AP News

Damaged Vermont farms still operating after Irene

MIDDLESEX, Vt. (AP) — A year after Tropical Storm Irene inundated Vermont, all 476 of the farms that reported damage are still operating — thanks in part to contributions from Vermonters — but they continue to deal with the aftermath of the flooding, state officials said Wednesday.

The storm that hit on Aug. 28, 2011, caused at least $20 million in damage to the state's farmland, wreaking havoc on 26,000 acres, burying equipment, washing away fields, contaminating feed and vegetable crops, and leaving behind debris, sand and rocks. As damage reports went out, offers of help came in.

Within weeks, the Vermont Department of Agriculture, working with the Vermont Community Foundation, set up a fund to help farmers. To date, the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund has raised nearly $2.5 million from mostly Vermonters. About $1.9 million has gone to 198 farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has distributed $7.4 million to Vermont farmers in disaster assistance and crop insurance.

"In spite of the 476 farmers who received damage, the $20 million worth of damage inflicted upon our agricultural community, loss of crops, loss of farmland, loss of equipment, loss of feed and other things, the 26,000 acres that we lost, we have not lost one single farm because of Irene," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, crediting the generosity of Vermonters. "That's a huge accomplishment."

But more help is needed as farmers continue to restore their land, replace lost feed, and face high grain costs because of the drought in the Midwest. The deadline to apply for the fund's next round of grants is Monday. The average grant is $7,900. Some farms have received more than one grant.

"Last year was our most challenging year by far," said fourth-generation farmer Cyrus Scribner, 25, of the 1782 Settlement Farm in Middlesex.

The farm had eight acres of crops — sweet corn, pumpkins, winter squash and melon — in a lower field near the Winooski River when Irene hit. It lost the crops to the flood waters, with pumpkins bobbing down the river.

"It was tough," Scribner said. "Our fall season, our pumpkin season, is the time of year when we go from being in the red to being in the black typically. So without the support of the Community Foundation and the community in general, our loyal customers, and everybody who stops here, we wouldn't be here today."

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