By Matt Lasser, Sugarsnap Farm Manager
There are some great benefits to farming in a flood plain, including great soil (and no rocks!). But there are also challenges.
The massive rainstorms that hit Vermont shortly before July 4th reminded us about these challenges. Our farm is in the Intervale, which is a floodplain near the mouth of the Winooski River. Rainstorms like these dump more water than the soil and plants can handle, much of that water flows downhill across the surface of the ground and into streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes. Along the way, the water picks up particulates, such as minerals, cow poop, plastic and whatever else might be in the way of the flow.
The flood brought with it whatever washed away higher in the watershed. This has serious consequences, both good and bad, for the farm. The good is the minerals, nutrients, silt, and beneficial organisms. It is the regular flooding at the Intervale that makes its soils some of the best in the Northeast. The soil has good organic matter, plenty of nutrition, and it drains quicker than any soil I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Many of the crops that were flooded have taken off in their growth. The flush of nutrition from the water is some of the best fertilizer in the world. For example, our snap peas are now growing and producing the largest crop I’ve ever seen.
Here is that same part of our field, just one week after the flood.
The water also does plenty of bad as well. Firstly is can kill crops by inundating them in water. Secondly, the river water is not safe for consumption thanks to human activity higher in the watershed. This means that crops that have their edible portion touch floodwater must be discarded. Any greens, root vegetables, or low-hanging fruits must be discarded. On Sugarsnap Farm we had to discard all of our carrots, cilantro, dill, and beets that were already in the ground. Some other crops, like basil, thyme, lavender and kale were cut so that they could re-grow with uncontaminated foliage.
There have been other consequences of the flood. The floodwaters appear to have ruined a feeding ground for the deer that live at the Intervale. Over the past week they have begun to lay siege upon the farms that they typically don’t pay any mind to. Some farms have experienced nearly as much damage from the deer as from the flood waters.
The deer are not the only animals causing problems at the Intervale in the wake of the flood. The mosquitos have taken full advantage of the extra water. In order to work on the farm without going crazy it’s necessary to wear insect netting at all times.
Regular flooding is what allows us at Sugarsnap to grow fantastic produce. But it is also necessary to keep in mind that as much as the waters give, they also have the power to take away.