Friday, September 2, 2011

Irene's Damage to Small Farms

Flooded farmland in New Jersey
Now a few days after Irene, the damage for farmers on the East Coast is apparent and has serious implications for the farmers themselves, for their land, and for consumers. In New Jersey some newly planted crops were washed away while established crops have been damaged by the flood waters. Further south stronger winds and higher flood waters caused more damage in Virginia and North Carolina. In North Carolina the crop losses were thought to be 10 – 40% of the normal yield.

The University of Connecticut has also issued a publication warning consumers and farmers about the safety of produce from flooded areas. Flood waters can carry contaminants from septic systems, lawns, roads, etc. These contaminants can be chemicals, like pesticides, oil, gas and heavy metals or pathogenic microorganisms from sewage treatment. This increases the damages caused by flooding (with good reason) but must be considered when evaluating the losses for farmers. There has to be a 30 foot buffer between flooded areas of fields and the areas being harvested, and precaution is required to avoid cross-contaminatino of non-flooded fields and those that were inundated.

In New York and Vermont, the crop damage was much worse. “As we all know, many of these farmers lost everything” said the President and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation, Stuart Comstock-Gay. In Vermont a Farm Disaster Relief Fund has been established through the Vermont Community Foundation. The fund established a partnership with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture in order to provide grant supports to farms that have sustained losses and 100% of donations go to farm disaster relief. (More information here: The Vermont Farm Fund has established an emergency loan program and is accepting applications for $5,000 loans for farmers (

The storm seriously effected or destroyed farms by killing livestock, submerging crops, flooding barns and making roads impassible. Michael Hurwitz, director of the greenmarket program at GrowNYC estimated that 80% of New York City’s farmer’s market participants experienced damage. Our country’s heavily subsidized federal crop insurance system really only protects large growers, while New York and Vermont farmers are usually smaller farmers growing “specialty crops” (fruits and vegetables instead of cash crops like corn and soy). Nuestras Raices, an organization based in Holyoke, MA saw complete destruction of their farm, La Finca which was flooded by the Connecticut River losing betweein 80 and 90% of their crops and are also looking for solutions to save their farm:

If we really do value local agriculture, there needs to be recognition that farmers working on the small scale in coastal areas are operating at a significant risk to produce food for us. They deserve our support even in a recession, because they support our local food system and our local economy. Our national government’s utter lack of support for these small farm operations, even in the midst of a crisis, is alarming, but local farming supporters have the opportunity to show their appreciation for these services when farmers need it the most.

Find more information about the flood damage and response in this Grist article by Tom Laskawy:
And this New York Times Article “Upstate Farmers Find that a Fertile Flood Plain is a Two-Edged Sword” by Lisa Foderaro

No comments:

Post a Comment