Regional farms harshly impacted by flooding

Burning Barn from wet hay spontaneous combustion in Schararie County. Photo credit Shannon VanKuren.

Ulla Kjarval of Spring Lake Farm in Delhi provides this report on the impact this week's flodding has had on our region's farms.

Many New York State farms have experienced devastating losses in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Wind and subsequent flash floods destroyed late summer crops and vegetables, while others have reported drowned cows and washed away barns. Many more farms are without power, and because of washed out roads, countless more do not have a means to distribute their milk.

Locally, Lucky Dog Farm in Hamden, an organic vegetable operation that provides a local CSA and a wholesale vegetable business, was badly flooded and most of its summer vegetables were destroyed.

Meredith Farmer Ken Jaffe was quoted in a Village Voice piece about the impact it has had on our region:

There is widespread damage to the best cropland along river valleys in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, the Schoharie being the largest, most productive, and most impacted. Transportation is a under lockdown in most Catskill counties, and will be slowed indefinitely by numerous bridges that have been washed out, and road(s) that are literally gone. There are major losses to farmers who are literally underwater, and often under evacuation.

The Hudson Valley suffered extensive damage to vegetable crops, as did the black dirt area in Orange County, a region prized for onions and vegetable cultivation. Farmer Cheryl Rogowski lamented:  "The whole region is under water and most of the harvest destroyed. We need to get the word out, this region needs help."  

Scenes of waterlogged vegetable fields seem to be found all over the state, with the Schoharie, Mohawk and Hudson Valley all experiencing extensive damage, along with the Catskills and Long Island. The flood is particularly brutal because it comes at the height of harvest, which is not only a financial disaster, but also an emotional blow.

The Schoharie and Mohawk valleys were hit hard by flash floods, with reports of drowned cows and destroyed barns. Unfortunately, confirmed reports are scarce because of the nature of the disaster -- many are without power and have limited access to open roadways. From a story about farmers hit hard by Irene from the New York Times:

"Clearly, it's not good," said Darrel J. Aubertine, the commissioner of the state's Department of Agriculture and Markets. "I've been involved in agriculture my entire life, and there have been times when the weather has wreaked havoc on livestock and farms, but I don't think I have ever seen anything on this scale here in New York."

The fact that so many vegetable and dairy farmers have been washed out by the storm speaks to the unique topography of New York, which is an important vegetable growing state. Schoharie County farmer and author Shannon Hayes describes why so many farms, particularly those that grow vegetables and crops, are in flood plains:

The best soil for vegetable crops is generally located there…. Vegetable producers around here make most of their annual income from July through October. In addition to the incredible damage to their homes, they've also just lost half the year's income, and an unfathomable amount of topsoil and accumulated fertility.

The timing of the flood makes this particularly hard for farms, as New York is a summer harvest state, and for dairy farmers, the winter depends on a successful harvest of hay, corn and alfalfa. The Albany Times Union reported on the devastating effects at one farm:

The water flattened a corn field, ruining $500,000 worth of feed for the farm's 375 cows, said [Middleburgh farmer Sandie] Prokop, who estimated that at least three or four of the farm's animals had died in the flooding.

There are also reports of barn fires because of wet hay spontaneously combusting.

The New York Farm Bureau has been compiling damage reports across the state and working with state and federal agencies with disaster designations. They confirmed that many animals have been lost and barns destroyed, adding: "Crop damage appears to be severe in areas around the Schoharie and Mohawk Valleys. Other areas in the Hudson Valley are seeing considerable damage, as well as Long Island."

Challey Comer, the Farm to Market Manager at the Watershed Agricultural Council, is helping to coordinate efforts to help farmers in the watershed area.

"We have people going out to farms to access the impact the storm and flooding has had and to help farmers connect to available funding," she said. She noted that the local extension agents are armed with information to help farmers with flood related issues, like what to do with water logged hay and damaged crops. She also compiled a list of resources and fundraising activities to help area farms.

If you have photos, stories or fundraising information please share in the comment section.

Ulla Kjarval is the daughter of grass-fed beef farmers at Spring Lake Farm, in Meredith, Delaware County. She is a fervent local-food advocate and a builder of bridges between the "ag" and "foodie" worlds, in New York State and beyond. You can find her writing and photography at Goldilocks Finds Manhattan.  --Ed.