Devastating Storm Delivers Unprecedented Blow to Vermont’s Farmers

A significant storm has brought over nine inches of rainfall on portions of Vermont. More than 1.2 million acres of Vermont’s land dedicated to agriculture and food and food production, the flooding has devastated 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 experienced the impacts of extreme flooding. The damages range from small losses in fields, to total 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, had less than a one percent chance of happening in the region of the nation. In the wake of localized floods, washouts, and road closures grew more severe throughout Vermont on the day one of the storm the governor Phil Scott declared a state of emergency.

The agricultural and food industries are responsible for US$19.3 billion for Vermont’s overall economy according to the group Feeding the Economy. The destruction of farms locally across the state result in an enormous economic loss at 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 to income as well as loss of job this time of year. However, there’s also a loss for those with limited incomes who were on programs for food access receiving food. The land is also affected. in general, concerns over contamination, and what the rebuilding process will be like.”

A few farmers are only getting out in their fields to evaluate the extent of damage, while others 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 people. “Resilience is in diversity and is in community,” Oedel informs Food Tank. “We have farmers who support one another with a lot of passion. With diversified farms and cultivating diversified crop varieties in different ecosystems as well as across different parts of our state, we’re far stronger than only had a few people cultivating just one thing in a single way, at a single location.”

The hot temperatures of early spring and a frosty May and a poor quality of air because of Canadian wildfires in June led to a tense growing season for Vermont’s farmers. Oedel states that the recent historic flooding only reinforced the growing concern about a “climate catastrophe” in Vermont’s agriculture sector.

Although the extent of the destruction is not yet known the extent of damage is still unknown, however, local authorities, state 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 floods began. This resource is designed to provide the available information to farmers today and includes how to report losses as well as guidelines specific to dairy, meat and other produce-related operations.

Community-based organizations like the Northeast Organic Farming Association of VermontIntervale CenterThe Vermont Community Foundation, and the Center for Agricultural Economy are in the forefront of efforts to offer immediate relief funds for farmers as federal relief is settled. There is also the Vermont Garden Network has also put together a list of sources for gardeners that outline the initial steps to the recovery of their gardens.

Vice President Biden was also given his approval to emergency aid for relief. Assessors with 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 disaster. However, Oedel expects that the bulk of the money will be allocated to municipalities to repair infrastructure and may never get to the farming community.

Oedel is asking Vermonters to join in the support of their local farmers with donations or by volunteering. With the majority of emergency shelters across the state being empty, the emphasis for volunteers has been shifting to providing water and food to those who are still in need of it and assisting in the repair of infrastructure.

“This is an all of us issue,” Oedel informs Food Tank. “It’s not just affecting farmers but we all are food-eating and everyone needs water and food. Therefore, we are with our farmers and stand with them in solidarity as a part of our food security is tied by all of this.”

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