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Trucks line up on a rural Lancaster County road waiting to be filled with donated corn silage. From Lancaster County in the morning, the crop was transported the same day to farmers in need in Clinton County as part of a compassionate harvest effort organized by the Mennonite Disaster Service.

A barn full of cows and an empty silo. That’s an especially grim reality for families relatively new to dairying and who’ve been struggling with startup challenges along with depressed milk prices.

Those farmers are the focus of a Mennonite Disaster Service relief effort aimed specifically at Pennsylvania families who’ve been in business for five years or less.

Board member Frank Hoover is coordinating the work of 40 people — like him, all volunteers — who are harvesting donated silage from farmers in Lancaster and Chester counties, and hauling it to hollow silos in the counties of Centre, Clinton, Franklin, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry and Snyder.

These newer farmers typically don’t have the financial wherewithal or access to credit their more established neighbors have

Many farmers in the stricken counties do not sign up for insurance programs, but even if they did, an empty silo and 50 hungry cows is a disaster beyond the reach of a typical insurance check.

The Relief Effort Begins

A few weeks ago, Hoover got a phone call from a Perry County farmer who wondered if the Lititz-based aid group might want to organize a compassionate harvest project similar to one they did in 2007.

Hoover made some calls and recruited volunteers who got boots on the ground, choppers in the field and trucks on the road.

Some 40 farmers to date have donated more than two dozen truckloads — at 24 tons to the load — to the harvest. Volunteers have used their time, choppers and gas to cut the corn.

Some of the trucking costs have been donated, but the fuel expense is considerable, Hoover said. Many of the trucks involved are used to haul wood chips from central Pennsylvania lumber mills to southeastern counties.

When that business gets rolling later in the fall, Hoover figures the nonprofit’s trucking cost will go down. Rather than heading north empty, the trucks will carry silage, dump it and load up with wood chips for the return trip.

Hoover said there’s a full-time driver in Myerstown who is doing an excellent job of coordinating the volunteer drivers.

Close to 40 farmers have so far received the compassionate harvest deliveries. Hoover said some of them had tears in their eyes when the trucks pulled into their lanes.

“We can give them hope until May,” he said, “when their hay will start coming in.”

Mennonite Disaster Service 

Mennonite Disaster Service has deep roots in the Anabaptist community. The group’s usual endeavors involve cleaning up, restoring and rebuilding storm ravaged homes and communities in the U.S. and Canada, but that work came to a halt in March with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hoover said the compassionate harvest effort, like all of the group’s programs, is ecumenical.

“We have English and Plain Sect donors, and English and Plain Sect dairy farmers who are getting the silage,” he said. “Everybody is working together.”

The organization welcomes contributions of crops, labor, trucks, harvest equipment and cash to help with the costs of the program.

Farmers who want to donate crop, or who need to fill a silo, can call Hoover at 717-859-2409.

Donations by check can be sent to Mennonite Disaster Service, 583 Airport Road, Lititz PA 17543. Donations by credit card can be made by calling 800-241-8111.

There’s also information about the organization and a donation form online at mds.mennonite.net

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