Tuesday, September 06, 2011

a mighty mighty rain

The rain that we’ve been getting all summer? It’s not a plop plop plop kind of rain; it’s fine but heavy, like a block of mist, an image that is almost as strange as the idea of a black hole. All summer I thought there was something weird about it... you’d look up from a meeting or work or reading on the porch and you’d say, 'Oh, it’s raining.' It was a silent rain, almost sneaky. And it WAS different.

Irene’s rain was that fine rain, too, and it started at 10pm on Saturday and finally let up around 6pm on Sunday. We got... what? anywhere from 4.5 to I don’t know, I’ve heard people say... 12 inches? 17?

About 3 in the afternoon I put on a yellow slicker and walked down to where Roaring Brook – usually a brisk and charming little stream – was snarling and biting the air under 140 and leaping at and over – all thunderous brown curls – the railroad bridge and then attacking Otter Creek. The Creek then thundered on, fed by a million Roaring Brooks – doesn’t every town have one? – dug out the approach to Elm Street Bridge and rolled up over River Street, taking out the basements and first floors of houses along it.

That’s when it began to sink in. But it was FaceBook and updates from the Herald and VPR that brought home that Vermont today was not Saturday’s Vermont. Oh my goodness, yes. I mean no. And the theme became – How can we get there from here? We used to be so cut off from each other  but connected by roads. Now it’s the opposite. If we do now live in a dystopian world, it may be happy to the degree that we do not feel alone in our endeavors, in our efforts to stay alive and nurture ourselves. We're all, you'll excuse me, in the same boat. Perhaps we will have to nuance our meaning of dystopia. Perhaps it’s working together in the face of a violent Mother Universe -- for this was no doing of Mother Nature -- this was the outrage of the universe.
A few days after Irene, I took a right turn on 103 towards Cuttingsville from Wallingford and felt a faster thrill of the heart – as though we were heading to the edge of the known world! And we were – to roads just barely passable and a farm that had been completely wiped out by a mighty rain.
Kara Fitzgerald and Ryan Wood-Beauchamp of Evening Song Farm came on the Market scene absolutely
gangbusters at the beginning of the season.
 By now you’ve all heard about the seven-acre Evening Song Farm whose lovely little stream-turned-ferocious-monster reduced it to two acres. It leapt from the back of the farm, behind the tree line, to gobble up a 15 foot rise and carry all those acres of soil downstream. It miraculously left the house and barn – in which the summer’s garlic and onions were safely drying – looking out upon an idyllic river beach instead of cabbages and tomatoes. The river has moved. It intends to stay in its new home. I know these words are in vain... you cannot imagine this without seeing it.

Though not quite undaunted, the two twenty-six year old owners – Kara and Ryan – found themselves beached upon a heartening shelf of community concern and activism. Standing with Kara I motioned to men chain sawing log debris and piling a lifetime’s firewood chunks: Friends of yours, I asked? “I have no idea who they are,” said Kara. “People just show up and do what needs to be done.”

Kara and Ryan are so community minded – they often wondered if their vibrantly successful first season working alone was what they really wanted to do – and the Shrewsbury community so helpful and welcoming that I can see another Shrewsbury institution being formed here. Kara and Ryan may be to Shrewsbury Farm what the Sarckas were to Spring Lake Ranch and the Pierces to Pierce’s Store.
Indeed, Ryan wrote on the website, “Our long-term goal when we began the adventure of Evening Song Farm was to create a true community farm over time: to develop deep and meaningful connections with the people who are nourished by our food.” That sounds like it was made in Shrewsbury heaven.
If they didn’t lose their very soil, as Evening Song did, many farms lost all or much of their 2011 harvest. Only about 2 weeks ago I attended a NOFA-NY conference held at Kilpatrick Family Farm over in Granville. They had 7 acres under cultivation and Michael Kilpatrick led a caravan of cars into Granville to 4 beautifully planted acres of sweet potatoes and kale and Brussels sprouts. Carrots.

