Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Hurricane Flats Interview
Written onDecember 01 , 2011
Below is an excerpt from Devon Karn’s extended interview with Geo Honigford of Hurricane Flats Farm. Read Devon’s full article here.
DK: When you heard on the news that the storm was coming, what did you think?
Geo Honigford: I know from history that storms and floods happen. It never occurred to me that we’d get that much rain. The standard joke when I was on jobsites the week after the hurricane—I spent the whole time working on other people’s houses—was ‘oh we don’t have to do that, the river will never get THIS high again.’ It never occurred to me that the river would get up there. We were buttoned down for wind. We had greenhouses full of crops and we were really concerned about wind. And it turned out that we had no wind whatsoever. Just copious amounts of rain. The sides of my greenhouses are slashed – we did that. We waded out into the river, and the pressure was building up on the greenhouse sides and was going to collapse it. So we had to let the water go through the greenhouse, basically reverse the process; instead of battening them up, we had to open them up. We didn’t have time to open them up properly so we just took knives to them. It’s a lot cheaper to lose the plastic than to lose the frame.
DK: Once the water went down, what did you do?
I got involved in the wider clean-up effort and worked in other houses all over the place. And since I’m one of the people who knows a little bit about construction I could help tell people what to do. We started getting in volunteers and realized that the homeowners were in shock and incapable of managing the volunteers, and didn’t want to manage volunteers. And the volunteers were wandering around trying to be useful, but they didn’t know what to do. There were people washing hardwood floors that we had to tear out instead. On day two, we had a big meeting at my house and came back and changed our approach. We basically went to the homeowners and said, we’re not going to tell you guys what to do, but we’re going to tell the volunteers what to do.
DK: Do you look at the river differently now?
I used to love the river. I’m a little – I don’t know if the word is ‘mad’—at the river. The river’s hurt my feelings [he says with a sarcastic chuckle]. If it were summer now, I don’t think I’d go for a swim in it, let’s put it that way. A lot if this is because what they’ve been doing to it, too. People have been in it with heavy equipment, and have really done some things to it they shouldn’t have. The governor had given people permission to do what they need to do, and boy did they do it. In some areas they’ve literally channelized the river, completely straightened it, narrowed, it made it deeper. All they’ve done is increased the power of the river. It’s like if you put your finger over the end of a garden hose, you make a fast current. They’ve also taken too much material off the sides, and that’s going to cause a lot of damage. I’m a member of the White River Partnership, and I’ve been aware of these issues for a long time.
That’s part of the gamble you take when you farm on my land. Other farmers have been envious of my land – there’s no rocks, it drains fast, I’ve got 20 feet of topsoil. It’s a great place to farm. But the risk is the flooding. All these years, the guys have been like ‘Oh, you’re so lucky to be down there, I love that river bottom land.’ After I got flooded, I said, ‘What do you think of that land now?’ And they’re like, ‘We like where we farm.’ That’s the thing. I’ve got to take the good with the bad. There are parts of the world where communities farm the volcanic land, where there’s very good soil. But you gotta live next to a volcano. That’s how it is.
DK: How are you coming along?
We’re putting it all back together. The heavy equipment is done. We’ve got the erosion holes filled, the sand is piled by the river. And I’ve got new drainage ditches cut, all the debris picked up. If you take a look at it, it looks almost like springtime. Tilled and ready to plant. Those are areas where we scraped the sand off. That’s the best we can do for this year.