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Lapeer County Farmer Wins Rural Spirit Award for Community Service

Matt Schaller of Lapeer Co., Michigan wins OBP's 2019 Rural Spirit Award. Photo: OBP
Matt Schaller of Lapeer Co., Michigan wins OBP’s 2019 Rural Spirit Award. Photo: OBP

Like a lot of farmers, Matt Schaller of Lapeer County keeps busy. He works full-time for a corn, wheat and soybean operation and he and his wife own Northwoods Tree Farm, an 18-acre Christmas tree farm. He also is the president and founder of Ag Community Relief, a non-profit that’s been called the “Red Cross for farmers.

“We have been able to step in and help farmers and ranchers around the country with emergency livestock feeding—that’s kind of been our big thing,” said Schaller. “We’ve also raised a lot of money and supplies to fix fencing after flooding and fires come through.”

The idea to help farmers and ranchers in need came after the Perryton fire swept across the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Kansas in March 2017. Schaller and friends gathered to collect hay donations and delivered them to the Southern Plains. Through the magic of social media, word quickly spread and the ag community was reaching out to help.

“When we were on the trip, we found there was a need for an organized group because there was no organization going into this,” he said. “We threw some stuff on a truck and headed down the road. What started off as an idea to load one truck, within a matter of two weeks we had 10 semis loaded going down to Texas from Michigan.”

After Schaller saw some of the issues getting trucks across state lines and governmental regulations, he didn’t want that legwork to go to waste, which is when he founded Ag Community Relief.

“I find a lot of enjoyment in helping these people out, and the group of people we’ve gotten together turned into a big family,” said Schaller. “We really enjoy doing it together and being able to set a good example for my kids.”

As result of his community service and efforts, Schaller received the Rural Advocacy Rural Spirit Award from St. Louis-based agency OBP. The award celebrates an individual who embodies the heart of rural America in their community, and advocates for agriculture.

“It was more of a testament to the hard work that’s gone into this nonprofit that we created by our whole board because it’s not just something that I do every day,” said Schaller. “We work tirelessly on this stuff behind the scenes that most people don’t see. To get recognized on a national level, that took me back and made me realize that we’re accomplishing something and it’s getting noticed.”

Schaller remains thankful for the continued support of the ag community.

“After the experience and what we’ve done over the last 2.5 years, going on three years now, I couldn’t see myself being involved in any other industry.”

Schaller says Ag Community Relief can use monetary donations year-round, and they’re looking for hay donations in the summer. You can find more information online at agcommunityrelief.com or Facebook.