Vermont farms up and running one year after Irene

Storm-related challenges still facing state’s farmers

Governor Peter Shumlin, at right, with Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, at left, and Settlement Farm owner Cyrus Scribner, announces that virtually all of the 476 Vermont farms that reported losses as a result of Tropical Storm Irene are still operating. However, restoring damaged farm land, repairing buildings and equipment, replacing lost feed, and strengthening resilience are all challenges these businesses still face, he said at the 1782 Settlement Farm in Middlesex.

“Irene’s winds and floodwaters left at least $20 million of damages in its wake. Fields and crops were washed downstream or buried under boulders, sand, and silt. Barns and greenhouses were flooded and damaged. Stored feed and firewood were swept away,” Gov. Shumlin said.  “But volunteers, emergency services, grants, and loans helped Vermont’s independent farm families get back on their feet.”

The governor was joined by Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, Vermont Community Foundation President and CEO Stuart Comstock-Gay, State Executive Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency Robert Paquin, and Settlement Farm owner Cyrus Scribner to provide an update on farmers’ progress as the state prepares for the one-year anniversary of the devastating storm.

“This support, combined with the remarkable determination and spirit of our farmers, is why these businesses are still here and getting stronger by the day,” said Sec. Ross.

“Federal and state agencies worked closely with businesses, the nonprofit sector, and the philanthropic community to assure both crisis assistance and longer-term recovery funds remain available,” Ross said. “Irene recovery demanded an unprecedented level of coordination amongst all the partners. This experience strengthened our ability to collaborate quickly and effectively, which will benefit all our programs going forward, not just when emergencies strike.”

Within weeks of Irene, the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund (VFDRF) was established by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, in partnership with the Vermont Community Foundation. Total contributions to the VFDRF approached $2.5 million and almost $1.9 million has been distributed to 198 farmers so far. For more information, to donate, or to apply, visit http://www.vtfloodresponse.org/.

“Farmers provide so much that we appreciate—delicious local food, dairy products, the working landscape itself,” said Comstock-Gay. “They remain the cornerstone for so many of our communities and we are glad we could play a pivotal role in getting these farmers back on their feet.”

“A year ago, Irene flooded our lower pumpkin and corn field, just as these two key cash crops were ready to harvest,” recalled Scribner. “The loans from the Farm Disaster Relief Fund and others were critical in our clean-up and spring purchases that kept the farm stand running.”

The USDA and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture are assessing the remaining and ongoing needs related to Irene farm recovery. Sec. Ross announced that the Agency is hiring a case manager specifically to help farmers determine what damage still needs to be addressed and assist them with finding available resources. The one-year position is funded by philanthropic dollars, in part by a grant from the VFDRF.

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