Farming Through a Hurricane

September 9-15, 2019

I can only imagine the incredible amount of preparation and work needed to batten down the farming hatches ahead of an approaching hurricane. We have persevered through ice storms, tremendous tree-ripping thunderstorms, and sub-zero spells, but nothing like a hurricane. I’m sure each generation of farmers along the Carolina coast has their hurricane story to share, so there is some level of preparedness built into their operations, but geez, it would be quite an undertaking to protect your investment, your livelihood, and the well-being of the animals under your care from such fury.

Most likely, the majority of roads and farmsteads of the coastal plains are above some theoretical 50-year flood line.  If they weren’t, they’d get flooded out every decade or so by other extreme named or un-named storms. A full-on hurricane gets you into the 100-year flood category, putting most low-lying farmland under water.  The question at that point is how deep are they under water. Those in the hillier area of Piedmont, would have to prepare for a deluge that turns down spots into creeks and creeks into rivers. With mounting anxiety, farm families would set about the task at hand of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

In the unwritten code of farmer ethics, the animals always come first, and from this all other decisions stem. The farmers know where the high ground is, but in order to make the animals stay there, cows, sheep, and horses must have the proper infrastructure like fencing for containment and feed for who knows how many days.  On top of that, they need to get to the high ground in the first place. Chickens could be confined in trailers and pulled to a safe haven, but they, too, have to have feed and water every day. Small square baled hay would have to be elevated in some way, because the pastures would be waterlogged even when the water recedes, if not suffocated out altogether.

Equipment would be next. Most farm equipment is engineered to withstand the weather but being submerged in water is hard on bearings and adjustment mechanisms. Planters and balers are now quite sophisticated with electronic monitors and intricate moving parts that ruin in standing water. So, anything with wheels would be hooked to a tractor or truck and pulled away.  All the small stuff like air compressors and irrigation pumps would be loaded onto wagons and taken to higher ground, however far away that might need to be, and they’d also need to be secure from looting. Lumber and fence posts might need to be tied down to keep them from floating away.

Only then would the farm families begin to think of themselves and their personal possessions. Again, the pets would be first, then memorabilia, and most everything else would seem less important to worry about unless there were time and trailers available.

While we have never had to move our entire operation to higher ground a few hurricanes have made their way up to us, and I am always fascinated at just how much water those storms pick up making their way across the oceans. Without Katrina and Rita, no rain would have fallen on the Central Bluegrass the summer of 2005. Floyd breeched the spine of the Appalachians in 1999, blessing the Bluegrass with much needed moisture but only after killing hundreds of thousands of animals near the coast confined in barns with no place to go. 

Our biggest storm stories are the ice storm of 2009 and the every so often polar vortex that might swing through here. In the ice storm we went without electricity for the best part of a week, which made for cozy sleeping by the fire and creative cooking, but the main issue was getting around to care for the animals. Gates were frozen shut, and even the rolls of hay were encased in ice, making them inaccessible to the cattle. The moveable electric fencing we rely on was useless since the ice coating had all the wires grounded out. Ironically, the cattle and sheep stayed put because walking was so treacherous. Most water systems were intact as we do not depend on pumps in cisterns or wells like some of our neighbors. However, with the extremely cold weather, many water lines froze, forcing us to pack water to the poultry, and we moved the bigger animals to less desirable locations that still had water available. Even the free-flowing streams, usually available, froze over, and it’s not easy to free water with an axe with thirsty animals looking on.

Farmers have a unique relationship with Mother Nature. Every so often she chooses to show us who’s boss and puts us to the test. So, our hearts go out to all those in the path of Dorian, especially the farmers. The storms we see these days seem to be more aggressive than the ones I grew up with. All indications are, that trend will continue.  – Mac Stone

In Your Share

  • Cucumbers
  • Green Beans
  • Leafy Greens
  • Microgreens/Shoots
  • New Potatoes
  • Onions, Yellow
  • Squash, Summer
  • Surprise Item
  • Tomatoes

Recipes

Check out our Pinterest board for this week’s recipes! https://www.pinterest.com/elmwoodstockfar/recipes-2019-summer-csa/

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