Area farmers band together to help others in time of need

(Editor’s note: Earlier this month, wildfires swept through several states leaving behind a path of destruction. One of the states hardest hit was Kansas. Last Saturday, Carl Koch of Paris, his relatives and some friends, drove a load of badly needed hay to Kansas. They left Paris at 4 a.m. and returned at 10:45 p.m. Saturday. This is their story. It is what they saw. It is what they felt. And it is about how you can help.)

As I set here resting from our long trip yesterday (19 hours), I’ve done nothing but reflect on the things we saw.

My breathing is tough and my eyes are still sore from the silt and ash. It was unimaginable and nothing like we have been seeing in the news. Ashland, Kansas and surrounding areas are way worse than I could have believed. So, here’s everything from the things we captured in pictures to the things we saw and captured in our minds and hearts.

As we entered into small farming communities in northwest Oklahoma we began to notice a change in the people. Folks would wave, honk and give you the biggest thumbs up they could. We began to feel the effects of rural America pulling together.

As we approached the Cimarron River Basin the smells and sights began to change. Five strands of barbed wire fences laying on the ground with no posts to hold them up. Road graders parked from their efforts to turn the grass under for fire lines that failed. We then cross into Kansas and it hits you hard. You see homes that survived with their yards burned up to a few feet from them. Water hoses and sprinklers are still laying on their roofs and in their yards. A house sits 200 feet away and nothing but rubble.

We turned down the section road we needed and it’s worse. It’s absolute desert. Ditches are filling with silt from the scorched pasture ranges. Wheat crops that where no-till planted after wheat the year before are gone, leaving nothing but lines in the sandy loam soil. Trees are burned hollow and laid over from the extreme heat and winds from the fire storm. What used to be rolling hills of prairie grass are now sand dunes left from the dust bowl. Tractors and hay bales parked in the middle of wheat and alfalfa fields with center pivots still dripping from the efforts to save what they could. The wheat and alfalfa is being depleted because surviving cattle have been moved to them. Randomly placed donations of fencing materials dropped on the roadside. Fencing crews are steadily working and ranchers are feeding hay in dirt fields.

Fresh dirt graves are easy to be seen from the cattle that was buried. Cattle are still feeling the effects of the trauma from the fires as the rancher finds a few more have died in his herd. Even with their loss, they still take the time to smile and wave. As we approach our drop point at the ranch, we begin to see the efforts of the folks to save their main part of their farm and ranch. Dirt was turned into wind rows from pulling land plains and ash is still everywhere.

The wildfire burned within a few feet of the west side of their new sale barn. A few hundred feet away are piles of ash which was the entire farm’s supply of hay. All that’s left was one silage pile that had been depleted in the last few days. Directly on the east side of the barn were feed lots of the most premier breeding stock you can find and the animals were literally the efforts of brave men away from being destroyed.

Hands begin to talk about the heat and things they saw. We notice that they’re all smiling. Everyone is smiling. A manager says, “You know, I felt like we would get some help. Rural folks are just too good. I thought maybe they will bring a little hay to help until folks can find hay to buy. I never imagined this. I just can’t believe what is happening. It’s coming from everywhere and everyone is getting the help they need. Rural America is a true representation of what this country should be.”

They were able to separate hay into groups to distribute to the ranchers to better suit their needs. A ranch representative chased us down and asked for a picture. While taking it he says, “You know that says it all. That is the greatest explanation to what’s going on here.”

I told him that we had no doubt that they would do the same for us.

He says, “I know what you mean, but your banner on the back. It’s great. I had to meet you. It tells of the unity in this country. Thank you.”

He tells us to go eat with them. Their friends from Lubbock had donated and cooked meals for everyone helping to rebuild.

So this is what we saw.

Pray for the good folks in those areas and those helping. It’s truly something that has changed everyone involved.

If you would like to help with cost or even help haul, we will be making another trip on April 8. All hay to be hauled is donated through four area farms. We will leave Paris around 4 a.m. Contact Newton Koch at 479-438-4615 (Paris area) or Robert Koch at 479-965-6833 (Charleston area) for details or to make contributions for expenses as we help our friends in Kansas.

Love thy neighbor.