Monday, September 5, 2011

Helping Burlington's Farmers: From Flood Plain to Table

Photo Courtesy of Thomas Case of Arethusa Farm

As I am sure you are all aware Tropical Storm Irene devastated Vermont when it came through last week.  Some towns were completely cut off for days with no roads in, no telephone service, no electricity, but an attitude I could learn from.  There was a covered bridge completely swept away, with three more damaged by the rushing water and debris. It is really surreal to sit in Burlington and read about the damage around the state, because this widespread devastation is so close to home... and yet when I look out my window, there is no evidence of Irene's work here. In Burlington, Irene's destruction was mostly limited to our farm lands.

Photo Courtesy of Thomas Case of Arethusa Farm
Burlington's Intervale is 350 acres of farmland along the banks of the Winooski river.  There are 13 farms in the Intervale producing organic berries, vegetables, chickens, honey and flowers.  An impressive percentage of the fresh produce consumed in Burlington is produced in the Intervale with the Intervale Community Farm alone serving 500 families.  All of these farms dealt with record breaking floods this past spring.  Floods that had many of them joke about turning to rice production as they waited weeks for their fields to dry out enough to plant.  The first floods destroyed the crops already in the ground and over the spring new plantings were often greeted with new flooding and destruction.

The day after Irene came through the Winooski river once more flooded the fields, coming up so fast Arethusa Farm could not harvest any more then a field of salad greens, fast enough that the farmers and volunteers walked out of the fields with the water often up to their knees.  For the farmer's it meant they would lose everything still in the fileds, because the water from the Winooski is contaminated.  The chance to pay back loans made necessary by a soggy spring were covered in water.

Photo Courtesy of Thomas Case of Arethusa Farm

After the season they have had many of these farms may be forced to shut down unless they receive help.  I fear that the disaster relief efforts will leave them behind or won't cover enough.  The Intervale is such a large part of Burlington's food landscape.  The role these farmer's play was evident at the spring farmer's markets when the Intervale farms were all missing, waiting to have something to sell.

Photo Courtesy of Thomas Case of Arethusa Farm

For my family the farms in the Intervale have a real personal connection.  the Intervale houses our CSA.  A farm that defines our summers with food, socializing and a chance for my boys to dig in the dirt (organic dirt!) and run around in the fields.  In addition to all the other farmers who I like to believe see me as a a valued customer (although I fear I am really an annoying farm groupie), our neighbor and good friend is co-owner of Arethusa Farm.  Since the flooding on Monday I have been trying to think of fundraising and ways I could help.  The financial loss to these farmer's is not going to be solved with a single silent auction or fundraising dinner, there needs to be much more then that.

Photo Courtesy of Thomas Case of Arethusa Farm

My idea is a fundraising cookbook with recipes from the restaurants who bought produce from the farms, the farmers, cookbook authors, as well as bloggers.  The photos and art work would also be from local artists.  The finished cookbook would end up being the ultimate guide to eating locally without getting tired of the same produce repeatedly appearing on your table.

I am looking for recipe testers, artists, recipes, photos and thoughts or contributions towards publication.  I am excited about this idea and will happily volunteer to make it happen, if in the end it really can contribute money to the farmers relief fund.  I think the largest hurdle is the cost of publication.

 If you have any ideas or talents that you can contribute, please let me know in the comments, by emailing me or posting a comment on the Hippo Flambe Facebook Wall.  I am so excited, but I need your help!

Photo Courtesy of Debbie Krug


  1. David and StephanieTuesday, September 06, 2011

    A great idea - might I suggest you build a formal plea for monies on This will help you in your efforts and will surely raise attention.

    David and Stephanie
    Friends from underwater New Jersey

  2. Thanks David and Stephanie! I will definitely figure out a goal and pricing and offer it as a project on kickstarter. If I realch my goal I know the cookbook will be successful at raising money for the farmers.


  3. Hi Robin!

    My name is Cathy and I am from Ontario, Canada AND I am also a small farmer. I have been watching the news about what is happening in the east. I would love to help but don't know how. I am a new reader to your blog (I am an avid canner and I came across your blog...yipee)...... I am a member of the Real Women of Philadelphia Canada and we are always sharing recipes with each other in and off the site. I will talk to the girls and see if we can donate some recipes...I'm sure we have a few up our sleeve. I know that we girls are not "local" but we share the same heart for food and farmers. I will talk with them and see what we can come up with. Are there any particular types of recipes you would be looking for?


  4. Hi Robin — This is such a thoughtful post. I would love to help out, if you're still in need (I meant to comment much earlier!). I could contribute recipe testing and proofreading skills, and would be happy to help brainstorm, etc. Let me know what I can do.