On the morning of August 28th, Hurricane Irene made landfall in the northeast, causing the worst flooding eastern upstate New York and Vermont have seen in centuries. Among those hardest hit were many local farms and dairies. In less than 24 hours, agricultural businesses suffered massive damage in the form of flooded fields, drowned livestock, power outages and broken infrastructure. We've mapped as many as we could find, as well as local events organized to support them.
Map: In an area impacted by Hurricane Irene and wondering how to help? The icons on this map represent farms dealing with the aftermath of the storm, as well as the events, benefits and fundraisers organized to support them. Know of one we missed? Let me know at Jennifer[at]gracelinks.org.
In Rutland, Vermont, Evening Song Farm, a sustainably-run community farm growing three acres of unique heirloom vegetables, lost all of their fields. Ryan Wood Beauchamp and Kara Fitzgerald, who'd moved to Vermont in the summer of 2010 to fulfill their dream of creating a true community farm saw the fruits of their first year’s labor –completely wiped out. The river that ran adjacent to their fields now runs where they used to be, and it’s unlikely that the land will be able to be planted again in this lifetime.
Farmers David and Melinda Rowley of Monkshood Nursery and Gardens realized after the storm that there nothing was left to harvest - their fields were destroyed, and what vegetables remained were lost to water damage. The couple has farmed an 82 acre parcel of land in Stuyvesant, New York since 2003, when they leased the land and started growing vegetables for farmers' markets. Since then, their business expanded to include three greenhouses and a Community Supported Agriculture program (a group of Ecocentric bloggers share a CSA membership there). Now the Rowleys face the possibility that their farm may never recover and fear they will not be able to continue their dream of sustainable family farming. The Perley Farm, a 125-year-old dairy farm in Royalton, Vermont managed for the Perley family by Penny and Larry Severance, lost 25 of their 65 dairy cows. Larry and their son Buddy were being saved by a rescue boat as flood waters consumed the farm and swept many of their cows down the White River.
In Holyoke, Massachusetts flooding destroyed almost all of the crops at the Nuestras Raices/Trustees of Reservations incubator farm site. For the last five years, Nuestras Raices has facilitated the use of an urban farm center called "La Finca," which lies immediately alongside the Connecticut River. The center, which has roughly 10 acres of tilled land, is used by immigrants to farm their own small plots and sell produce at local farmers' markets. The hurricane impacted 13 of these migrant and refugee farmers right before the peak of the harvesting season. The farm specializes in acclimatized Caribbean crops and saves seeds, but they too have been damaged and are now unusable.
These are just a few of the hundreds of farms affected, each with a painful story of how Irene left them devastated or struggling. Crop damage accounts for a significant amount of the losses incurred. The FDA considers ready-to-eat crops, the edible portions of which have been in contact with flood waters to be adulterated due to potential exposure to sewage, animal waste, heavy metals, pathogenic microorganisms or other contaminants—and therefore these crops cannot go to market. In response, the USDA and the FDA announcedearly last week that assistance will be available to farmers whose crops were damaged by severe flooding from Tropical Storms Irene and Lee.
Recovery efforts in Vermont
In the wake of this disaster, other farmers, neighbors and organizations are coming together to offer support and help rebuild their communities. Support has poured in for Perleys and others in Vermont as farmers who were not affected by the storm came with supplies and manpower to do everything in their power to lift their neighbors out of the rubble. Many heard by word of mouth, and many organizations have risen to the occasion.
NOFA-VT harnessed the power of social media with this alert: If you know a farmer who has been impacted, volunteer to help muck out their barn, pull up downed fence, bring in flooded produce, or even make dinner. If you don’t know any farmers personally but would like to volunteer, try listing with #VTResponse. (NOFA-VT also has a Farmer Emergency Fund, and is holding an online auction on October 1st to go towards the fund.)
Farms like Evening Song are organizing their own events to help rebuild both their businesses and the community. On September 25th Evening Song is holding a Support-Raiser with a potluck dinner, silent auction, music, fire and spaces to share aspirations for the future of the farm, the future of the local foodshed and the future of the community.
Rock and roll band Phish, the members of which hail from Burlington, Vermont played a benefit concert in Essex on Wednesday September 14th to benefit all the Vermont-based victims of Irene, including farmers. All proceeds from the concert—including merchandise sales -- were donated to aid in the recovery of the Green Mountain State. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are also organizing a benefit concert to raise money for VT flood victims. The concert will take place in Burlington on October 9th.
Recovery efforts in New York
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a $15 million Agriculture and Community recovery fund to aid farms damaged by the storm—but it is a far cry from the estimated $45 million in farm damages. On September 7th Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer introduced a bill titled the Post-Irene Emergency Farm Aid Act that would authorize $10 million to support programs that provide emergency services and resources to farm areas after natural disasters.
New York State communities and organizations are making moves to help out, too. This Sunday (September 25th) Greenmarket NYC presents Dine Out Irene, a one-time event benefiting New York-area farms that have been hard hit by the hurricane. Participating restaurants are asked donate up to 10% of the day’s sales to aid local farms. The funds will go directly to GrowNYC and Just Food, who will distribute them to area farmers in need. They are also organizing Dine In Irene, a week of potlucks and supper clubs between September 26th and October 2nd. New Yorkers are invited to reach out to friends, family and even strangers, and to source ingredients from their neighborhood Greenmarket, collect donations from dinner guests and donate the proceeds to those producers who need our help to recover from the flooding.
Warwick Farm Aid—an event that aims to raise $25,000 for Warwick, New York farmers—will be held on September 25th. Many other communities in the region are holding similar events to support the people who feed them. Even regions of New York that remained virtually untouched by Irene are organizing to support local agriculture. BK Farmyards, a new Brooklyn-based farming network providing locally-grown healthy & affordable food to Brooklyn residents, held a Pop-Up Farm Dinner September 17th to help with the Irene damage.
Recovery Efforts in Connecticut and Massachusetts
The storm also ripped through the Connecticut Valley, causing significant damage to farms in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. The Shelburne Falls Area Business Association in Massachusetts has established the West County Relief fund to receive funds from the public to be used for relief. Funds will be given out to fill needs not met by other sources. Nuestra Raices is having a fundraiser of its own on September 24th—its 18th Annual Harvest Festival will gather funds to rebuild its farm and assist its farmers—most of who are mostly immigrant and refugee farmers from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, India, Turkey and Russia.
It is important in this time of need to remember that the power of community is everything, and there is always something you can do to help. For more information on fundraisers, events and more ways you can help farms affected by Irene, visit the resources below. If you know of any other fundraisers or ways to assist or donate, please email Jennifer[at]gracelinks.org.