Alone with the Red Riverby Ambar Espinoza, Minnesota Public Radio
Flood-fighting efforts in the big cities get lots of attention. But all along the valley, there are thousands of farmers who live on isolated farmsteads. It might seem they're left to fight the flooding all alone. But they say, it's no different than in other major cities.
Wilkin County, Minn. — Amber Nord and her husband farm a few miles away from the Red River. They have a crop and livestock operation and every spring, they need to keep an eye on rising flood waters. For them, overland flooding is the biggest challenge.
This year, floodwaters have already forced them to move most of their livestock.
"There's an opening to this old barn and the water is all the way up to there," said Nord. " [The cattle] just stand there and look at it like, what are we supposed to do with this? So they just kind of huddle up here on dry ground."
Nord says her family will likely tear down this barn next year. It's really old, so they'll build a new one in a different location to protect it from future floods.
"We'll have to move everything. So that's kind of the future of everything is: watching how this happens and how it works. We know this problem isn't going to get better," she said.
This is the first year since the 1997 flood that Nord has had to sandbag her property. A sandbag wall sits between her family's house and a natural low-lying area that drains their farm.
In Wolverton, the nearest town, river levels are much higher this year than in 1997, particularly on the south side of town.
Amber Nord says families living on this stretch of the Red River aren't used to seeing water levels like this. But she is. She sees at least some flooding every year, and it keeps getting closer and closer to her backyard.
"It just seems like the water is coming down faster and more all the time," Nord said. "Definitely since we've lived here, the dynamics of that have changed a lot."
Just a few days ago, local high school students came to their rescue. They built the sandbag wall that's protecting the farmhouse.
"My son, Luke Nord, and his class, came down and just literally saved us," said Amber Nord. "If we wouldn't have had them [help us], we wouldn't have gotten it down on time. The kids have just been great and those are all about 16-year-old kids."
Nord says this caretaking quality is a strong one in rural communities.
"We had friends from Fargo-Moorhead, we had friends from Breckenridge, we had friends from Barnesville. We had people calling in, 'We see the water. Are you going to need us? We're here. Just call us.'"
Nord says people in her neighborhood come together all the time to help, not just around flood-fighting efforts. Spring planting and harvest time bring out the best in their farm neighbors.
"This fall we were cobbing corn right till it was blizzarding. ... we had neighbors coming over... helping us," she said. "It's pretty much always like that, and usually you don't even have to ask."
That's because people are aware of everyone's surroundings, not just their own.
"In town, that might seem nosy, but in the country, you look at people's places and what's going on. Do things look the same? You kind of see if there's trouble," Nord said.
Nord says in her town, even people who live 30 miles away are considered neighbors. More than anything else, she says being observant is about looking out for one another.
She also says people are able to navigate and help each other during tricky weather because those who have grown up in rural areas know the land like the back of their hands.
"And they just watch. They have this knack for knowing how things change and the water, and what you need to do and you just learn. You learn the hard way when you have to bail water. You just learn how to take care of that."
People also have a knack for resourceful creative ideas. Amber Nord's father-in-law tells her that during blizzards in his younger days, he would tie a rope from the house to the barn to feed the animals so he wouldn't get lost and freeze to death.
Nord says farmers hear these stories and learn from the experiences of old-timers.
While it might seem like people living in rural areas are isolated, it turns out their communities are most strong when they need to help each other.
- Morning Edition, 03/26/2009, 6:55 a.m.