Farmers’ Friend: Bill Gross

Bill GrossPhotographed by Danny Wilcox Frazier/Redux

• Our hero: Bill Gross, 45

• Hometown: Seattle, Washington

• How he helps: Aids needy farmers

Bill Gross, an international UPS pilot, was once asked by a copilot about his plan for retirement. “I’m going to get a big John Deere four-wheel-drive tractor and a planter,” said Gross, who grew up on a farm in North Dakota. “I’ll drive across North Dakota, pulling into places where it looks like a farmer is having a tough time and say, ‘Hey, I’ll plant a couple hundred acres for you today, free of charge.'” Everyone chuckled at the thought of a “crazy old guy roaming around planting fields.” But the seed was sown for Farm Rescue, a group helping farm families affected by injury, illness, and natural disaster.

Launched in 2005 with the aid of RDO Equipment Co., which donated the necessary machinery, Farm Rescue provided assistance to ten farm families in its first year of operation. One recent job was helping Merlin Backman, a farmer who postponed arm surgery for planting season. “I told the doctor, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do [about the] farmwork.’ And today Farm Rescue is putting my crop in for me.”

To date, Farm Rescue has helped almost 150 farm families in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana. The organization has teams of volunteers, working shifts of 8 or 12 hours at a time around the clock, all spring and fall seasons. “Due to flooding, 2011’s spring was the most difficult we’ve ever had,” says Gross.

Despite his busy flying schedule, Gross devotes his extra time to Farm Rescue, plowing cornfields or arranging jobs from airports when he’s on a layover. “Small family farms are dying off,” he says. “The further they go into debt, the less likely their children will carry on the tradition. That’s what’s driving me. We’re making it possible for farm families to continue on for future generations.”

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