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Putting a Face to Irene’s Damage

August 31, 2011

Saturday was a gorgeous, sunny day in Vermont.  I was the record keeper at the 4-H dairy show at the Champlain Valley Fair.  The show’s judge was David Kennett of Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester.  Dave did a wonderful job with the 4-Hers, giving lots of pointers on fitting and showing.   I’ve known David since he was a 4-Her showing dairy animals and competing against my boys.  He and his family milk about 100 Holsteins on their scenic valley farm.  Dave’s parents, Bob and Beth were pioneers in agri-tourism,  opening their home as an inn in 1984.  Beth is a wonderful cook, serving both dinner and breakfast to their guests.  Guests are encouraged to roam the farm, join in milking, feed the calves, collect eggs and to fully experience farm life.  These are not simply entertainment experiences, they are educational experiences.  Beth has been a true leader in promoting agri-tourism locally, nationally and in Canada.

Saturday, I kept looking at the beautiful sunny sky, knowing Hurricane Irene was on her way.  It was such an odd feeling; here is this perfect Vermont day, it seemed unbelievable we were in the path of a hurricane that was mere hours away.

It is heartbreaking to see the damage that Hurricane Irene has caused.  I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been had she not lost strength before reaching Vermont.  The ripped out bridges and roads from the heavy rains and flooding left 13 towns without access.  Last night that number was down to 12.  Especially hard hit was the Rochester area.  Liberty Hill Farm’s road was taken out by the White River, as were the bridges and roads into and out of town.  The river also washed away the town’s electric substation.  Power has been out since 3PM Sunday.  It may be weeks before the power is restored.

I have not spoken to the Kennetts, cell phone coverage is very spotty in the area.  I have spoken to their milk coop representative; I know physically the whole family is fine.  I expect the crops on that once lush river bottomland are gone.  Their livelihoods are halted; most farms have generators, I hope the Kennetts do so they can continue to feed and milk the cows.  There is no way to get the milk off the farm, so it will need to be dumped, but the cows must be fed and milked to keep them healthy.  This is another huge economic challenge for the Kennetts and many other Vermont dairies to overcome.

FEMA trucks started arriving yesterday, the VT National Guard is helping, as well as innumerable volunteers. The University of Vermont Extension website has a listing of many  hurricane recovery resources to access.

We Vermonters are a hardy bunch, but this is the worst flooding in nearly 100 years.  There was no way to prepare for or prevent the devastation.  Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2011 10:21 am

    I am so glad to know that AgrAbility staff are safe, but have been watching the news regarding all other VT communities. I wish there were some way we could all help! I loved the time I spent in Chester when I was in Vermont for the Arthritis and Agriculture workshops. I remember how beautiful the waterfall next the main road was, but can easily see how it helped demolish the roads and the town. I was so sad to see footage of that beautiful town on the news.

  2. Bob & Judy St Onge permalink
    September 1, 2011 3:02 pm

    We are longtime friends of the Kennetts from Maine and are hoping you might have some updated information on how they are doing. I’ve scoured the internet and have discovered they are HAND MILKING the herd.(holy cow!) We would like to head to VT as soon as we get squared away here but don’t know if we can even get through to their location…

  3. Alexandra Jump permalink
    August 31, 2011 7:16 pm

    I have been thinking about Liberty Hill Farm and how they and other farms are holding up. Some areas in New Hampshire got thumped too, the Pemigewasset, Sugar and Saco rivers all went up fast. I was out of power for a couple of days, but nothing compared to what folks along the rivers have experienced. No one can prepare for 7, 8 or 9 inches of rain and rivers going 14ft over flood stage in 12 hours. Roads and bridges washed out puts a whole new spin on “can’t get there from here”.

    Thinking of you guys over there with well wishes.

  4. August 31, 2011 4:40 pm

    Thank you as always Gail for your personal recounting of Vermont Farm Life. That heart ache lies close to the surface in all of us. I’m glad to know you are out there watching out for your folks.

  5. Eric Olson permalink
    August 31, 2011 12:22 pm

    Gail, thanks for putting such a personal perspective on what is going on in Vermont. I have long time friends in the Orwell/Benson area, they are alright, but dealing with lots of water and issues as well.

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