“Yay, we’re gonna get to can beans!” one woman exclaimed as Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture team unloaded bushels of green beans. She shared how her family and friends lost a good portion of their food stock when the floods that tore through eastern Kentucky this summer washed out their crops.
The late July flooding in eastern Kentucky left thousands in the area displaced, and entire communities destroyed. People in Breathitt, Letcher, and Knox County were left in uninhabitable conditions, with homes they have lived in for decades washed away in a matter of days.
According to the Weather Channel, floods of this severity aren’t uncommon in this region. With rising global temperatures causing heavier and more extreme rainfall, everyone is looking for ways to adapt and respond. In areas where land has extensive strip-mine damage, the ground is unable to hold the higher levels of rainfall, and creates a region even more vulnerable to flood damage.
Last week Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture team delivered over 2,000 pounds of fresh produce to Hindman, Kentucky as part of the flood relief efforts. The team heard the call for fresh produce donations through the Farm Produce Exchange Network, a grassroots effort organized by Grow Appalachia. They requested that working farms and agricultural entities donate produce to provide farmers, markets, and agricultural groups with access to fruits and vegetables they can resell or utilize within their communities. In the words of Storey Slone of Berea College, “These donations will help keep markets alive, farmers thriving, and communities fed.”
Through coordination with on-the-ground organizers, our Sustainable Agriculture team sent a van load of fresh produce from the Chesterhill Produce Auction to the Hindman Settlement School. Kelsey Cloonan, the Community Ag Coordinator at Hindman Settlement School and the Market Manager for Knott Co. Farmers Market, headed up this effort. She shared with us that “this produce will go to home-based pantries and to people with home gardens that were flooded and destroyed.”
Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture’s team delivered $2,143 worth of corn, green beans, peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, apples, and potatoes that will replace the produce people were relying on for winter.
The team spoke with a group of farmers whose flood woes go well beyond the now gone high waters. Fields that would normally be getting harvested, planted with fall crops, and seeded with cover crops lay bare. One farmer described a layer of five to seven inches of sandy sediment left on their fields. “We have to pull that layer off just to get back to what topsoil may be left,” she said. Now they can’t plant for at least 120 days because of soil contaminants. “Also our well flooded,” she added, “so every day we have to haul in fresh water for our goats and other livestock.”
Our ability to respond quickly ties directly to community members who support local agriculture on a daily basis. Individuals who participate in the Buying Club – a weekly subscription of a bag of mixed local produce – provided the financial support for us to pivot and purchase produce for donation. We talk a lot about resilience in the face of the increasing climate crisis. How do we prepare our communities for increasing natural disasters? How do we adapt to new climate conditions? This is what resilience looks like — strong local food system and tight-knit communities responding quickly to a regional need.
“I’m really excited to get this into the hands of people,” said Kelsey on the delivery day. “It’s a beautiful thing that has come out of this.”