Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Bigelow Interview

Jim and Rachel Bigelow
Jim and Rachel Bigelow

Written By

Devon Karn

Written on

December 01 , 2011

Below is an excerpt from Devon Karn’s extended interview with Jim and Rachel Bigelow of the Bigelow Farm. Read Devon’s full article here.

DK: What was it like when the flood came through?

Jim Bigelow: My grandparents bought the farm in 1921, right before the flood of 1927. Dennis was telling stories about how my dad said they weren’t able to do anything with that field down there for five years after the flood of ’27.

That used to be a schoolhouse over there. (He points past his lower field to a brick building across the river, next to the Perley Farm.) My grandmother was a schoolteacher. The ’27 flood came up to the bottom of the windows, and this time it got to the top of the windows. Of course things have changed since then. The interstate was put in over the river and I think the bridge changes the flood pattern, and that’s why it totally wiped out Perley’s.

(As a side note, Duke Perley bought the schoolhouse a few years ago and had just finished renovating it before the flood ruined his work.)

When Irene came through, it cut us off from everything. The road didn’t open until over a month later. We had six fields flooded. It was a rainy day, so we didn’t have any cows in the pastures. Everybody stayed inside.

Rachel Bigelow: The water was down to normal by the next morning. It went so fast.

Jim: I don’t really know [what it will take to get the fields back]. We talked to UVM and sent soil samples, and they’re ok. They said there were slight amounts of petroleum, but it could be petroleum or it could just be organic matter. It was so slight they couldn’t really tell. Then there’s the matter of removing the sand, basically. They haven’t said anything one way or the other. They’re talking like ‘till it in,’ but it’s too deep.

DK: After the water started going down, what did you do?

Jim: We went down and helped the neighbor dig mud out of his living room. People who had houses were frantically trying to get stuff cleaned up. You couldn’t even walk down on our flats, so we weren’t worried about trying to clean up our fields. It was at least a week before we could do anything down there. You still can’t drive on them and the cows can’t go down there, it’s still too wet in the green parts. The sand is hard so you can drive around on that.

Rachel: The vegetables were high enough and weren’t affected, but we were cut off from the farmers’ market for two weeks.

Jim: The vocational school in Randolph was here doing riverbed cleanup recently, 125 kids picking up trash and tires. The wood is still too heavy to pick up. A lot of junk. Everything’s trashed. We found a backpack that was still in one piece, but it had been sitting in swamp water.

DK: Do you think of the river differently now?

Rachel: No. It looks pretty much the same. It floods a little every year anyway. That’s what makes this good agricultural land.

Jim: But everything in moderation.

DK: Do you think you’ll be ok?

Dennis Bigelow: I think the economy is more of a kick in the pants right now. It’s been so twisted.

Rachel: Milk prices have been really up and down. A few years ago they were really, really low, and that kind of put us behind.

Jim: The price is up right now but it will probably go back down. Fuel prices are always high. Seed prices are high.

DK: What’s been the mood on the street?

Jim: Despair.

Rachel: The people in the yellow house moved away, they’re not coming back. Same with the other house. They’re not coming back either. I think those are the people that are really the most affected.

Photo by Elizabeth Ferry

About the Author

Devon Karn

Devon Karn

Devon Karn is a freelance copywriter who writes, gardens, and revels in Vermont’s bounty from her historic Burlington neighborhood.

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