On Wednesday, three dozen different farmers came together to harvest the crops on the land of one farm in Iowa. Armed with combines, grain carts, and semis, they were able to finish the harvest on the Brownlee farm—all 235 acres of corn and 165 acres of soybeans.
Normally, Van Brownlee, owner of the land, would have been out in the field doing it himself over the course of many weeks. But after planting the crops earlier this year, he passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was 58 years old, leaving behind his wife, two kids, and his 91-year old father.
But the crops Brownlee had sown continued to grow, and someone needed to get out there and harvest them. That’s when it pays to be from a small town in Iowa. According to the Des Moines Register, the entire community and neighboring towns came together to help clear the fields.
“It’s a really good community,” says Lisa Brownlee, pausing, taking a breath. “I’m thankful.”
The coordinated effort was organized by Van Brownlee’s longtime friend Steve Downs. The two went back all the way to junior high school, and Downs says he knows that Brownlee would have done the same thing for any one of his neighbors.
In fact, he did. Several years earlier, Brownlee helped bring in a neighbor’s hay crop after the man had been killed in a farming accident.
Plans to descend on the Brownlee farm and pick the crops spread quickly through word-of-mouth. “The calls started rolling in,” Downs said. A beloved member of the community, his neighbors had only good things to say about him.
“He was just a good old boy … a good person who always tried to do the right thing,” said neighbor Alan Brommel.
Neighbors say that Brownlee loved being a farmer and that helping to reap his final crops was a fitting farewell. Many felt that it brought them closure.
“It’s very humbling to be part of this,” said Brommel, who was harvesting soybeans. “We’re all here for the same reason.”
Brownlee was serious about his farming, and he took steps to assure the sustainability of his farm. He practiced no-till farming to avoid soil erosion and was cognizant of not over-applying chemicals to his crops. As a graduate of Iowa State University in Agricultural Business, he understood farming from every angle.
It was this dedication to his craft and the support he gave his neighbors and fellow farmers that led to such an outpouring of generosity. Even with their own fields full of crops that needed harvesting, the friends that volunteered their time wanted to clear Brownlee’s field first.
Lisa Brownlee tried to convince them to take care of their own fields, but her neighbors wouldn’t hear of it. They showed up in droves and got right to work. She said she was a little uncomfortable with the sudden outpouring of kindness, but was endlessly appreciative.
“We’re all behind,” Downs said. “But we said, ‘Let’s do it. We’re going to just get it done.'”
Such kindness goes to show how well-liked Van Brownlee was in his community. With nothing to gain, lifelong friends and neighbors gathered and volunteered their time and back-breaking effort to harvest the last field of crops ever sown by Brownlee’s hands.
It was the ultimate show respect to a man who loved and dedicated his life to farming, and both his family and the entire community were touched to the core.