LAMONT, Wash. – The farmers surrounding this small Whitman County town all know each other. They went to school together, played on the same football team and rode the same school bus home.
So when Steve Swannack landed in the hospital with a severe case of pancreatitis two months ago, his neighbors and friends immediately banded together to help out. They cut and baled his hay and moved his herd of nearly 100 cows. On Saturday, they hopped in their combines and drove down the highway to harvest all 1,000 acres of Swannack’s fields.
“This community has really looked out for the family,” family friend Dan Harwood said. “They’re stopping their own harvest and coming over to do Steve’s.”
It’s not unusual for neighbors to come together to help out friends who are sick or injured and can’t look after their farms, neighbor Gil White said.
“That’s just what people do around here,” White said. “It happens all over Whitman County. It happens almost every year.”
Neighbor Eric Glorfield was in the middle of harvesting his own fields, but he didn’t hesitate to drop everything to help his former high school football teammate.
Everyone who helps someone in need knows that they could easily be the one needing help someday, White said.
“It’s a very humbling experience,” he said. “It kind of puts things in perspective.”
Farmers usually harvest their own fields by themselves, a process that can take weeks depending on the size of their fields. But gathering en masse for a harvest is a different experience.
“It’s kind of fun for us to see seven big red combines chew up 180 acres in half a day,” White said.
More than a dozen combines roamed the fields and hillsides near the Swannack family home on Davis Road, dropping their loads in an endless stream of grain trucks. Employees at the Lamont Grain Growers elevators were working hard to keep up with the constant flow of wheat, oats and mustard.
Harvest is weeks early this year because of the hot, dry weather, and yields are down.
“It’s scary dry,” White said.
Swannack grows specialty wheat for Shepherd’s Grain, a cooperative of 60 farmers who use sustainable farming methods such as direct seeding. He also created a 20-foot buffer around his fields and planted shrubs and plants in those buffer zones to create wildlife habitat for birds and deer, said Harwood, who works with the Palouse Rock Lake Conservation District. Swannack also created wetlands and fenced off creeks in his pastures to keep his cattle out, Harwood said.
Swannack’s daughter, Stephanie Swannack, came home for the weekend from Texas to help with the harvest. She said she is touched by the outpouring of support from families she has known her whole life. She planned to host a potluck barbecue Saturday night for the entire town as a way to say thank you.
“This has always been my favorite part of living in a small town,” she said. “You know your neighbors are going to help out no matter what.”
Nearly 60 people were working in the fields Saturday and another 20 or so came to the house to make boxed lunches for the workers. Others dropped by with ice chests filled with cold drinks.
“Everyone has called and wanted to help,” she said.
Norris Sturgeon drove from Boise to help out by managing the food. Sturgeon was roommates with Steve Swannack at Washington State University before Swannack married Sturgeon’s sister, Ann.
“I don’t know how to drive a combine,” he said as he mixed up a batch of lemonade. “Everyone kind of pitches in.”
Stephanie Swannack said it usually takes her family between 15 and 20 days to harvest their fields on their own. But on Saturday all that needed to be done was to assign combines to various fields and let the veteran farmers go to work.
After four surgeries and some time in rehabilitation, Steve Swannack came home Saturday. His daughter said he’s still weak and has a long recovery ahead of him.
Swannack’s fields will need to be planted with winter wheat in September, but he won’t have to worry about a thing, Harwood said.
“We’re already making plans for that,” he said.
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