Irene flooding destroys 140,000 acres of New York farmland
Close to 140,000 acres of farmland were destroyed when the remnants of Hurricane Irene blew through upstate New York last weekend.
The historic covered wooden Blenheim Bridge, in Schoharie County, was one of the many covered bridges in the Northeast that washed away.
Along Main Street in the village of Schoharie, a makeshift sign commemorates the bridge’s demise, and hurls an old-fashioned insult at Irene, calling the storm a “Tory.”
That’s because this valley, 40 miles west of Albany, is known as the “Breadbasket of the American Revolution.” Its fertile lands helped feed revolutionary troops.
Now, buildings that have stood for centuries, and weathered a war, are gone.
Sandie Prokop is a second-generation farmer from Crossbrook Farms in Middleburgh.
“It’s mind-boggling,” she says, “when you stand in the middle of the Breadbasket of the American Revolution, and you look, and there’s nothing there.”
Over the weekend, the storm destroyed the road to her home.
“It is like the moon,” she says. “There are craters you could put a house in that were taken out of that road.”
Prokop’s lost some cattle and at least half-a-million dollars in feed. But she says others have it worse.
“It’s a very difficult thing to go to bed at night and wake up in the morning and see your whole life, and to not [know] where it’s going.”
Could’ve been worse
A few miles away, Richard Ball’s roadside produce stand at Schoharie Valley Farms appears to be unscathed. But a look downhill at his fields paints a different picture. Many of his crops have been destroyed.
On Sunday he and his family were evacuated from the valley, because of fears that the Gilboa Dam - just 30 miles away - might break.
Ball is thankful that didn’t happen.
“Had the dam failed, on top of the high water, there would have been 30 or 40 feet of tidal wave that would have come down through this valley - which would have been, you know, biblical almost,” Ball says.
However, the flood still left its mark: Ball’s crops are coated in thick mud. But he says he’s more concerned about his friends and neighbors a mile down the road, in the devastated village of Schoharie.
“We lost some crops, and that’s tough,” he says. “But in our community - all my customers, all my neighbors - virtually every house in our town that never had [flood] water before, had six, seven, eight feet of water.”
Time to rebuild
Federal, state, and local governments have sprung into action. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office has estimated the statewide agricultural loss at $45 million.
On Thursday, New York’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets Darrel Aubertine visited farms in the Schoharie Valley.
He says it’s still unclear how aide will be distributed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), so farmers should keep track of their losses.
“Document all your time. Document your fuel. Document time you spend cleaning debris, repairing roads,” says Aubertine.
Aubertine also visited Ball’s farm, and looked at the damaged crops. Ball told the commissioner that relief can’t come fast enough to his neighbors.
“They need some financial fuel,” Ball told Aubertine. “[They need] a feeling like, ‘We can rebuild this, we can fix this, we can overcome this.’ And I have every confidence that we can.”
Despite all the destruction from the floods, Ball is still hoping for some rain.
He says the right amount might be able to wash away the mud and save some of his crops.