Neighbours combine efforts to aid cancer-stricken farmer


: Staff Writer

27/10/2007 5:00 AM

'You hear so many negative things. When you get something positive it's a story worth sharing'

— grain farmer Ron Edwards



GRAIN farmer Ron Edwards doesn't choke up easily.

But when 21 neighbours harvested his crop because he was too sick to do it himself this fall — all 300 hectares of wheat, oats and canola — that got him.

"It's hard not to get emotional when I think about it. It's a story about love and compassion," said Edwards, an Otterburne-area farmer with an aggressive kind of cancer of blood plasma cells called multiple myeloma. It's incurable but can be managed.

Edwards' life changed all of a sudden this spring.

Until then, the 47-year-old had been a hail and hearty farmer like his great grandfather, who homesteaded the family farm 100 years ago. It's located about four kilometres east of the Red River, near St. Agathe, half an hour's drive south of Winnipeg.

"I hadn't been in hospital in 42 years. My health had been excellent until this happened. The last time I was in the hospital was when I had my tonsils out when I was five," he said.

After seeding his grain crop this spring, Edwards said he had a sore back for no reason so he went to the doctor for a checkup.

That was the end of April.

By early June, Edwards and his wife Kimberley and their four grown children had heard the worst.

Edwards needs a bone marrow transplant. He's been in and out of hospital since the summer; complications led to open-lung surgery and he hired out the tending of his farm when it needed spraying this summer.

Chemotherapy is keeping the cancer under temporary tether, for now.

Aware of the situation, his friends stepped forward at harvest time, he said.

"I couldn't work. I couldn't do anything and I was in the hospital all summer. The neighbours, they came in and they did everything," he said.

Twenty-one neighbours from the Steinbach-Otterburne area flocked to the Edwards farm in a massive harvesting bee, like the old-fashioned barn-raising bees.

In one week flat, they'd brought in the entire harvest.

"Some came with combines. Some came with trucks. Some just came themselves and gave their labour. And the big thing is they didn't ask for money. It's about $10,000 worth of free labour," Edwards said.

A combine alone is worth $100 to $150 an hour for hire.

The farmer has been singing his neighbours' praises in local newspaper stories ever since.

"You hear so many negative things. When you get something positive it's a story worth sharing," said Edwards.

He's spending a lot of time lately counting his blessings. The other blessing is he and his wife celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this year.

"I'm in God's hands, whatever happens," Edwards said.

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