> Focus On Agriculture

Grace - The Spirit of Agriculture

Bernt Nelson


photo credit: Nelson Family Farms, Used with Permission

“We take care of our own.” This phrase is often used to share empathy and love freely, and it was recently freely shared with my farming family.

Farming is a special business. It’s a virtuous way of life and a wonderful way to raise a family. But it’s also hard. The ups and downs of running and living on a farm are challenging to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it first-hand. Hard times can break you, but they can also bring growth. My story is about an organization that shows up during the darkest times on the farm, and through grace, turns the darkest of hours into times of unity.

First, some background.

I am the oldest of three brothers and we could not be more different or better friends. I spend my days in Washington, D.C., serving the farmers I care about as an economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation. My middle brother operates the family farm in North Dakota with his wife alongside my father and mother. My other brother is a project manager in Boston, Massachusetts.

Thanks to Farm Rescue, some of the darkest days of our lives turned into unity.

It had been five years since our farm in rural Fullerton, North Dakota, was struck by the word “cancer.” My father, Ben, is a miracle, saved from pancreatic cancer by the caring hands of doctors and nurses at the Mayo Clinic. Since his diagnosis, Ben has experienced five birthdays, five anniversaries, three weddings and welcomed his first grandchild – my daughter – into the world. Then about a year ago, cancer came back. First, the chemo that had saved my father’s life now threatened it in the form of leukemia. A week later, what was thought to be a hip injury to my youngest brother in Boston turned out to be an 8-inch lymphoma tumor.

As treatment plans were assembled for both of my family members, the reality sank in that we were approaching crop planting season with limited access to the key farm decisionmakers. It turns out that my father’s biggest threat to survival was an infection and the most dangerous place he could be was in the field. The doctors told him, a lifetime farmer, that he had to stay out of the soil that gives life to the crops grown on our farm. Fortunately, I was able to team up with my brother and his wife, who showed incredible leadership and resilience, to get the crop planted. It was a full family effort including my daughter and wife day after day, night after night but we got the job done.

Then came fall harvest. Family and neighbors helped, providing equipment and labor anywhere they could, but with harvesting to do and jobs of their own, we were still short on labor. Not knowing where to turn, family and friends suggested Farm Rescue.

Farm Rescue is a nonprofit organization founded in 2005 that assists farmers in times of crisis that threaten the continuity of their farms. The Farm Rescue mission is the very definition of grace – providing necessary equipment and manpower free of charge. Their mission encompasses the core values that underpin the lives of families and people who are involved with farming at any level. The organization has shared this grace with over 1,000 farms in crisis since its inception.

Farm Rescue sent two people to help us wherever they could. They ate and worked with us day after day, harvesting corn and soybeans for nearly a month. Then neighbors jumped in and brought extra combines and trucks. My brother and his wife spent most days keeping us all going as my mother and father were quarantined in Rochester, Minnesota, for his life-saving stem cell transplant. Everyone had a job and worked together like a well-oiled machine toward the common goal. This not only got the crop off the field but allowed my father to undergo his treatment without having to worry about what would happen to the farm in his absence.

Thanks to Farm Rescue, some of the darkest days of our lives turned into unity. Grace poured out from our community, families and friends during this time of need. This is just one of a thousand stories but is a testimony to the blessings this wonderful organization gives freely with no expectation of return. Farm Rescue encompasses the very image of God’s grace through community. From my perspective, this is the true spirit of agriculture.

Bernt Nelson is an economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation.