Iowa Public Television

 

Washington Farmers Hit Hard by Floods Return to Markets

posted on May 23, 2008


CURTIS, Wash. (AP) — Flats of broccoli, cabbage and onions are ready for planting at Boistfort Valley Farm, where just five months ago, much of Mike Peroni's farm was buried under a foot of mud.

Plenty of mud remains, but hardy plants that were thought lost, like irises and lilies, have started to reclaim the land. Peroni and volunteers are digging trenches by hand for strawberries that are just starting to sprout.

Peroni, like dozens of farmers affected by the massive floods that swept through southwestern Washington in December, is back in business and readying his land so that he can return to farmers markets in the region by next month.

More than 150 southwest Washington producers reported about $12.5 million in damage ranging from loss of feed and dead animals to fence damage and debris, according to a flood update given to Gov. Chris Gregoire this month.

Livestock losses alone numbered about 1,600. About $152,000 in official aid has been given to farms so far, and just over $1.8 million is pending.

The Lewis County Conservation District is using $1.4 million in state money allocated this year to reimburse farmers who've had to re-fence, reseed, cultivate and remove soil from their land. The state Department of Natural Resources has been working for months to clear debris and mud from farmers' land.

But many farmers say customers' donations — in both money and volunteer time — kept them afloat.

"Without them we would have folded. There's just no doubt in my mind," Peroni said. "I gained such a clearer sense of the impact we made on people who buy food from us."

The Washington Farm Bureau donated more than $250,000 to damaged farms. The state Dairy Federation donated about 150 cows worth more than $200,000, as well as feed.

Charlie Haney, general manager of Olympia Farmer's Market, said the market raised close to $70,000 for about a dozen vendors.

Haney said she sent money to farmers who sent her receipts for things they needed that weren't covered by insurance or federal aid, including seeds and planting equipment. The market reopened on April 3, and all the farmers have already returned, or soon will, she said.

"I'm glad they're all coming back," she said. "I don't know where they pull that from. If that happened to me, I probably would have walked away. But farmers are tough."

Peroni's farm is one of 17 organic farms that were hit by the floods. In March, the state Department of Agriculture said all continue to meet organic standards.

Peroni said his ability to get back up and running was hampered by a cold, wet spring. Deliveries of his direct orders of 20-30 pound boxes of fruit and vegetables to customers will be delayed a few weeks because he wanted to wait until the ground was in the best condition possible for planting.

"Normally in our business we take a lot of risks in spring for the sake of being early," he said. "It's a year we're going to take less risks."

Peroni said much of his loss was covered by insurance, and that tens of thousands of dollars in donations helped cover things that weren't, like his irrigation system and greenhouses.

The owners of Twin Oaks Creamery in Chehalis weren't so fortunate. Their lack of flood insurance forced them to dip into federal assistance they received for their damaged home to cover farm expenses.

"It's pretty bad when you have to take your house money to feed your animals," said Heather Howell. "There was just not that immediate assistance for us."

The Howells used donations to buy a new herd of goats, many of which recently had kids, and a trailer where Heather Howell makes cheese.

The couple returned to the Olympia farmers market in April.

"My goals aren't to make money anymore, my goals are to break even," Gary Howell said. "If we can just pay the bills, we're happy."


Tags: agriculture farmers floods markets news Washington weather