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Amidst flood tragedy, the spirit of helping remains strong

Iowa Nebraska Flood
The Broulik, Reyhons and Garnant families drove across the state to deliver hay to livestock farmers in Nebraska affected by the flood. [Photo credit: Sherry Garnant]

When Clarke County Farm Bureau leader Randy Barnard was interviewed by WHO-TV 13 about helping dislodge an ambulance stuck on a muddy county road, he shrugged it off—that’s what you do, he said.

The weeks that followed brought on rapid snow melt and rain, and roads in southwestern Iowa that were once just muddy found themselves completely underwater along with grain bins, hay for livestock, family homes, local businesses—entire communities were described as looking like an ocean. And while we continue to see drone photos of water-logged towns, the one thing that seems to remain unbroken is the helpful spirit of “that’s what you do” Iowans.

Knowing the waters were rising, Fremont County farmer Shane Smith and his son, Jacob, got in their skid loader and began helping create a sandbag wall in Hamburg, allowing others to focus efforts on vacating their homes. Despite best efforts, the water still overtook this barricade. While many college kids spent their spring breaks on the beach, Jacob was home helping out those in need. When I called Shane to learn more about local flood assistance efforts, he asked if he could call me back in an hour. Turns out, he was still at it, helping fellow farmers try to repair washed-out roads so they could try to salvage grain not yet touched by flood waters.

Stepping up to help is also the theme of the day for folks in Mills County.  Farmers Stephanie and Nick Bowden literally opened the doors of their home to community members in need of a shower, clothes washing and water.

And knowing our neighbors to the west in Nebraska were hit hard with flooding, particularly cattle farmers, the Garnant, Broulik and Reyhons families of Linn County set across the state to donate bales of hay. Images of their journey across the state went viral on social media as drivers snapped photos of the load.

Even Iowa youth are lending a helping hand. Youth with Charles City and Rockford FFA raised money through a community telethon so they can travel to Nebraska and help a family whose cattle farm experienced devastating losses. They will be helping the family clean up and rebuild cattle pens for their animals.

As I see and read these stories, I’m reminded of a line in the novel The Martian by Andy Weir: “Every human has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true.” That’s always stuck with me, and I see it exemplified in everyday exchanges like holding the door open for someone with their hands full. Or waving in a stranger to merging traffic on a busy stretch of interstate. But, the gestures in agricultural communities go beyond “Iowa Nice.”  These are folks who are giving of their own resources and time to help total strangers. If that doesn’t give you goosebumps or bring tears to your eyes, I’m just not sure what will.

Looking for a place you can offer your needed-skills or time to help those in need? Visit Iowa Farm Bureau’s Flood Assistance resource page. I’m sure more stories will unfold in the coming days, weeks and months as Iowans continue to band together with their “that’s what you do” attitude. Well beyond the farm gate, that’s what really makes us “Farm Strong.”