Despite losing thousands of acres of farmland in Tropical Storm Irene, Vermont hasn’t lost a single farm due to the storm that rocked the state last fall, officials say.
Gov. Peter Shumlin gathered at the Settlement Farm in Middlesex Wednesday with his secretary of Agriculture and others to congratulate farmers and aid workers.
The Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund, headed up by Stuart Comstock-Gay, is a private fund developed to help farmers in the aftermath of Irene’s devastation. The fund has paid out $1.9 million to 198 farmers so far. Next Monday is the application deadline for the fund’s sixth round of grants to Vermont farmers affected by Irene.
Comstock-Gay said he was inspired not only by the determination of the state’s farmers, but the outpouring of philanthropic support from the community.
“All over the place, Vermont agriculture speaks to people. It speaks to our economy and it speaks to who we are as a people,” he said.
Along with the private help, farmers in Vermont also were assisted by the USDA, which has eight initiatives in place to help farmers hit by such disasters. The federal department has paid out $7.4 million in Irene-related assistance, said the Vermont executive director of USDA Farm Service Agency, Robert Paquin.
The agency’s biggest payouts have been to farmers who lost crops or land. All together, Vermont farmers suffered 26,000 acres of damaged crops or farmland. Some 192 claims on crop insurance totaled $6.5 million in payouts in Vermont.
Paquin said that because the USDA is not a first responder in crisis situations, the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund helped fill some vital gaps. Then his agency came into play.
The goal, he said, is finding the people who still need help and then remedying their problems.
“Trying to get to zero is the whole idea,” Paquin said, “trying to figure out how we don’t let any farm fall through the cracks.”
No farm has gone under, according to Shumlin. The farms hurt by Irene are all still in operation, but he emphasized there is more to be done.
“We stand here almost a year after Irene, really with a single purpose. I made the promise as governor and we as Vermonters made the promise that we weren’t going to show up, send our condolences and walk away. I gotta tell you than in natural disasters of this magnitude, that’s not an unusual approach from government,” Shumlin said.
Chuck Ross, the governor’s secretary of Agriculture, maintained that just because farms are operating doesn’t mean they’re on solid ground.
“Just because things are green from the roadside doesn’t mean things are perfect on the farm, and I can’t underscore that enough,” Ross said.