MassLive: As flood waters rise, farmers rush to salvage crops from fertile river bottom fields
As flood waters rise, farmers rush to salvage crops from fertile river bottom fields
NORTHAMPTON — Forty-five “beautiful” acres of sweet corn, green peppers and other crops at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary were scheduled to be picked Tuesday.
Instead, farmer Ben Perrault — owner with wife Liz Adler of Mountain View Farm — swam out Tuesday to check the fields for damage, knowing the Connecticut River was still rising and not expected to crest until Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
“I think there is a potential we will lose that field,” Adler said, as Perrault planned to take a borrowed kayak out for another look at the field. “We still have some hope.”
The river was at 114.7 feet above sea level Tuesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. That’s about where it was expected to crest. Flood stage is 112 feet.
AccuWeather estimated that heavy rains across Western Massachusetts, Vermont, eastern Pennsylvania through northwest New Jersey, the lower Hudson Valley of southern New York north of New York City, northwestern Connecticut, caused $3 billion to $5 billion in damage in rural communities in hardest hit areas. Meteorologists are likening this to Hurricane Irene back in 2011.
“This has been, potentially, a catastrophic event for a small number of farms,” said Claire Morenon, communications manager for CISA, Communities Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, in South Deerfield.
It’ll take time, she said, to assess how much damage was done and where. Damage also will depend on the crop and how close it is to harvest.
If food — like cabbages — touched floodwaters, then the crop is considered contaminated. But farmers who had tomato plants out in blossom, with no fruit, might be in good shape if the plants dry out and keep growing.
“For some farms, it doesn’t look good for this year’s crop,” Morenon said.
And it’s all the more frustrating that the Connecticut River still has yet to peak.
“There is not much you can do if the water is coming,” she said. “They are trying to manage expectations with their customers.”
This weekend’s flood is also the third weather disaster to hit local growers. In February, a deep freeze destroyed delicate peach buds before they could blossom, meaning no peaches this year for much of the Northeast.
In May, another freeze zapped blueberry and strawberry buds.
CISA is responding, and by the end of the week it’ll open its Emergency Farm Fund, a zero-interest loan program from which eligible farms can borrow up to $25,000 so they can meet expenses.
Also Tuesday, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources called on farmers who‘ve suffered a flood loss to report damages to agency Deputy Commissioner and Chief of Staff Alisha Bouchard at firstname.lastname@example.org and Director of Produce Safety Michael Botelho at email@example.com. The state also says to contact Sue Scheufele at the University of Massachusetts Extension so that they can be made aware of the extent of damages. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 508-397-3361.
Marinas up and down the river stopped operations Monday and pulled in most of their equipment.
Brunelle’s Marina in South Hadley sits on a bend of the river, said spokesman Edward W. Brown III. That means, as the torrents pushed debris down the river, the waters slammed those tree trunks and flotsam into Brunelle’s docks.
“When it’s safe to do so, they’ll do an assessment,” Brown said. “They’ve been through this before.”
In West Springfield, the Riverwalk was closed, according to Mayor William Reichelt, who urged people to be careful near the water.
For farmers, low-lying land by the river is fertile. And while farmers are accustomed to flooding in the spring, before planting, and in the fall and winter after the harvest is in, this deluge came as crops were still ripening, Adler said.
In Conway at Natural Roots, they had to hitch their horses quickly Monday to drag farm implements out of the way as the South River burst its banks, said farmer Maggie Toran. The farm’s mobile chicken coop was also in the way of the deluge. They lost a few birds, she said.
On Tuesday, Toran was setting up a GoFundMe online campaign to raise money and help cover the losses. While the waters receded, Toran was awaiting guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources about how much of the crops can be salvaged after being inundated, however briefly.
“There is a chance that we will have a total loss,” she said.
Natural Roots is a CSA, a community supported agriculture farm that sells shares of produce to members. That gives it steady financial support and also means that it grows a wide variety of vegetables. Most of them are grown near the riverbank. “Enough for 200 families,” Toran said.
In Hadley, Plainville Farm owner Walter “Wally” Czajkowski had an urgent crew harvesting cabbage from a field on Aqua Vitae Road as fast as they could.
Water already covered a third of the field. Pickers were trying to stay ahead of it.
“We’re getting two thirds of that field. By tonight, it’s all going to be underwater,” Czajkowski said.
He’s watching other fields, like those on Honey Pot Road, for encroaching water.
Plainville Farm is a third-generation family farm that sells produce to local colleges and to stores like Big Y and Stop & Shop.
Changing weather is making it harder, Czajkowski said.
“Climate change is real. There is no question about that,” he said. “All you have to do is go outside.”