After the Halloween storm that caused significant flooding across Vermont, leading to power outages and road washouts, Vermont’s hard-hit agriculture sector is starting the recovery process.
“We’re heartbroken,” said farmer Bruce Hennessey of Maple Wind Farm in Richmond.
Late last week, when torrential rain forced the Winooski River into a rapid rise, about 2,000 of Hennessey’s pasture-fed chickens and turkeys drowned in four feet of water in Richmond, he said.
The farmers had moved their animals to higher ground, anticipating rain, but no one expected the downpours that came.
The Burlington area tallied more than a month’s worth of water in just about seven hours late Thursday into the early hours of Friday morning, according to meteorological data studied by necn affiliate NBC 5 News. The farmers accounted for perhaps an inch or two of rain, but say three or four actually fell, swelling the Winooski River way beyond its banks.
Because of the hour of day, and since the farmers live in a different town than where the farm is located, Maple Wind told necn Monday that it just couldn’t beat the river. Hennessey woke up to the realization the water had come up further and faster than imagined, he said.
“It was such a fast and furious flood, it really gave us no chance to come save those birds once it started,” Hennessey explained.
Thanksgiving turkeys for a big account in Boston had already been processed and frozen, the farm noted, but Hennessey said Maple Wind did have to pull back on other wholesale meat orders.
The farm said its chickens, which were the majority of the 2,000 animals killed, were going to be a critical source of winter income, sold at area food stores.
“One farmer told me in Franklin County, he hadn’t seen water like this in 30 years,” said Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts.
Tebbetts pointed to the Center for an Agricultural Economy, which has an emergency fund offering zero-interest loans of up to $10,000 to help farmers and food producers struck by natural disasters.
“I encourage people to look at that if it can help them get through a difficult period,” Tebbetts advised.
Maple Wind Farm is hoping insurance will help cover its huge livestock loss.
The farm said it is grateful for condolences, notes, and offers for support that have poured in.
“We all have our losses,” farmer Beth Whiting said. “But just watching the news and hearing stories, I think this is what the Vermont community does, is that we hold each other up and support each other.”
Maple Wind Farm said it aims to return to normal operations following this loss, adding that it plans to bring in flocks of chickens and turkeys to raise in 2020.
CORRECTION (Nov. 5, 2019, 7:58 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article and broadcast misidentified which of the farm’s multiple riverside pastures the animals drowned in. The deaths occurred in Richmond, not on land in a neighboring town where poultry also is kept.