A few days later, when the Mettowee finished its Irene rage, well, here is what Michael Kilpatrick wrote: “During it's watery, violent rampage, it covered our entire Granville production field, tearing through winter squash, cucumbers, and carrots and flooding our beets, Brussels sprouts, leeks, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and a multitude of greens.

“Almost as quickly, by Tuesday noon, the water had receded, but left around (preliminary estimates) $80,000 in destroyed and damaged crops.”

The young Kilpatricks kept the first Rutland Winter Market well supplied with an amazing array of fall and winter veggies back in 2007/8 and again the next year. They have since ceased vending in Rutland, being ultra busy with nearer-by markets.

Closer to home, Yvonne Brunot’s and Ed Safford’s Right Mind Farm in Wallingford was ruined for the time being when Otter Creek, which lies possibly a quarter mile away behind their farm, spread its maw over all their fields and up to the house. Onions and garlic were already harvested, and they’ll be selling those at the Farmers’ Market along with fresh sprouts, soaps, and flowers. Their tomatoes and potatoes and squash – anything that was not harvested yet – is all a loss!

Mort and Mary Brown’s Timberloft farm store in Center Rutland was flooded, almost a total loss, though both were at the Farmers’ Market Saturday and seemed in good spirits. They’ve been through it before, although not perhaps quite this bad, and they know there’s a lot of hard work that they’re intent on doing by themselves at this point. When they need help they’ll ask for it. I bought eggs from them, and some jam and pickles!
Jason Martin from Woods Market told me at the Rutland Farmers’ Market Saturday – by the way, very well attended by both vendors and customers – that many people were questioning whether or not the produce offered for sale was safe to eat.

What? I said. Where would they get this idea?

“Well,” he said, “they’re not to blame for asking the question.”

Did some state office or official actually caution people not to eat local produce because it might have been contaminated by floodwater? Or was that the interpretation of a clueless reporter.

“That’s JUST why you buy from your local farmer or market,” said Jason, “and not from a grocery store. Your local farmer knows whether his or her own product could have been contaminated by flood waters – or whatever else is out there – and they would never in a hundred years offer contaminated produce to their customers. You go to your local farmer to get the best and the healthiest. What are they talking about, don’t buy local?

“Sheeshhhh!” he finished.

Well said!

Woods Market Farm is just one of our many farms that were minimally harmed by Irene. We’ve got lots of good fresh produce going on into the fall and winter. So let’s just remember to Buy Local. It’s more important now than ever before.
What can you do to help, besides BUY LOCAL.
  • Check out Evening Song’s website for the best way to help them.
  • Go to the RAFFL  website to find other ways, or give RAFFL a call at (802) 417-1528.
  • And this, from RAFFL's website: “The Vermont Community Foundation and Agency of Agriculture have built the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund to help farmers through the current crisis. http://www.vermontcf.org/give-now . If you want to make a donation specifically for Rutland County through the Vermont Community Foundation (it's possible!), please call RAFFL first (802) 417-1528.
  • Fat Toad Farm is donating all of this Wednesday's 9/7) on-line proceeds to Evening Song. Their goats' milk caramel is wonderful! Drizzle it over chèvre or burrata. Or peaches.

Yes indeed, Irene was a mighty mighty rain. And instead of being a once in a lifetime happening it may just be an omen of things to come, even if we were able clean up our carbon footprint Ps and Qs immediately if not sooner!

For some of us, our whole ability to reside in this world with any equanimity at all depends upon thinking that we are perfectly capable of feeding ourselves outside the jurisdiction of the federal government’s industrial food system. If events even worse than Irene continue to happen, if our rivers rise up in black mutiny and eat our fertile farmland, then we won’t be able to feed ourselves. And you know for yourself, whoever controls the food chain controls the world. I’d a hell of a lot rather it was our local farmer than Monsanto.

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