A record-breaking storm dropped almost nine inches of rainfall on portions of Vermont. Vermont has more than 1.2 million acres of land dedicated to agriculture and food. The flooding is affecting farmers.
Since the storm struck the area, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) has received reports from 89 farms across Vermont that have reported the effects of massive flooding. The damage ranges from a few losses in fields to the destruction of farms.
“The damage is really profound,” Grace Oedel, the Executive Director of NOFA-VT, informs Food Tank. “It didn’t hit all farmers, but the farmers it hit, it hit really hard.”
Based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the widespread and intense rain that fell in less than 24 hours was less than a 1 percent chance of happening in this region of the nation. In the wake of localized flooding, washouts, and road closures increased throughout Vermont on the day one of the storm, Governor Phil Scott declared a state of emergency.
The agriculture and food sectors are responsible for US$19.3 billion for Vermont’s overall economy, according to the group Feeding the Economy. The devastation of farms in specific areas across the state results in substantial economic losses on both the state and local levels.
“There are layers of impact that we’re not even beginning to address yet,” Oedel states. “There’s the first loss of income and the loss of employment during this time. There’s also the loss of those who were on programs for food access that were receiving this food. The land is also affected. in general, concerns over contamination, and how rebuilding will be like.”
A few farmers are only getting ready to go out into their fields to look at the damage, whereas other farmers are waiting for their property to be drained. According to Oedel, the time frame will be several weeks before they can determine how much damage.
However, Oedel states that Vermont’s farmers can still find some hope in Vermont’s communities. “Resilience is in diversity and is in community,” Oedel informs Food Tank. “We are farmers that support each other with great intensity. With diversified farms and cultivating diverse crops across different ecosystems and across this state, it makes us far stronger than only were able to grow just one thing, in a single way, in one place.”
The hot temperatures of early spring, a frosty May, and poor air quality due to Canadian wildfires that raged throughout June contributed to a volatile growing season for Vermont’s farmers. Oedel claims that the historic flooding only reinforced fears of a “climate catastrophe” in Vermont’s agricultural sector.
Although the destruction’s extent is unknown, officials from the state, local groups, and volunteers are planning for recovery.
“There’s a lot of harm mitigation that needs to happen right now,” Oedel states. “We need to stand up for farmers and farm workers and low-income folks who just lost access to some important food.”
The Department of Agriculture in the state issued a disaster-related and recovery resource list within two days of the start of the floods. The site aims to collect all the information available to farmers today. It includes how to report losses and specific guidelines for meat, dairy, and other produce-related operations.
Community organizations such as the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Intervale Center, The Vermont Community Foundation, and the Center for Agricultural Economy are working to offer immediate relief funds to farmers while federal relief is being resolved. The Vermont Garden Network has also created a list of information for gardeners that outlines the first steps toward gardening recovery.
Vice President Biden was also granted emergency relief assistance. Assessors of FEMA’s assessment department Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began examining hard-hit areas in Vermont just six days after the storm. They will decide which Vermont counties are eligible to receive Individual Assistance aid through President Biden’s declaration of a disaster. However, Oedel expects the bulk of the money to be allocated to municipalities to build infrastructure and could not reach the farming community.
Oedel is urging Vermonters to support local farmers with donations or by volunteering. With the majority of emergency shelters across the state currently empty, the emphasis for volunteers is now on giving water and food to those who need it and helping repair infrastructure.
“This is an all of us issue,” Oedel says on Food Tank. “It’s affects farmers but we all are food-eating and everyone needs food and clean water. Therefore, we join with our farmers in solidarity as a part of our food supply is entangled by all of this.”
In the last Regenerative Food and Agriculture summit, over 200 top individuals from across the food supply chain gathered to discuss the opportunities and challenges regarding how the food system will evolve in the coming years.
Regenerative farming is “a way of being, thinking, understanding who we are,” says Reginaldo Haslett Marroquin, Co-Founder and CEO of Tree Range Farms. Haslett-Marroquin advised participants to accept “innate intelligence” and “ancestral knowledge” to reverse the damage caused by extraction agricultural practices over the past fifty years. The farmer is a vital and integral component of the solution for achieving the path to a sustainable future.