(Host) Like many farmers around Vermont, Burlington’s Intervale farmers have ended their season after flooding.
As VPR’s Melody Bodette reports, Intervale farmers are used to flooding, but they’ve been hit twice in one year, and many are down about the season.
(Bodette) Burlington’s Intervale is a network of 12 farms on leased land linked by a dirt road, low on the floodplain of the Winooski River.
The oldest is the Intervale Community Farm. It’s community-support and has grown to 500 members.
Manager Andy Jones has been with the farm for 18 years, and has seen plenty of flooding. But twice in one year is unusual:
(Jones) "It was pretty epic."
(Bodette) This spring, the floodwaters stayed unusually high for a long time. Jones says that got the season off to a late start.
(Jones) "We didn’t have any strawberries, we didn’t have any cherry tomatoes. A lot of herbs started later. We didn’t even get a chance to plant our peas. So on the fall side of things, we finally started to get some herbs and green beans. But all those things we had to ditch at the end when Irene came through."
(Bodette) The Irene floods came right at the height of the harvest. Intervale farmers are accustomed to checking river gauges and flood predictions. Jones has a list-serv of volunteers ready to pick vegetables if a flood is on the way. So harvesting began a few days before the storm, but some crops were left behind.
Now, Jones walks through fields of carrots peeking through tilled soil, the tops of beets, and acre after acre of butternut squash.
(Jones) "Kind of tragic – hard to look at it."
(Bodette) Intervale Community Farm had to end their summer CSA deliveries, and cancelled their winter CSA altogether. And they’ve laid off two workers, and others will be let go early when the clean-up is done.
But Jones says the Intervale Community Farm will be back next year, and the business model helped:
(Jones) "We’re certainly better off than people in strictly wholesale operations, the CSA model definitely provided the farm some insurance."
(Bodette) Further down the dirt road, Arethusa Farm is one of those wholesale operations.
Standing in fields that smell of leeks, owner Thomas Case says the farm lost half its season. While hurting financially, Case is not making any declarations about next season.
(Case) "What we are doing is crisis management, trying to get funds in. We’ve got a fair amount of debt that we have to handle and deal with. That’s what my focus is now. We’re still waiting for money to come in. We’re going to see how it’s going to play out. want to see if we can get our cash flow working again."
(Bodette) Farmers here rely on their community, and in the week after the storm, Case organized a hike for other flooded out vegetable farmers.
(Case) "I just was like, I need to get out. And I wasn’t really seeing my community down here because everyone was kind of dispersed, and I said, thought it would be nice to go up Mount Mansfield and get some perspective, cause we’re all kind of miserable right now."
(Bodette) The Intervale Center, which manages the property, farmers have lost $700,000 in income. But no one is moving on yet, and they’re actively working to raise money to help farmers.
Executive Director Travis Marcotte says with ample warning that the floods were coming, farmers pitched in to help each other harvest as much produce as they could. And Marcotte says he wants to focus on water quality issues to prevent contamination from flooding.
(Marcotte) "Periodic flooding is A-OK in a flood plain, but the challenge this time around is that the water coming downstream is potentially contaminated. And that’s why the farm losses were so high. "
(Bodette) Marcotte says with support of the community and increasing interest in local foods, he expects farming in the rich floodplain soils to continue.
For VPR News, I’m Melody Bodette in Burlington.