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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006

Down to potatoes

One small farmer, nine feet of water, and two CSAs

WESTMINSTER—Cory Walker’s fourth season farming in Vermont turned into a wet one.

Walker listened to U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., introduce three agricultural assistance bills during the congressman’s recent visit to Allen Brothers Farm.

The farmer has not purchased federal crop insurance for his farm, Guerrilla Grown Produce. Walker explained the insurance does not meet the needs of small organic farmers but instead favors “large-scale grain” farms.

Walker rents fields for Guerrilla Grown and plants in two-week cycles on small parcels of land.

Guerrilla Grown rents 6½ acres near Allen Brothers Farm on Route 5 in Westminster. The rent is paid annually at the start of the planting season, said Walker.

Irene’s floodwaters covered a five-acre plot. Another 3½-acre plot sat under nine feet of water.

Walker said the farm lost multiple crops to Irene, including storage root crops, carrots, leeks, parsnips, celeriac, tomatoes, winter squash, turnips, sweet corn, beans, and winter greens.

Despite Irene, Walker expects to plant in the spring and has already planted a cover crop for the winter.

“We never sat around and pouted,” said Walker.

By spring, any bacteria carried onto the fields by Irene will have broken down, said Walker.

According to Walker, organic farmers are treating Irene’s potential bacteria contamination like the raw manure they spread on their fields as fertilizer. Organic farmers have to wait 120 days before planting after spreading manure. After that four-month buffer, the bacteria has naturally broken down and become innocuous.

Walker said the soil samples he sent to UVM Extension for testing other contaminants have come back clean. UVM Extension, an agricultural resource service of the University of Vermont, provided free testing of the samples in the wake of the tropical storm, said Walker.

Guerrilla Grown has a farm stand in Westminster village. The farm also supports two community-supported agriculture operations (CSAs).

The first Westminster-based CSA has 24 families, said Walker. The members were suppose to receive produce through Thanksgiving, he said. Due to the loss of crops, members received their last share of produce on Oct. 17.

“Ninety percent of the members were understanding, and felt they got their money’s worth,” said Walker of the reduced shares.

The second CSA that Guerrilla Grown participates in, along with multiple farms, serves 85 low-income families in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Walker said Guerrilla Grown picked up the slack after Irene for a farmer in upstate New York who lost 100 percent of his crops, so that the Bedford-Stuyvesant CSA would receive enough shares.

The network of farmers will make it through the Brooklyn CSA’s pickup schedule, said Walker, but the shares’ variety has dwindled.

As the weeks have passed, said Walker, the baskets “are down to potatoes.”

Walker expresses confidence in Guerrilla Grown’s recovery from Irene.

“I hope we get our [CSA] members back,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #124 (Wednesday, October 26, 2011).

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