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How Vermont's farms are dealing with the unprecedented effects of severe storms

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

Parts of Vermont are still reeling from this week's catastrophic flooding, and business owners have been hit especially hard. Jen Roberts is the co-owner of Onion River Outdoors in Vermont's capital, Montpelier.

JEN ROBERTS: Everything was floating. You know, we - when we came in after the water went down enough for us to come back, everything had moved around. You know, there were boxes everywhere, jumbles of things. Stuff had floated all over the place. So - and as you can imagine, it's completely soaked. Everything is muddy and greasy and gross.

FLORIDO: She organized a community cleanup of her store, but she says that is only part of the battle.

ROBERTS: We don't even know if this building is going to be able to be cleaned out and dried well. And then at that point, is it going to be structurally sound? There's a lot that we don't know yet.

FLORIDO: And it's that uncertainty that's been hardest to navigate.

ROBERTS: I worried about it a lot the night that everything was flooding. How are we going to do this? But in the middle of the night, you worry about things that in the daylight seem a little bit more optimistic. And I do trust that we will be able to put this back together. You know, we did after COVID, and we managed to recover. So I trust that we will do that again.

FLORIDO: Another key part of Vermont's economy has also been impacted by the floods - agriculture. Eric Seitz runs Pitchfork Farm in Burlington, Vt., and he joins us now. Welcome.

ERIC SEITZ: Thank you.

FLORIDO: Eric, can you describe your farm for us and tell us what it looks like right now?

SEITZ: Yeah, sure. So we're a 30-acre vegetable farm. We focus on a lot of relatively quick turnaround crops. It's beautiful. It's a beautiful place, and the farm was in great shape up until Monday. Now, you know, acres of peppers and winter squash, salad greens - they are all dead or dying but certainly unsellable. They're covered in debris from God knows where, from Barre, Montpelier, Huntington, Richmond. It all ends up in our field. Everything's covered in a kind of a silty clay, kind of a - I don't even know what it is - some kind of sludge.

FLORIDO: So what's your farm - what happened to your farm?

SEITZ: Well, it's there. The land is still there, I assume. I actually haven't been out to see it today. But the last two days we've been canoeing around it, which is oddly, bizarrely beautiful. And, yeah, it's just all gone. You know, the whole year's worth of work - it's, I assume, either washed away, those crops that were sort of directly near the really fast-flowing water or the crops that were more just under six feet of water. Either way, we can't sell any of it, but more than likely, they're all perished anyway.

FLORIDO: And how big are the losses that you're facing?

SEITZ: Well, I conservatively estimate somewhere around 350 to 400,000 in lost crop sales.

FLORIDO: Yeah. And so what does that mean for your farm, you know, going forward?

SEITZ: Well, you know, we incur a lot of debt in the spring. It's an investment that we know we'll pay off come September or October. That return on investment probably will not happen this year, but the debts remain. So when we can, when the field's dried enough, we'll continue to plant quicker-growing crops - I think salad greens, bunching herbs, radishes, things like that. That's primarily to keep our crew afloat and to pay down debt. But as far as the rest of it, I'm not sure.

FLORIDO: We're hearing a lot from scientists about the role that the changing climate is playing in these kinds of storms. And I wonder, do you think that this storm is going to change the way that you farm?

SEITZ: I wish it were so. You know, we live in a relatively expensive state as far as real estate. I'm lucky enough that I've been at this now for 18 years and have been able to slowly grow my business. And to be honest, I just don't know where else I could go and do this work. So for now, no. I think we'll be staying put. And, you know, I think we'll be a little more cautious in the future as far as the scale of what we do and probably try and incur less debt in the spring. It's starting to feel more and more like a gamble. But, you know, as far as programmatically what we do, I just - I love it, and it's all I know how to do. So it's what I'll continue to do for now.

FLORIDO: I've been speaking with Eric Seitz of Pitchfork Farm in Burlington, Vt. Eric, I wish you and your farm a quick recovery. Thanks for your time.

SEITZ: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.
Tinbete Ermyas
Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.