When tragedy strikes, the heart of agriculture responds.
"What I have seen in the last couple of weeks has reminded me that all of agriculture is one big family," says Stan Hazen, who lost hundreds of acres of Clark County pasture, miles and miles of fence and a 2015 Dodge Ram pickup truck with less than 20,000 miles on it to the deadly Starbuck wildfire. The fire burned more than 500,000 acres of northern Oklahoma and southwestern Kansas the first week of March.
In recent days, hundreds of volunteers have poured in to help with cleanup and recovery, and the week of March 20 — spring break — volunteers from dozens of FFA chapters joined the effort.
Among them were a dozen students from USD No. 251 in Lyons County. They chose to give up part of their spring break vacation to help ranchers more than 200 miles from their homes in the Flint Hills. On Monday, they worked rolling up irreparably damaged fence wire and building electric fence on the Gardiner ranch. On Tuesday, they were tromping through Hazen's charred fields, digging holes for hedge posts and using a post setter to drive steel T-posts deep into the sandy soil.
"You have to do a hedge post every four or five posts," said Rick Bush, a teacher at Northern Heights High School who volunteered to be a driver and supervisor for part of the group. He said FFA advisor Jacob Lang had expected only a handful of students to sign up to work, but when he got a dozen volunteers, he asked for help with driving and supervision.
Hazen says he'd rather be the one heading out to help someone else than the one needing the help.
"I'm grateful they are here. I am grateful to all the people who have donated hay and money and fencing supplies. But it is hard to be on the receiving end. I would so much rather be giving to someone else."