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Harvest heroes: Wheatland farmer is 400th to be helped by Farm Rescue

Farm Rescue volunteers Levi Wielenga, left, and Mike Wilson talk about harvesting a soybean field during an event by Farm Rescue benefitting its 400th farm family Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, near Wheatland, N.D.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 3
A combine harvests soybeans during a harvest event by Farm Rescue benefitting its 400th farm family Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, near Wheatland, N.D.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
Tim McLean talks about the harvesting help he received from Farm Rescue during its 400th event benefitting farm families Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, near Wheatland, N.D.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 3

WHEATLAND, N.D. — Batman has his Batmobile, and Wonder Woman has her invisible jet.

Meanwhile, the folks from Farm Rescue have a big, green John Deere combine.

Not speedy. But at this time of year, they're real-life harvest heroes.

Volunteers with the Horace-based group were harvesting soybeans on the Tom McLean farm Tuesday, Sept. 27.

It's the group's 400th assistance operation and for the McLeans, like other farm families the group has helped, it was sorely needed.

Kari McLean, Tom's wife, has stage 4 breast cancer, which has migrated to her bones, he said.

Normally she's at home, but on Tuesday she was at the Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo getting chemotherapy, he said.

In the meantime, it was also his 54th birthday. Getting help harvesting 1,300 acres of soybeans was a great birthday present and a relief in a time of pressure, McLean said.

"It's pretty overwhelming. It's amazing," McLean said of the support he's received from Farm Rescue, his neighbors, a crew from RDO Equipment Co. in Casselton, and from Maple River Grain and Agronomy. "It's just incredible."

About 2 miles east of the McLean family farmstead, Farm Rescue volunteers were working through one of McLean's bean fields.

Volunteer Don Gilberg of Caro, Mich., had already made a couple of passes with the combine by noon.

"I think Farm Rescue is probably the greatest volunteer organization there is. Their mission is so pure," said Gilberg, who is a dairy cattle reproduction specialist for Alta Genetics.

This is the fourth year Gilberg has volunteered his time.

"We're all really glad to be here to help," he said.

Carol Wielenga, operations director of Farm Rescue, said volunteers started Sunday and hoped to finish in another three days.

Farm Rescue got its start 11 years ago and operates in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and Montana. Volunteers come from all over, the Sioux City, Iowa, woman said.

"A lot of the guys want to get back to their farming roots, and see the need," she said.

Wielenga's husband, Levi, helps keep the equipment operating.

"We want to help the little guy," Levi Wielenga said. "We want to keep rural communities going."

Levi Wielenga said McLean, who is also chief of the Casselton Fire Department, didn't have time to get his equipment ready for the harvest.

"I get to serve God. I get to serve others, and I get to farm," Levi Wielenga said.

Farm Rescue helps farmers plant, hay or harvest when their families are dealing with serious injuries, illnesses or natural disasters. The group focuses on helping small- to medium-sized farmers.

On the edge of the soybean field, Clayton Matson, an assistant vice president at the Casselton branch of Bremer Bank, was watching the harvest.

Bremer Bank is a sponsor of Farm Rescue, Matson said.

"I would encourage anyone who is struggling," to get in touch with Farm Rescue, he said.

Matson, who grew up on a farm, understands the pride farmers take in their self-reliance. But it's important to let others help, too, he said.

"It's hard to put your hand in the air and wave the flag and say we need assistance," Matson said. "Make the call. If they can help, they will."

Farm Rescue banquet

Farm Rescue is hosting its annual banquet Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fargo.

There is a 5 p.m. social, with dinner at 6 p.m.

There will be door prizes, a silent auction and a raffle.

Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased online at farmrescue.org or by calling (701) 252-2017.

People needing assistance, or who want to volunteer or donate to the group, can call the same phone number or get information on the website.

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