Evening Song Farm, Cuttingsville
In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, young farmers Kara Fitzgerald and Ryan Wood Beauchamp faced a difficult decision.
Irene had swept their five acres of riverside crops down the Mill River, along with their topsoil, greenhouse, and irrigation system. They received a grant from the Vermont Community Foundation’s Farm Disaster Relief Fund and a loan from the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont as well as donations from many individuals.
Although they were committed to farming in the long run, they were unsure about the next season: Should they find work elsewhere while they collected themselves and looked for new land to buy or should they jump back into farming somehow and plant for a 2012 harvest?
Friends made the decision easier: One offered to allow them to grow crops on four acres uphill in the town of Shrewsbury and another, at P.J. Bushey’s nursery in East Wallingford, offered greenhouse space to start their spring plants.
“We ended up deciding to go for it,” said Wood Beauchamp.
And this time, the weather cooperated. A warm spring meant that in March they were able to plow the field, which had not been planted recently, and start working the soil for spring planting.
They had started garlic on the plot in the fall and in the spring planted tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, peppers, greens, and more.
This summer their community supported agriculture program has 70 members and they have had a good season selling produce at the Rutland and Ludlow farmers’ markets.
In the meantime they are in the process of buying part of the parcel where they have been growing this year. And they’ve been busy growing winter-storage crops like potatoes, beets, winter squash, cabbage and, rutabagas to tide their customers over to spring.
“We’re really looking forward to being able to provide locally grown, healthy, nourishing food year-round,” said Wood Beauchamp.
After Irene - October 2011
When Tropical Storm Irene swept into Vermont, Kara Fitzgerald and Ryan Wood Beauchamp prepared for the effects of high winds on their five-acre field of vegetables. They picked tomatoes and otherwise battened down their small produce farm.
This was their first growing season on the land they had bought in 2010, a flat piece of an old farm tucked in between the Mill River and a bend in Route 103 just south of Cuttingsville, near Rutland. They had built the soil with compost and cover crops. They had 50 customers signed on for their Community Supported Agriculture program and they were having a great harvest.
On Monday morning after Irene, the river, normally a small, rocky stream in the fall, was rising alarmingly fast. Soon it was higher than it is during spring runoff. By 11:15 it was coming over its banks. Fifteen minutes later torrents of water and huge waves roared across their field.
“The arugula’s going to be ruined!” thought Kara. “I hope we can still dig the potatoes.” “Never in our wildest dreams did we think there’d be a river where our vegetables were,” said Ryan.
But that’s what happened. The Mill River formed a new channel across their crops and scoured away the topsoil, their greenhouse and their new irrigation system, leaving a field of jumbled rocks, sand, and boulders. And almost no sign of their work.
Since then they have been trying to serve their customers with what they had harvested before the flood and some new greens that they have started, but one thing seemed abundantly clear: Their young farm was gone. There was no soil to grow on. They decided they would have to find another piece of land for the next growing season.
Fitzgerald and Wood Beauchamp, who met at Earlham College, a Quaker school in Indiana, have found great support for farming in Vermont, from their neighbors to the state Department of Agriculture. In addition to a grant from the Vermont Community Foundation’s Farm Disaster Relief Fund, they have received help from the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont and the Vermont Farm Fund as well as donations from many individuals. One of their customers cried when they returned to the Rutland Farmers’ Market with the remnants of their crop. A fellow farmer gave them use of an acre and a half to grow fall greens.
By mid-October they were ready to offer their CSA customers a produce pick-up. It wasn’t big, but it was something.
Despite the hand that Irene dealt them, Ryan said, “I still think we made the right decision moving here.