BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota farmer Tim McLean received a special gift on his 54th birthday Tuesday — volunteers came from as far as Texas and Kentucky to help his family harvest soybeans.

The work also marked a milestone for the Farm Rescue organization — the 400th aid case for the Northern Plains nonprofit.

It meant a lot for McLean, who grows corn and soybeans on his 2,000-acre farm near Wheatland. His wife, Kari, is battling breast cancer and bone cancer and his father, Ron, is recovering from a broken leg.

“My wife worked in the field side by side with me, and my dad would run the combine,” he said, adding that his wife of 34 years is now in a wheelchair and his father can no longer operate farm machinery. “It’s very overwhelming the amount of support that I’ve gotten. It’s quite the birthday present.”

Farm Rescue does crop seeding, crop harvesting and haying for farmers in need like McLean. It relies on a base of volunteers that has grown to about 1,000 people from around the country.

North Dakota farm boy and UPS pilot Bill Gross launched the organization in his home state in 2005. It’s since expanded to South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Montana. Gross told The Associated Press recently that he’d like to widen Farm Rescue’s geographic reach even more in a year or two, and possibly also start helping livestock ranchers, if the nonprofit can boost its annual budget from $750,000 to $1 million. The money comes mainly from donations.

“I always think of Farm Rescue as a patriotic and altruistic mission,” Gross said. “It’s where our country started — it’s helping farm families, rural families, people producing food for the entire nation and the world.”

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