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Western Massachusetts farms still assessing the damage from flooding this week

The fields at Just Roots farm in Greenfield, Massachusetts, under water from flooding mid-day on December 18, 2023.
The fields at Just Roots farm in Greenfield, Massachusetts, under water from flooding mid-day on December 18, 2023.

Farms that were under water earlier this week in Franklin County, Massachusetts, are still waiting to see the extent of their losses.  

Meryl LaTronica directs farm operations at Just Roots in Greenfield, a non-profit community farm located between Glen Brook and the Green River. Just Roots grows vegetables year-round in one of the largest SNAP-enrolled, low-income farm-share programs in Massachusetts.

LaTronica said the water on Monday was between her ankle and mid-calf, and covered about half of the farm’s fields.

"Unreal," she said. "Absolutely unreal, what we were seeing.”

The farm, in its eleventh year, grows more than 50 different types of fruit, vegetables and herbs on roughly 7 acres.

Just Roots farmers had strawberries planted for next season growing in fields that were about half underwater. The farm operations director said she "wasn’t super confident that those are going to bounce back.”  

Two unheated hoop greenhouses, called “high tunnels,” were growing greens. The spinach was intended for harvest for this week’s winter market. LaTronica said that can’t be harvested because it was submerged in floodwaters. The other high tunnel was filled with kale for a planned January harvest.

In the early hours following the worst of the flood, the farm knew it lost at least those crops, LaTronica said. It “wasn’t a lot” but the loss will definitely be felt by winter farm-share members and customers at farmers markets.

“I've got to just wait to see if this recedes and we'll start the cleanup, and then we'll make the plans and then we'll move forward. So, I try not to get too devastated when these things happen, because they happen a lot,” LaTronica said.

This wasn't the first flood for the farm this year. In July, Just Roots lost about $100,000 worth of produce.  But LaTronica said that rain event was a much different flood compared with the December storm.

LaTronica noted the flood waters engulfed the fields much faster this time, with “just unprecedented flooding ... I've never seen anything like it in the seven years that I've been here.”  

Before the next winter farm-share distribution in January, LaTronica said she may have to redefine the scope of "local" produce, in order to source vegetables to make up for those the farm has just lost to the flood.  

"I was just telling my colleagues, like, 'Come on, we couldn't get through the year with just, like, no more floods?'" she said. "So yeah, we're we're going to be doing some cleanup! But luckily things have receded really well [Tuesday]. I was able to walk around the farm and take a look at things and, you know, it's rough, but it'll be OK."

Flooding was also reported at Grow Food Northampton's Community Farm. The Mill River overflowed its banks, "bringing back familiar feelings from July's flood," the organization said.

"We're still assessing damage and debris on the farms and around the edges of the garden," Grow Food wrote on Facebook. "The good news is that there was no major crop loss and the extensive cover cropping of the Community Garden this fall helped to protect the plots."

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.

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