge your support. If you would like to travel with the group, please complete the form by March 20.

Here are items you can provide:

-Fencing supplies like t-posts and barbed wire
-Milk replacer (many calves have lost their mamas and are now orphans)
-Cash toward the Ohio group’s travel expenses (paypal.me/KansasWildfires Any donations raised above our expenses and the freight to get donated hay west will be donated directly to the Kansas Livestock Association)

-Cash directly to farm organizations in the states affected (donation form)

I am confident we can make a difference. Let’s work together to pool our resources and efforts to leave a true impact. If the tables were turned, our friends in agriculture would do the same for us. That’s what makes our industry so special.