Taking Stock: The Flood's Impact on Area Farms and Restaurants [Updated]

September 18 2013, 4:15 PM

Everyone has stories about the Colorado flood, and for many, the accounts are still unfolding as the water recedes and leaves behind incomprehensible damage. There’s the tragedy of lives lost, homes and families devastated, infrastructure shredded, and businesses overcome by water and muck. There’s the untold environmental impact of erosion and the swirling cocktail of chemicals from burst propane tanks, building supplies, and submerged oil and gas wells. And there are the acres of farmland that—at the very height of harvest—have become the final resting point for much of the water.

The impact is long-term and undiscriminating, and it’s especially cruel for small farmers who invested everything into their land and are now finding themselves with little to no aid. “We checked yesterday for assistance, but there is none,” says Eric Skokan, who is not only the chef-owner of Boulder’s Black Cat and Bramble & Hare, but also the owner and farmer of Black Cat Farm. (Bramble & Hare is the focus of our current issue’s restaurant review.) “FEMA only does houses. They ask businesses to go to the SBA [Small Business Association]. SBA does not do farms, though. They ask you to go to the USDA. But, there is no farm bill and the USDA guys said yesterday that there are no programs to help.” Farm insurance can be worthless as well because many farms only draw on it for liability coverage. Furthermore, as Skokan explains, “Crop insurance works well for farmers who grow a lot of only one type of crop. There is a policy for each crop type. Because we grow so many different things in 'relatively' small amounts, the costs to insure are generally too high.” Despite this and extensive losses (detailed below), Skokan considers himself lucky: The farmhouse, the barns, and majority of the crops are unscathed. Skokan says his best asset is that his fields are scattered and that the farm is diversified. Nonetheless, an emailed tally of damage at Black Cat Farm:

  • "5 piglets whose momma farrowed them when the farrowing barn was flooding.
  • 1,700 bales of hay (that’s about $15,000 and our whole winter stockpile for the sheep and cattle. We may have to process the majority of the sheep and cattle. The bummer in that is that it has taken us three years to build the herd’s size. We are almost at the point where we can have lamb on the menu every night.
  • all of the melons and watermelons
  • the root cellars each have 18 inches of water. Not sure if there is permanent damage or not. Nothing stored in them though.
  • 1,500 to 2,000 pounds tomatoes that are bursting open and rotting in the fields. 
  • 1 ditch breach that will need a backhoe to repair.”

The damage is heartbreaking. Skokan, however, takes stock in knowing that the restaurants will help provide cash flow (though sales are down as few people are dining out). Skokan will rebuild even as so many others can’t or won’t. “I just heard through the grapevine that Peter [Volz] atOxford [Gardens] is, in fact, done [for the season]. John Ellis who does corn and wheat for the [farmers’] market had a river through his field too... Chet Anderson at the Fresh Herb Company is totally done [for the season]. His house, which took a lot of water, is now an island in the middle of Left Hand Creek,” Skokan says by email.

Others, like Three Leaf Farm in Lafayette, which is owned by Sara Stewart Martinelli and husband Lenny was so flooded that the couple still isn’t sure what the farm’s topography will look like when the waters fully recede. Nonetheless, there are signs of resilience. On the farm’s Facebook page, Sara wrote on Monday: “Considering that most of the farm was under water at some point, it’s unbelievable that none of the buildings were damaged (except the hoop house). We lost a lot of crops, but all living creatures and buildings came through in tact.” The Martinelli’s also own the Boulder Dushanbe TeahouseAjiLeafZuccathe Huckleberry, and Chautauqua Dining Hall.

At Pastures of Plenty in Longmont, Sylvia Tawse and Lyle Davis are grateful. “We are safe and count ourselves lucky. Sadly, most of our neighbors are not so fortunate and have farm fields under and homes surrounded by wide river of water and mud. Pray for our arid climate to return.” While the farm’s CSA pickups are temporarily suspended, the farm itself is not debilitated. (In hopes of raising money for affected farms, Tawse posted this link to Farm Aid on Pasture of Plenty's Facebook page.)

Of course, all of this damage rolls over to the restaurants that serve the locally grown produce and locally raised meats (there are multiple accounts of animals drowning). And there’s the physical damage to structures themselves. Colterra in Niwot was affected, but not nearly as badly as chef-owner Bradford Heap’s mud-wracked home. Similarly, Cured in Boulder had no damage but owners Will and Cora Frischkorn’s Boulder home took on six feet of water. In downtown Boulder, Pasta VinoFrasca Food and WinePizzeria Locale, and Caffe suffered extensive roof leaks. These are just a handful of restaurants that closed for multiple days, if only to avoid exposing diners and staff members to the dangers of being out in unsafe conditions.

Clearly, even as life moves toward normal for many of us, the cost of the flood on Colorado’s farming and restaurant community is long-term and far reaching.

How to help:

Dine out at local restaurants—especially those that sustained damage. Shop the farmers’ markets and support what remains of the local harvest. Participate in today’s Colorado Flood Relief Telethon from 4 to 10:30 p.m. Funds raised will go to the American Red Cross and Community Food Share. All funds collected by Community Food Share will be split between Weld County Food BankFood Bank of Larimer County, and Community Food Share (Boulder County).

Look for flood relief fundraisers, such as the Provence to Lyons Flood Relief Benefit Dinner at Mateo Restaurant (1837 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-443-7766) on October 2. Proceeds from the seven-course meal will benefit Lyons-area farmers and ranchers. The price is $150 per person.

Frasca Food & Wine and Pizzeria Locale have pledged 10 percent of proceeds from sales through September 22, to support local flood recovery efforts through the Foothills Flood Relief Fund. The restaurants are joining forces with several downtown Boulder businesses and Downtown Boulder, Inc. in the “Yes, we are OPEN!” fundraising initiative. The collaboration and donation support the community effort to rebuild and repair.

—Photo courtesy of Cheryl Meyers

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