When Van Brownlee of St. Charles, Iowa, planted his crops in May, he couldn't have predicted that he would die a few weeks later of a heart attack. He also couldn't have predicted that dozens of his neighbors would arrive on Oct. 25 to help his widow, Lisa, harvest the 235 acres of corn and 165 acres of soybeans.

"It's a really good community," his widow told the Des Moines Register. "I'm thankful."

Nearby farmers showed up with combines, grain carts and semis, and they did it all before they tended to their own harvests.

Steve Downs, a friend of Brownlee's since high school, said this is something Brownlee would've done for any of his neighbors as well. In fact, Brownlee organized a hay harvest for another farmer's land after that farmer died in an accident.

Brownlee practiced no-till farming in an effort to prevent soil erosion, according to Downs, and he was also concerned about using too many chemicals in farming. In addition to his farming work, Brownlee also sat on school and farm cooperative boards. Farming was what Brownlee lived for, though.

"There weren't many days you couldn't find Van working on farm equipment, feeding cattle or doing chores," said Downs, who organized the harvest of Brownlee's crops. "He loved working outside, regardless of the weather."

Neighbors unite to harvest farmer's final crops
Van Brownlee died shortly after planting crops in the spring. Three dozen neighbors arrived to help his widow with the harvesting.