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Still farming, despite disability

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

One sign that you have strong farm roots is when your rural road is named for your family.

I met Steve Quandt on Quandt Road, north of Grand Island, Neb., on the farm that used to belong to his grandfather. It’s the place he remembers spending days as a kid, from morning to night, helping milk cows, work the fields and repair machinery.

He followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, building his own farming operation. But that path was suddenly interrupted nearly six years ago.

It started with a splitting headache. Quandt went to see his doctor in Grand Island, who initially sent him home. The next day it was worse. When Quandt returned to the hospital he was admitted immediately. He fell unconscious - for 8 weeks.

“I woke up in Omaha and the first thing I thought of was I wasn’t done chopping silage,” Quandt said.

Quandt woke up on a respirator with no feeling or body control from the neck down. He had suffered an attack of Guillain-Barre, a disorder in which the immune system turns against the nervous system. The effects can vary. In Quandt’s case it was devastating.

“At first you have no feeling or nothing in your body,” he said. “No touch. Didn’t know where anything was.”

No one knew what Quandt would be able to do. But when he began to regain feeling in his limbs through physical therapy, there was only one thing he wanted to do, “I just always have liked to farm,” he said. “You get out there and you’re by yourself and you do what you want to do. It’s good therapy.”

Nebraska Agrability, part of a national program that helps farmers overcome disabilities to stay on the land, helped Quandt acquire a truck fitted with a lift to give him access to his tractors and semi-trucks. When Agrability delivered the truck to his house, Quandt greeted them wearing a John Deere green t-shirt that said “Born to Farm.”

And that’s the impression you get talking to Steve Quandt. Despite his disability and the struggle to regain his strength, he just doesn’t seem to have considered that he could do something other than farm.

The reality remains that Quandt can’t do as much as he used to. He’s currently farming around 100 acres of land, rather than the 700 he farmed before Guillain-Barre. But he’s still getting stronger and he still wakes up at 6 in the morning, ready to work.

“I like the work out here,” he said. “To me, it’s almost like a vacation getting out in the tractor and going.”

This story is part of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Media’s series chronicling Americans’ connection to the land. You can share your Farm Roots story here.    

Harvest Public Media's reporter at NET News, where he started as Morning Edition host in 2008. He joined Harvest Public Media in July 2012. Grant has visited coal plants, dairy farms, horse tracks and hospitals to cover a variety of stories. Before going to Nebraska, Grant studied mass communication as a grad student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his undergrad at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa where he listened to public radio in the tractor, but has taken up city life in Lincoln, Neb.