Tending to crops at Crones’ Cradle Conserve now requires a canoe.
Two feet of water leftover from Hurricane Irma covers much of the organic farm’s 736 acres in Marion County northeast of Citra. The flooding has forced the gardeners there to suit up in rubber waders and row out to water plants propped up on tables.
As they traverse, the gardeners are doing so carefully — and are even staying away from some areas — because of new guests on the farm.
“We have seen three gators in the gardens already,” Chief Gardener Lee Solomon said. “It’s too dangerous for staff to be in there right now with the water moccasins, as well.”
Across North Central Florida and the state, flooding, winds and knocked-down trees from Irma caused a great deal of crop and other damage to farms. And those in flood plains — like Crones’ Cradle because of Orange Creek — were much more susceptible, especially in the days after because of the remaining water.
While Crones’ Cradle’s table crops were saved, many that were planted in the ground flooded and will need to be replanted.
“We were more surprised that the water kept rising,” gardener Delinda Kinney said of the water that came over the banks of the creek. “We expected a little bit, but not as much as we’ve gotten so far.”
Crones’ Cradle, which falls within a 100-year flood plain, was last inundated in 2004 because of Hurricane Frances. Many crops were lost then, too, and the lingering water, plus the required testing to make sure chemicals didn’t infiltrate the soil from the floodwaters, caused significant recovery delays.
“The last time it happened, it was six months before we can plant again,” Solomon said of Frances.
The farm is expecting similar delays from Irma, she added, and the water doesn’t seem likely to fully vanish anytime soon.
“I think there is so much upland water coming out of Georgia and Florida that it is going to be a long time before it actually recedes,” Solomon said.
If Crones’ Cradle was a smaller operation and didn’t have funds in reserve, it likely wouldn’t be able to bounce back after Irma, she said.
Along with killing grown plants and making it difficult to water survivors, the high waters have prevented the use of many of the fields for new seedlings, Kinney said. In the meantime, the gardeners are transplanting what they can.
“We have to get a little creative to get things done,” Kinney said, “but we’re still getting things done.”
The farm lost power for five nights, but it was able to keep already-harvested produce for its on-site store fresh by alternating generators, Crones’ Cradle owner Jeri Baldwin said.
The farm provides this produce to many local restaurants, several of which have shown the farm support following the hurricane.
“We have had an interesting, shall we say, three or four weeks,” Baldwin said, figuring in the hurricane preparation time, too. “And [we] have several more interesting weeks before we can even begin to think about calling ourselves back to normal.”