A farmer new to Clendenin watched as the fence posts placed around her future strawberry field just one day earlier washed away one by one in the raging flood waters.
An older gentleman on the other side of the river watched as the waters washed away raised beds and covered the precious greens and wild plants he forages for much of his diet.
An elderly couple in Nicholas County watched as flood waters covered their fields, ripped away fencing and filled their high tunnel, washing away tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and strawberries along with the black plastic mulch and irrigation drip tape.
While these losses may pale in comparison to the loss of life and homes we saw in the immediate aftermath of the flood, they also strike a chord with many because they symbolize other types of loss — loss of livelihood and loss of subsistence.
For many, gardens symbolize hope, a promise for the future and a promise of sustenance for themselves and their families.
For farmers, fields full of tomatoes and corn symbolize other hopes and promises — of future earnings and what those can bring, as well as stability and a better future.
You may notice the booths at the farmers market have a little less produce than usual or are fewer in number. Some livestock farmers have lost hay or pasture to flooding as well. Thankfully farmers in other regions have reached out to donate hay. I’ve heard of a few farmers who lost whole fields of produce to flooding.
The way the state is built is both a blessing and a curse — flat, fertile bottom lands make great, productive farms, but the life-giving river or stream can also become a destructive force.
Over the next few months and even year, farmers will need to rebuild and replant to feed not only themselves, but others as well. The work has already begun, but it will take time and money to do so.
Luckily, there are programs available to help farmers recover. The USDA Farm Service Agency has cost share, emergency programs and low-cost loans for things such as replanting orchards and vineyards, recovering from crop losses, loss of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish, and more.
To find more information, contact the FSA office that covers your specific county. Details are available at www.fsa.usda.gov/state-offices/West-Virginia/index.
I’m proud to say that West Virginia University Extension Service has been helping with the flood recovery effort for farmers where possible. I joined a work crew of my fellow extension agents last week to help clean up that farm in Nicholas County and get it ready to replant.
We hope to do the same to rebuild the strawberry farm fence in Clendenin. And even in the face of her own losses, the owner of the strawberry farm joined me in helping supply garden-fresh produce to the gentleman who lost all of his own in the flood.
Just as the flood damage is taking a whole community to rebuild homes, it takes the whole community to rebuild our farm and food community. There are things that the general public can do to help, too.
Be sure to visit a local farmers market or farm stand and support our area farmers, especially if you notice that they may have less variety or quantity due to flooding. Dollars spent buying local produce from local farmers can go a long way in helping rebuild and recover. You can help support hope and provide for a future full of bountiful harvests.