Flood Impacts Felt Statewide

Foote Brook Farm

Foote Brook Farm in Johnson, Vermont. 

The flooding that occurred in July across Vermont caused significant and devastating disruptions to many farms. The impact was unlike anything many farm owners had ever experienced in their lifetimes. Here’s a look at how the floods affected several farms.

Foote Brook Farm, Johnson, Vermont

Two weeks after the flood, Joie Lehouillier, of Foote Brook Farm in Johnson, was on her way to Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier with a delivery of cucumbers. The cucumbers were among the 25 percent of organic vegetables spared from flooding on the farm.

“We lost about 75 percent of our crops. The major thing for us is that we lost so much infrastructure. There was five to six feet of water in our barn that ruined packaging, forklifts, compressors, and all the things we need to continue to go on,” Lehouillier said.

The farm’s machinery was hit hard too. Eleven tractors, an excavator, and a bucket loader were all underwater. Lehouillier said the flood waters far surpassed the water levels during Hurricane Irene in 2011.

“We’re in a lot of trouble for sure,” Lehouillier said. “We’re trying, and we have a lot of hope that we’ll be able to get financial support. I don’t know many farmers who have crop insurance. Even if you get it, it doesn’t cover much. Most years, it’s just another bill you get. Going forward, it’s something we will look at. But it definitely wasn’t going to save our lives.”

Lahouillier says community support has kept them in business. Family members took time off from work to drain tractors and flush them, while crews removed flood debris from the buildings and land.

“We have tons of community support. If it wasn’t for our community, we would have had to lay everyone off and shut our doors,” Lahouillier said. “July is when we start being able to make money and sell the vegetables and pay off our loans we incur during the early season.”

The farm’s beet and squash crops were above water, and Lahouillier says that income is keeping them going for now.

“It’s going to be tough next year without infrastructure. We don’t have coolers right now. Even if we pick the beets, I don’t know where we’ll store them,” Lahouillier said. “Everyone wants to give us a loan, but we have so much debt, we can’t. Eventually, we will have to, but we can’t consider it right now.”

For those interested in supporting the farm, there is a recovery fund on their website, and Lahouillier says every bit helps.

“Come to the farmstand and shop and keep farms in the forefront of your mind,” Lahouillier said. “We aren’t confident federal help is coming, so if our state and communities can help us, we’ll make it. Otherwise, we’ll have a lot fewer farms, and that will be really sad.”

Boyden Farm, Cambridge Vermont

Mark Boyden, of Boyden Farm in Cambridge, Vermont, says while they had extensive damage to many of their crop fields, he’s grateful their beef farm wasn’t hit harder. “I have crop insurance on the corn and the soybean crops at 70 percent, so it’s better than nothing but still a hit,” Boyden said. Boyden also lost fields of barley and rye intended for distillers along with hay fields that were ready for second cut. “The Agency of Ag is offering some funding,” Boyden said. “It’s minor compared to the damages that aren’t covered by insurance, but it’s better than zero. We’re just grateful our buildings and cattle weren’t hit. We’re okay compared to people who had houses that were in the flood or all of their vegetable fields in the flood. We’ll get through this.”

Cate Farm, in Plainfield, Vermont. The farm lost one greenhouse that fortuitously was taken out of tomato production this year. It was home to owner Flint Wiswall’s personal garden.

Cate Farm, Plainfield, Vermont

Flint Wiswall, of Cate Farm in Plainfield, Vermont, woke up the morning of July 11 to the sound of water lapping outside his bedroom.

“It’s the most water I’ve ever seen in my life. I paddled through the covered bridge and over my burdock field that was under 15 feet of water,” Wiswall said.

The burdock root was intended for local cooperatives, herbal companies, and Whole Foods. The flood waters covered it too long for it to survive, and it was a 100 percent loss. The farm’s barn also flooded along with two pieces of machinery.

Wiswall has crop insurance through FSA and will get some relief, though it won’t cover the full expense to replace the 1.5-acre burdock field. Luckily, the farm’s greenhouses were all on higher ground and not impacted by the flood, and so the vast majority of their organic plants and produce were unscathed.

“My Dad has been farming for 42 years, and I’ve been comanaging for the past seven years, and this year he finally retired, and I took over, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is an interesting way to take on a business.’ I’ve been talking with other farmers and they’re like, ‘Well, this is the worst thing that could possibly happen, so it can only go up from here,'”Wiswall said, “and hopefully, that is true.”

White Rock Farm, Randolph, Vermont

Matt Angell, of White Rock Farm in Randolph, Vermont, lost about 20 acres of corn at their 140-cow dairy farm because it was knocked over by the flood, as well as 20 acres of hay, which they harvested and composted.

“The corn that got knocked over is starting to come back, but I don’t think it’s going to be a viable crop,” Angell said. “That’s about 25 percent of our corn crop.”

Angell has been discussing with his feed dealer what to do about the corn fields that were flooded, but not knocked over, “We think we have enough good corn to dilute out the silted corn we do end up harvesting. The hope is because it hadn’t made an ear yet, it won’t be too bad.”

Though they didn’t have crop insurance on their 80 acres of corn, Angell says they’ll be okay, “We try not to have our eggs in one basket. We run a sawmill and sell horse hay. I have enough feed that it will be all right. Our loss will be easier to weather than a lot of other people’s.”

To learn about flood relief available for farmers visit the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Market’s 2023 Flooding Disaster Response and Recovery Resources.