Organic Farms Devastated By Hurricane Harvey Need Your Help

They've lost everything.

September 1, 2017
truck stuck in texas flood
Joe Raedle/getty

Hurricane Harvey has dumped a record-breaking 50 inches of rain, and the National Weather Service calls the flooding "unprecedented." The historic storm has been catastrophic: it has already caused at least 30 reported deaths and left hundreds of thousands stranded.

In addition to the extreme property damage in residential areas, farmlands have been devastated by the flooding, which is deeply harmful to Texas' agricultural economy, and that of the greater U.S. (Read more on how volunteers rushed to save 250,000 drowning bats in Houston.)

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CNBC reports that, "While about 98 percent of the cotton in the Corpus Christi area had been harvested, that doesn't mean that the crop is safe from contamination by flooding."

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The FDA has issued strict warnings for all edible foods, crops, fruits, vegetables: if they are exposed to flood waters they need to be disposed of. That means farmers may be losing all of their crops if they are touched by flood waters—a devastating blow to their livelihoods—and the larger U.S. agricultural economy.

Watch the video below to learn about how veterans are becoming farmers:

Farms seeing devastation in the wake of Harvey

Gundermann Acres, a 500-acre farm in Wharton County, Texas, was hit hard by the flood. They wrote on their Facebook page, "Like so many others, we have pretty much lost everything. Most people assume all farmers have insurance, well, when your a vegetable farmer that is not the case. You are out of the norm, therefore you are a risk. This is our livelihood, totally dependent on Mother Nature, and right now she is def showing us who's boss...and we are not quite sure how this will all work out." (You can support Gundermann Acres Farm by donating on their YouCaring.com page.)

Related: Conventional Farming Ruined The Soil On Our Farm—Here's How We Saved It

 

Some farms have seen their barns destroyed but are considering themselves lucky to have their livestock still alive, like Four String Farm in Rockport, Texas, which found almost all of its 200 animals still alive despite the storm wrecking their farm. Still, they estimate a loss exceeding $60,000. (They've since created a GoFundMe page if you'd like to donate directly to them.)

Some farmers at higher elevations were better off, such as Glen Miracle of Laughing Frog organic farm. Situated 270 feet above sea level in Hempstead, Texas, the 21-acre farm sustained limited damage, Whole Foods Magazine reports.

Flooding from Harvey has also hit parts of Arksanas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio. But even before this most recent disaster, Shawn Peebles, a third-generation organic farmer who runs Peebles Farm in McCrory, Arkansas, told Rodale's Organic Life they've been hit with a particularly devastating rainy season for three years in a row.

Peebles explained they can't get their pumpkins insured in the state of Arkansas, despite trying for many years, so any crop loss is just that: a loss. In his case, it could be a loss of millions of dollars.

"We have nothing to fall back on whatsoever," Peebles said in a phone interview. "It may be possible to save some of the crops. Right now we hope to have 50 percent of potatoes yet. And if we have 50 percent, we will make it. But if we have 100 percent loss... well, then, we're going back to the banks to ask for forgiveness. We've been in the organic business a long time. This is farming, and you expect some loss and you can control it—but you don't expect to see 100 percent. I would have never dreamed I'd see that."

 

Though Harvey has been devastating, there's a darker picture emerging for agriculture in America: this is far from a unique or isolated event. Farmers have been seeing big problems on the horizon for years now.

Farmers count their losses, note alarming trends

storm over farm
Signature Exposures Photography by Shannon Bileski/getty

Peebles, an organic farmer with 1,500 acres to his name, spent all day away from the sopping wet crops at his McCrory, Arkansas farm yesterday. Instead took a team of 30 farm workers to fill sandbags and build a barrier to protect a local school from a sudden flash flood caused by Harvey. Peebles, who grows organic green beans, edamame, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins, said it doesn't matter if he's not at his farm—there's nothing he can do for his crops now.

"We've had 3 years now of wetter years than normal; this by far being the wettest. Rainfall or wet years and organic farms don't mix: it's like mixing oil and water. If it's dry I can irrigate my crops in Arkansas so if I can control my water I do fine, but when I get 9 inches of rainfall there's nothing I can do."

While organic farmers might have more trouble with extreme wetness (because it makes hand-weeding and cultivation, which they do instead of spraying chemicals, next to impossible), the change in weather patterns has severely affected organic and conventional farmers alike, and can be expected to severely impact the price of food in grocery stores, too.

"I've lived here all my life," he said, "And our problems started even earlier this year. We just had so much rain this year that our pumpkins got disease in them and died, and then yesterday we got 9 inches of rain on our sweet potato crop."

Related: Only 1% Of Farmland In The US Is Organic—This Program Is Changing That

Farmers all over the country, including large-scale, non-organic corn farmers, are increasingly anxious about unpredictable weather's detrimental effect on their crops. Extreme weather has been plaguing farmers from the Midwest to California for years now.

Peebles, who serves on the USDA Specialty Crop Committee, said he met with other farmers from around the nation recently: "I just came back from our meeting in Michigan. Our conversation was all about how crazy the weather is nationwide."

And it's not isolated to any particular crop, Peebles says, "We have a peach producer who lost his entire peach crop this year because it all bloomed in February because it was so warm! This seems to be a national if not a global issue. All of our extremes are more extreme now."

Meanwhile, a national conversation about climate change continues to be mired in empty political theatrics rather than turning to practical, no-nonsense solutions—just days before Harvey struck, an executive order was issued reversing regulations to protect U.S. infrastructure against flooding.

"We've just got to hold on," Peebles said, "It's got to get better."

A few ways you can help

Donate directly to local farmers affected, like Gundermann Acres or Four String Farm.

The crowdfunding non-profit Barnraiser is hosting a major crowdfunding campaign for Texas Center for Local Food along with 7 partner organizations to aid in the relief and recovery for farmers and ranchers impacted by the massive disaster caused by Hurricane Harvey. 

The Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association has disaster-relief resources from farmers suffering from the storm listed on their website. You can also follow on their Facebook page.

If a small farm doesn't have insurance, here are some state and federal disaster relief resources that may be able to help.

Donate to: Texas Farm Bureau Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. They write that, "One hundred percent of the donations to this fund will be dispersed via an application process directly to farmers and ranchers located in counties that have been designated as disaster areas by the federal government for this event."

Are you a farmer hit hard by Harvey? Check out the Farmer's Legal Action Group, which has resources for farmers, including a Farmers’ Guide to Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) to help farmers affected by Hurricane Harvey.