Vermonters Making A Difference

Tunbridge farmers recover from flood

by Sam Jefferson, for Community News Service

Flying Dog Farm sits along the First Branch and saw flooding in its pastures earlier this month. Efforts toclean up silt will be underway soon. (Herald / Kyan Smith)

The rain poured down as Shona Sanford-Long herded her piglets into trash barrels to get them to safety. The owner of Flying Dog Farm in Tunbridge was eager to do everything she could to limit the incoming storm’s water damage.

“I wasn’t really prepared for the extent of the flooding,” Sanford-Long said. “My biggest concern was making sure all the livestock was safe.”

Sanford-Long and her team rallied the animals into barns on higher ground, which kept them safe as torrential rains hit farms all over Vermont on July 10. But the rapid increase in water levels took other parts of the farm with it. During the storm, Sanford-Long watched as a 100-gallon water tank floated away, followed by two of her three wooden pig houses.

“The speed that things can change during a flood can make you feel like you’re in a movie,” Sanford-Long said.

Even with these losses, and 10 of the 45 acres of pasture taking significant water damage, Sanford-Long considered herself one of the luckier farms last week.

“All in all I think we were very lucky to have high ground where we could bring our animals,” Sanford-Long said. “It was also lucky that only part of my pasture flooded and I have others to rely on.”

Rob Howe, owner of the Howvale Farm in Tunbridge, also experienced pasture flooding.

“I still have water sitting in my fields,” Howe said last week. “They’re covered in silt, and all the stuff from the downstream impacts my organic certification status.”

That is one major impact for organic farms affected by the storm. Chemicals or pollutants carried in by the floodwater has left some of them uncertain if their products can still be put out as usual. For Howe’s farm to stay certified, he said, he needs to pasture his livestock night and day, but that has become temporarily impossible with the amount of floodwater still resting in his grazing fields, more than a week after the initial hit.

“It’s created a lot of extra work,” Howe said. “Things are really quite questionable to how we’re going to survive this one.”

Howe added that because it was a relatively cold May this year, there already wasn’t too much grass for the first cut of the year, making it harder to know what the next steps are for his farm after the flood forced him to lose more pasture.

“I am waiting to hear if there is any money through the USDA through the Farm Service Agency or from FEMA or any other organizations that might be helping for the losses that occurred from the storm,” Howe said.

In addition to grants given out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, organizations like the Vermont branch of the Northeast Organic Farming Association have been using emergency donation funds to help farms hit hardest. Also, the Vermont Organic Farm Certifying Agency has told local farmers that it is looking to help keep the organic certifications on their products.

Each fall the group checks any feed impacted by flooding and makes sure it still meets its requirements for organic certification. In most cases the feed checks out, said Sanford-Long, allowing many farmers to save their products from becoming waste.

The agency, Sanford-Long said, “wants to work with farmers, not against them—they’re more looking at if any oil tanks or sewage mixed in with the floods that impacted the farm.”

With widespread community support for affected farms and potential funding on the way, farmers are holding out hope for themselves and others that they can recover from their losses.

“Our communities are really coming together to help the farms in need, and of course, it would be nice to get help from organizations like USDA, but the community response to help has already had a major impact,” Sanford-Long said.

1 reply »

  1. God Bless all the resilient farmers who have the work ethic and strong faith to fight back and recover from this disaster…that is the strength of the true Vermonter who refuses to kowtow to state and federal weak guidelines and lies.