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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - The fall harvest is bitter for Thomas Case. "What a shame to have all this food destroyed," he said.
At his Arethusa Farm, an organic operation in Burlington, Vt., squash are rotting in the fields. While the carrots and beets are beautiful, they're inedible. That's because Tropical Storm Irene inundated the farm three weeks ago. Federal guidelines dictate growers cannot market fruits and vegetables that came in contact with flood waters, even if the produce is underground. The water could have been carrying toxic materials like fuel or sewage.
Vermont's agriculture agency points out much of the state's produce is absolutely safe to eat, because only about a tenth of the state's vegetable growers were touched by flooding. The agency is helping them out with grants and loans, and reminds consumers that now is the time to support your local farmer.
The University of Vermont is doing what it can do.
A plant and soil sciences lab is offering free soil tests to commercial farms. Analysts are checking for dangerous materials including lead and cadmium, and giving farmers data on how many of their valuable nutrients were washed away. The good news is tests have not discovered any elevated levels of poisons in Vermont's soil.
"I hope it gives people some peace of mind and allows farmers to make plans to get their fields back in working order," said lab analyst Joel Tilley.
Back at Arethusa Farm, this recent disaster was the second blow of the year to Thomas Case. "I think it was worse than the spring floods," he said.
NECN visited him first in May, after seemingly nonstop rain and snow melt after a long winter drowned his fields. That delayed the growing season. Case said Arethusa Farm had just met half its year's financial goals when it learned Irene would force him to till all his hard work under the earth. The farmer is glad he bought crop insurance.
"It's going to pay for a portion," Case explained.
To cover the rest of his losses, Case is now looking for a second job and trying to stay optimistic that next year, Mother Nature will be kinder.
For information on help available to farmers, and how consumers can support growers through donations to an emergency fund, click here.
The University of Vermont's Extension Service has also set up an Irene recovery page. That information is available here.