The sun is back to shining its typical face that we see this time of year in Central Texas, but despite the relief the recent rains offered to some, many farmers in our area are facing a slow recovery. Those of us who were not negatively impacted by the recent floods in our area could be thinking of “rain relief” as the reason our lakes are so nicely higher than they’ve been in years, why the Greenbelt is flowing beautifully and has more swimming spots, why our home gardens are doing so well, why the vegetation around us is booming with new growth, and so on with the positive impacts. It can be difficult to keep in mind the negative impact that our May record rains have had on so many people in our community and those immediately around us, and how those aches will be felt for some time to come.
As so beautifully noted by Brian Couser, SFC Farmers’ Market Coordinator in last week’s newsletter on this topic, the negative impact of our May rains were felt by our Central Texas farmers, and that has been seen in the somewhat limited volume and variety being brought to our SFC Farmers Markets. Many of these same farmers participate in SFC’s Farm to Work Program, which is an employee wellness program that supports delivery of farm-fresh, locally grown produce right to employees at partner worksites. The program provides farmers with a reliable and economically viable marketing outlet, but some growers have found it difficult to provide the necessary quantity to continue participating in SFC programs due to the heavy rains. Fields were flooded. Bugs and disease flourished. Crops were damaged and compromised. Lightsey Farms in Mexia is our largest producer for Farm to Work, delivering farm fresh produce baskets to hundreds of Austin workers weekly. Lightsey had to take the last couple of weeks off from Farm to Work due to their fields being flooded and, therefore, unmanageable. They and other farmers impacted similarly will continue to bear the financial impact of the floods, and have to make tough decisions - like suspending their participation in programs like Farm to Work.
So, to those who have experienced challenges and loss during our exceptional rains, “rain relief” may mean something else. Just this past Saturday, June 6th, the Federal Emergency Management Agency added 20 more Texas counties to a previous 3 county list that may now apply for Federal Disaster Assistance as a result of the severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding that began on May 4. This includes potential loans for farmers and ranchers, but this county list is not comprehensive to include all of our affected farmers’ counties, unfortunately, and these loans and insurance payouts are out of reach for most direct-market farmers. The STAR Fund (State of Texas Agriculture Relief Fund) is another option for farmer relief created solely with monetary donations from private individuals and companies. Lightsey Farms is in a county that is on neither of these lists, which is the confusing and unfortunate case for several of our other farmers. In a recent survey, SFC asked of the farmers we work with about the impact of the May rains on their operation. We learned that, of those who responded, 92% reported experiencing some damage and/or delay in planting/harvesting while 26% reported extreme loss of crops, animals and/or infrastructure, equipment and supplies.
We at SFC continue to support Central Texas farmers with patience and assistance wherever we can, and we are connecting them with whatever information we can find for their rain relief. As organizers of several farmers’ markets and other direct sales outlets, SFC is encouraging customers to assist in supporting our local farmers, too, by having understanding and patience for what they are trying to recover from and by fulfilling their vital role as customers. Individuals and groups can also reach out and volunteer at some of our local farms, as well. We at SFC appreciate your shared love and support of our local farmers!