Editor’s Note Winter 2012

Hay rake, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Hay rake, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Written By

Caroline Abels

Written on

April 30 , 2013

We bushwhacked our way through a tangled patch of riverbank plants. The thick stems were still bent from the rushing flood waters, parallel with the ground as if bowing respectfully to the river. That river, the Dog River, was babbling as sweetly as any other Vermont tributary that early September day, but those of us on the volunteer clean-up crew at Dog River Farm in Berlin had a lot more respect for it—and for the power of water—than we’d had just a week before.

A pumpkin was hanging from a tree. That’s not where it was supposed to be, of course. On this Saturday of Labor Day weekend, it should have been happily growing on the ground at this vegetable farm on Route 12 outside of Montpelier. I picked the pumpkin like an apple and tossed it into a heaping pile of debris that volunteers were assembling at the edge of river and field.

“Anybody need some paint?” a fellow said, holding up a full can he’d retrieved from the riverbank.

Some folks pulled a heavy, slithering fire hose out of the bushes. We tugged at strands of black plastic row cover that had gotten wrapped around the trees like tinsel.

At that point—six days after Tropical Storm Irene hit Vermont on August 28—it was unclear whether the government would allow farmers to sell produce from flooded fields. (Eventually, it was determined they could not.) So farmer George Gross asked us to leave the riverbank and harvest potatoes from a flooded field.

We harvested diligently, about 20 of us, rarely breaking our focused silence. A newspaper photographer showed up and asked how many of us were members of Dog River Farm’s CSA. Very few of us were. We didn’t need a relationship to the farm to do what we were doing.

At one point, George bent down and stuck his hand in the ground. “These are the best potatoes we’ve ever grown,” he said to no one in particular. “For sure.”

And so it went on numerous Vermont farms. Three months after the flood, we bring you an issue of Local Banquet that examines Irene’s impact on Vermont farms from a few different angles: how three farms in one town experienced Irene and its aftermath; the issue of whether or not to eat flooded produce ; and how farming in Vermont could change if major floods become frequent . On our website, you can read about some of the farm funds that were established in the wake of Irene and the fundraisers that were held to help farmers.

Irene is still a story in development, still shifting and changing like the rivers affected by the storm. So consider our coverage a marker of where we are today, a reflection of a moment in time, just like those high-water mark signs that are now likely appearing on many a Vermont farm.

—Caroline Abels

About the Author

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels is the editor of Local Banquet and the founder-editor of Humaneitarian.org, a website that inspires people to buy and eat humanely raised meat.

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Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape ties into larger questions of sustainability and the future of our food supply.