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North Central Florida Farmers Recovering Amid Crop Loss From Irma

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Farmers rely on water to grow their crops, but when too much arrives all at once, it can spell disaster.

As Hurricane Irma swept across Florida last week, its floodwaters and winds dealt blows to the state’s farms, including Gainesville’s Family Garden, which lost an estimated 30 percent of its crops.

Most damages were caused by trees that had fallen onto crops or floodwaters that washed them out, said James Longanecker, a farm coordinator at Family Garden.

“It’s just the doom and gloom,” she said of the atmosphere on the farm during cleanup. “We just keep going.”

But Longanecker remains confident that Family Garden’s business model — locally grown produce for those who hold memberships to the farm — will carry it through.

“Local food is still the most secure food source,” she said. “It was just interesting for me to realize how not resilient our own systems are during a situation like this.”

A fallen tree (at right) at the Family Garden in Gainesville ruined a row of the farm’s crops. Like many farms across Florida, Family Garden suffered crop loss and damages from winds. fallen trees and flooding from Hurricane Irma. (Emily Mavrakis/WUFT News)

 

Even with losses like those Family Garden, North Central Florida overall fared much better than South Florida, said Ed Bravo, president of the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association.

Before arriving in Florida, Irma was at times a Category 5 storm. When it hit the Florida Keys and then the Florida mainland, it was at Category 4 and Category 3, respectively.

“We are blessed in this area,” Bravo said of North Central Florida, which saw Irma as only a Category 1 and then tropical storm.

Farmers were aided by warnings days before, giving them the chance to secure their property as best they could, Bravo said. Also in preparation, members of Bravo’s organization sent out messages offering assistance to one another, like lending out generators.

“The main focus is contacting whoever’s closest, whoever’s in need,” Bravo said of the messages.

Often, the biggest damages occur not during the initial winds and heavy rains but after, when power outages can put recovery efforts at a standstill, Bravo said.

“Some farms did not have the capacity to water normally for a week,” he said. “It’s been a real struggle for them.”

Shade Tree Farm in the Levy County town of Morriston got its power back Saturday. The farm places trees in pots so their roots don’t grow into the ground before being transplanted to a permanent spot, but this method requires daily watering.

Before power returned, workers had to haul a generator around 150 acres to power Shade Tree’s irrigation system, said Shaun Brown, the farm’s vice president.

“It was a lot of long days, spilling diesel on ourselves and playing around with wiring,” he said. “Wind was the least of our problems. It was the lack of power that took some of the trees out.”

Nevertheless, Brown said he considers Shade Tree relatively lucky despite an estimated $20,000 in damages and losses.

Many plants did yellow and begin to lose leaves, which Brown said does affect their value. But if they had gone longer without enough water, he said, damages and money lost could have been much worse.

Correction: This article originally had Ed Bravo’s last name as Bruno.

About Emily Mavrakis

Emily Mavrakis is a reporter with WUFT News and can be reached by email at mavrakisemily@gmail.com or by phone at 352-392-6397.

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