Two nights before hurricane/tropical storm Irene was due to hit Vermont, Kevin and I were taking it seriously, but only just a little. We had bought a battery-operated sump pump, just in case the predicted deluge flooded the basement and the winds cut power to our crappy plug-in pump. I took mental stock of the pantry, bought a box of wine, put candles and flashlights within reach, and then had a brilliant idea. We could sing “Come on Eileen” at the St. John’s Club karaoke that night, only switch up the words to say “Come on Irene.” Genius, right?
The only effect the storm had on our household was a puppy that refused to go outside to pee in the downpour. I was shocked to see photos of Southern Vermont’s total devastation; it hardly seemed like any reason for commotion up here. But when I started to learn how badly the storm had raked Winooski River floodwaters across the vital fields of Burlington’s Intervale, that’s when the storm hit close to home.
For the past few summers we’ve gotten nearly all of our produce through a CSA at the Intervale Community Farm. We’ve gotten to know the farmers, the rhythm of the seasons, the sandy dirt that clings to the spinach, the quiet beauty of things growing. I spent part of a summer a few years ago, broke from starting the freelance gig, harvesting alongside the farmers one day a week to subsidize my share. So when I heard that the farm’s 44 acres were a total loss, it felt a little like my family was attacked. All that work, all that food, gone. Never mind that these farmers had already recovered once from spring flooding, ordered seeds, planted rows, laid irrigation pipe. Tended. Weeded. Kept the bugs, deer, and diseases at bay. In less than 24 hours, it all washed away.
I got pissed. I got sad. When I walked into the produce department at City Market following the storm, I saw the names of Intervale farms on the last of the season’s produce and fought back tears like I was at a funeral. I saw Becky, our farmer at ICF, and hugged her harder than I should have. I even yelled, “Fuck you!” at the sky when it sent more rain two days later.
So I bought more than 70 pounds of tomatoes.
They had been hastily plucked from the vines before the floodwaters reached them, and they were beautiful. Bruised and starting to form soft spots, but beautiful just the same. It was a silly thing, but I felt better driving home from the farm with my wooden crates of farm babies safe in my trunk. The extra money went to the farm I loved, the food wasn’t wasted, and I found my own odd way to start healing my anger at nature.
It was cathartic to wash the ripe, red fruit, carefully cut away the wounds, and turn them into gorgeous, nourishing food that bore no signs of storm, flood, or anger. So far 10 pounds of the tomatoes are dancing as salsa in jars, 25 pounds more are chilling as soup in the freezer, and another 30 or so pounds are waiting patiently on the porch to settle plain Jane into their jars. And come hell or high water, we’ll be thinking about our farm all winter.
After I wrote this post, I was assigned to cover the hurricane’s devastation of three family farms in South Royalton, VT. The picture below shows a field of cow corn three months after Irene hit. Read the story in Vermont’s Local Banquet Magazine here.