Sharing a bountiful harvest

Stories
10/28/2011

Sharing a bountiful harvest 
Diane Eggemeyer, an ELCA pastor, has
helped organize hay lifts to help farmers
and ranchers in drought-stricken Texas.


Diane Eggemeyer and her husband, Harvey, are down to their last five cattle after selling 145 at market and sending some to the "packing house."

Diane and Harvey's land in Miles, Texas, has no grass, and there's no feed available to purchase for their remaining livestock. And all five of their remaining livestock are pregnant.

In 2011 drought and wildfires across Texas have destroyed the hay crop used for feed. As a result, farmers and ranchers like the Eggemeyers have sold their cattle out of desperation.

Harvey has been a farmer all his life. Diane is the pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Miles. "My husband and I are just like everyone else here," she says. "Desperate."

Vast portions of Texas have been declared a federal disaster, Diane says. "We are hurting." And to add insult to injury, there's very little rain to help replenish the pastures.

"I don't think we've seen the worst just yet," she says. The lack of rain has prevented farmers and ranchers in Texas from planting winter wheat to sustain livestock for the upcoming season.

But thanks to an ELCA pastor from Luana, Iowa, Diane and other farmers and ranchers from her congregation and surrounding community will be able to hold on to their remaining livestock for a little while longer.

A load of 650 small bales of hay, weighing about 50 pounds a piece, has been donated by a farmer in Wisconsin. Diane says 60 farmers and ranchers from Miles and the surrounding area each received 10 bales on Sept. 21.

The entity that took part in this hay lift is Willie Nelson's Farm Aid. But Harold McMillin, pastor of St. John Lutheran in Luana, along with other ELCA members, had a lot to do with this much-needed delivery.

Putting two and two together

Harold learned about the plight of Texas farmers and ranchers at the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly held Aug. 15-19 in Orlando, Fla.

Unlike Texas, the farmers and ranchers in Harold's community in northeast Iowa produced an abundant hay crop -- enough to sustain their livestock this winter with extra to spare.

So Harold put two and two together. Upon his return home from the assembly, he found some help to organize a few initial cross-country hay lifts to help farmers and ranchers in Texas.

The project has expanded significantly, according to Diane.

Farmers and ranchers from Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin have hundreds if not thousands of hay bales to donate. The problem facing ELCA members in getting this hay to Texas is transportation -- finding truckers and trucking companies willing to haul the hay, especially with current high fuel costs.

Diane and Harold have reached out to government officials. Teresa Davis, pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Avoca, Texas, contacted organizations like Farm Aid for help.

Jesus Escamilla, pastor of San Gabriel Lutheran Mission in Alvarado, Texas, is also involved. Members of his congregation were the recipients of hay donations from Harold's congregation.

"The donation has kept some of our ranchers from having to sell cattle," says Jesus. The little hay available locally has also become very expensive, "so the donations have really helped our ranchers."

Serving our neighbors

The entire hay lift operation has been an example of the ELCA at its best, according to Diane.

"We love our neighbors as Christ loves us. This entire endeavor is a perfect picture of love -- farmer helping farmer, church helping farmer and entire communities and so on. It takes a lot of hands, a lot of labor and no one is standing idle. We are a mission church," she says.

The ELCA Northeastern Iowa Synod and ELCA Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod have teamed up to keep hay lift operations going.

"It's a marvelous connection among members of our church, who are assisting one another in a time of need," says Steven Ullestad, bishop of the Northeastern Iowa Synod.

"It's been a very spontaneous and spirit-filled project, which has drawn on the generous hearts of this church," says Bishop Ullestad.

"I'm a woman of faith," says Diane, who is steadfast in her belief that God will bring rain, and that truckers will come forth. "God started it, God is in the midst of it, and God will bring it to fruition."

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