Flooded farmers get first grants to restore properties

At a time when the Barber Family Farm in Schoharie County should be harvesting cash crops from 200 a

At a time when the Barber Family Farm in Schoharie County should be harvesting cash crops from 200 acres of fertile fields to pay the bills, owners are instead picking up tons of gravel.

The Schoharie Creek and a tributary deposited the gravel after spilling out of their banks during devastating visits by tropical storms Irene and Lee in late August and early September.

Floodwaters destroyed 150 acres of vegetables and 45 acres of soybeans, plus 22 acres of pumpkins, winter squash and potatoes on the Barber Family Farm.

“We lost everything except for five acres of soybeans on a hill,” said farm operator Jacob Hooper. “The Schoharie gouged out the fields and deposited tons of gravel on the fields and filled our equipment with gravel.”

Faced with a daunting — and expensive — chore to reclaim their property and livelihoods, the farm’s owners were happy to learn Tuesday they had received a $58,000 grant from the New York state Agricultural and Community Recovery Fund.

The Barber Family Farm was one of 12 farms in Schoharie County to share a total of $207,950 distributed under the program, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo established Sept. 3. The Barber grant is the largest of the 12 while the award to the Schoharie County Soil & Water District is the second largest made to districts in the state during this third round of funding. The soil and water districts are coordinating grant applications for farms in their communities hard-hit by flooding.

The state program will provide at least $15 million to help farms recover, stabilize soils and stream banks, restore water control structures and improve and protect water quality. In two prior rounds, the state awarded approximately $3.7 million for rebuilding efforts at 252 farms.

Hooper said the state money will be a “huge help. We have a lot of gravel to remove and road work to do, and we are fixing washouts in some fields.”

Lisa Kuehnle, nutrient management specialist with the Schoharie County Soil & Water District, said 34 Schoharie-based farms have so far received $750,000 in grants through the state program. She said flooding damaged a total of 48 farms, ranging from dairy and vegetable farms to tree and small animal operations.

“We have just applied for round four. We want to help as many farms as we can,” Kuehnle said.

Schoharie County farmers have received just about all they requested through the state program so far, Kuehnle said. The grant “is not going to cover cost of debris removal, but it is something for them.”

Schoharie officials said farms in the county will take years to recover. “Some do not have crops to feed animals. They are getting donations and will end up purchasing feed for animals, which they have to cover themselves,” Kuehnle said. “It has never been this bad and this is going to be a hard winter.”

Some farms may never recover, although Kuehnle is holding out hope. “I would like to think that isn’t true, and I hope they are still here come spring. They pump a lot of money into the local community and they are good stewards of the land.”

Hooper is hoping as well: “We are drawing in from other farms right now and are doing our best to serve our customers. I am hoping for a miracle and get back next year.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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