Harvesting hope: A farmer’s story of resilience

SAUK CITY, Wis. — It’s by no means a stretch to say farmers are essential workers; everyone needs to eat.

For Nathan Brickl, a farmer in the Sauk City area, his work is far from a chore — farming is fun. It’s his life. When life threw him a curveball, he proved to everyone he’s not done playing yet.

“It’s a love, just like you love your wife or spouse,” Nathan said. “There’s mornings where it’s nice to see the sunrise and I can see the sunset or see falling stars on a clear night.”

It’s a love story farmers understand.

“Multiple generations … I’m probably the fifth or sixth generation already,” Brickl said. “I’ve got a passion for it or I wouldn’t do it.”

A passion that’s shared.

“I am a farmer’s wife in this case and that’s very different; that’s the support and that is helping make sure that their passion and their dreams are a reality,” Nathan’s wife Brigitta said.

But sometimes reality can be a bit jarring. It was Oct. 30, 2019 when Nathan’s feet got wrapped up in a manure hose while dragged through a culvert. He got stuck in that culvert up to his waist for 45 minutes.

“My left [leg] got into the culvert. My right one got bent around my back so high my work shoe was 4 inches above [my] shoulder,” Nathan said. “I made a fairly good-sized tractor bog down and he couldn’t go no more. That’s how much pressure I had on my lower half from the waist down.”

“I at least knew that he was alive, and that was one of those kind of deep breath moments, but you know it’s that phone call you’re never going to forget,” Brigitta said.

Doctors amputated Nathan’s leg above the knee.

“I made the choice of either I can sit there and sulk or forward,” Nathan said. “I chose going forward.”

And he’s doing so with a team that includes Brigitta, his family, the farming community and the lady who helped get him back on his feet.

“And she goes ‘What do you want to accomplish again?’ I said I want to get back on the farm. I love to hunt and fish, and I want to walk my daughter down the aisle if it gets that far,” Nathan said. “She says ‘Game on.’ She’s waiting for a phone call from me that I broke my leg because I’m living in it.

And living he’s doing. That includes farming.

“I am a cash crop. I grow corn, soybeans usually, and alfalfa,” Nathan said. “And I raise cattle.”

The Brickls had about $20,000 in modifications done at the farm to help Nathan do his job.

“With my tractor, they make extra steps and handrailing — I put all that on my tractor so it’s easy for me to get up and in,” Nathan said. “The skid steer that I had was foot control with buckets and everything, now it’s all up here.”

And forget ladders. The feed bin now has stairs. That was his and his dad’s idea. A step was added to the bunk.

His prosthetic even has a microprocessor in it that connects to a phone or computer with different settings so his leg and foot are at the right angle for whatever he may be doing.

“This one reads his movement. If he’s carrying a pail of feed or water and it’s weighted down a little more, it adjusts slowly to make sure he has an easier time. He can feel it like a downshift,” Briggita said.

Nathan also has another prosthetic that he uses to go swimming or fishing, again, something he loves.

“It’s been an adventure,” Brigitta said.

“It’s been ups and downs and continue on,” Nathan added.

“I think I’ve proven a lot of people wrong because they weren’t expecting me to get back to farming, but guess what? See ya later, I’m back.”