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A Vermont farmer faces the aftermath of massive flooding

In an aerial view, water covers residential property after heavy rain on July 10, 2023 in Londonderry, Vt.
Scott Eisen
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Getty Images
In an aerial view, water covers residential property after heavy rain on July 10, 2023 in Londonderry, Vt.

"It's all gone." That's what one Vermont farmer said about his 30-acre vegetable farm in Burlington, following the worst flooding the state has seen since the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in 2011.

Who is he?

  • Eric Seitz has co-owned Pitchfork Farm with Rob Rock for 18 years 
  • The farm grows and locally delivers organic produce like radishes, carrots, green onions, and salad greens – and operates year-round
  • What's the big deal?

  • Water from massive rainfall on Monday completely drowned his fields. Seitz estimates $350,000 to $400,000 in lost crop sales. Not only will he not be able to sell the crops currently in the field – it'll take a while before he's ready to plant anything else. 
  • Until today, Seitz had to use a canoe to move around his fields. "Which is oddly, bizarrely beautiful," he says. "It's all just gone – the whole year's worth of work. The farm was in great shape up until Monday. Now, acres of peppers and winter squash, salad greens, they're all dead or dying, but certainly unsellable. And they're covered in debris from God knows where – from Barre, Montpelier, Huntington, Richmond – and all it all ends up in our field. Everything's covered in a kind of a silty clay, I don't even know what it is. Some kind of sludge."
  • Seitz and Pitchfork Farm are one small piece of the full agricultural landscape in Vermont, a highly rural state that has been ravaged by this flooding.
  • What are people saying? NPR's Adrian Florido spoke with him about what the farm is facing.

    On preparing for the storm to come in:

    By Sunday, it was pretty apparent that something major was happening, though we still had no sense of the scale. And then Monday, we kept going. And the hydrographs we were looking at were showing something we've never seen since Tropical Storm Irene 12 years ago. And so we got going. We started putting out some calls for volunteers on social media. And by late afternoon, I don't know, 40, 50 people at the farm helping bunch radishes and scallions. And we farm in a floodplain right next to one of the larger rivers in the state. And we farm right at the tail end of that river. So all the rain falling in central Vermont ends up running next to our field, which by Tuesday morning – that field was just just part of the river. And I've never seen it like that.

    On the financial state of the farm:

    We incur a lot of debt in the spring. It's an investment that we know will pay off come September and October. That return on investment probably will not happen this year, but the debts remain. So when we can, when the fields dry out enough, we'll continue to plant quicker-growing crops. I think salad greens, you know, bunching herbs, radishes, things like that, you know, arugula that can be seated and harvested within 21 days, radishes, 28 days, something like that. So we'll continue to go with things like that. But that's primarily to keep our crew afloat and to pay down debt. But as far as the rest of it, I'm not sure.

    So, what now?

  • Vermont's not out of the woods quite yet. Forecasters expected thunderstorms Thursday which could produce flash flooding, and possibly even more heavy rain in days to come.
  • The Vermont Agency of Agriculture released a list of resources for farmers seeking assistance. Seitz says he has faith that Vermont's congressional delegation can fight for federal aid for all of the state's farmers. "We'll see what happens as far as other avenues for compensation," he says. "I'm not holding my breath that it'll certainly cover the full scope of what we've lost. But I'm sure there will be some aid, and we'll do our best to take advantage of it."
  • Learn more:

  • Waters are receding in Vermont's state capital after historic flooding
  • The Southwest's enduring heat wave is expected to intensify over the weekend
  • Resident describes flooding in Vermont
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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