BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — A month after historic floodwaters washed over much of Boulder County, local farmers continue to assess the damage to their land and crops, make sense of their losses and determine whether their produce is safe for consumption — all during a time of year generally devoted to the fall harvest.
Individual farms in Boulder County sustained tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage — not just from the immediate impacts of the flooding, but also the decision by some to throw out entire crops that had been soaked in possibly contaminated floodwaters. They may need to purchase new farming equipment such as a Hydraulic Hitch to prepare their farmlands and plant new crops.
“The reality is if you don’t know where your water came from, if you don’t know it was only rainwater, you cannot risk selling food to anybody,” said Melanie Goldbort of Boulder’s Sunbeam Farm.
Goldbort and partner Dennis Kline decided the safest avenue was to dispose of all produce that came in contact with floodwaters.
“We’ve slowly been picking through what to do next,” Kline said. “It’s really up to us. There’s no one knocking on our door telling us we shouldn’t sell our food. We’re responsible for making the right choices because our choices, in the end, can really affect the livelihood of others.”
According to the Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines on evaluating the safety of flood-affected food crops, if an edible portion of a crop is exposed to floodwaters, it is considered adulterated and should not be consumed by humans. For crops that were possibly near floodwaters, a case-by-case evaluation is recommended, ultimately leaving the final decision up to the farmer.
Floodwaters can possibly carry sewage, various chemicals, heavy metals, pathogens and other contaminants, according to the FDA. State testing already has found high levels of E. coli in parts of the Boulder County flood zone.
Peter Volz, owner of Oxford Gardens in Niwot, watched helplessly as a surging Left Hand Creek consumed portions of his fields during the flood.
“The southern portion of our field was affected, which sits right next to Left Hand Creek,” Volz said. “Our fields essentially became a part of the creek.”
Within a 24-hour period, the 15-foot-wide creek expanded to roughly 300 feet wide, washing away topsoil and wiping out crops, taking numerous beets, leeks, scallions, onions and greens along with it.
After incurring an estimated $15,000 in damages from both the loss of half an acre of produce and interruption in business, Volz had to decide whether to keep or throw away crops that may have been touched by floodwaters.
Following advice from Adrian Card, a Colorado State University Extension agent for Boulder County, Volz opted to clean any vegetables that may have come in contact with floodwaters.
“There was a special, stringent process to follow,” Volz said. “We dumped produce in a specific Clorox solution, recommended by Adrian Card. I even contacted Clorox directly to make sure this was done properly on the potentially contaminated produce. Then we used the same process on some of the produce that wasn’t affected by the flood, just in case.”
Sunbeam Farm, which was denied assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sustained an estimated $19,000 in damages, after floodwaters destroyed 16,000 square feet of plants, and damaged the farm’s greenhouse, animal pens and equipment.
Lacking assistance from other local and government agencies, Kline set up a fundraiser through YouCaring.com, asking the community to help keep the farm afloat. Setting a goal of $9,500, or half of the estimated losses, Sunbeam Farm’s fundraiser has collected more than $6,000 so far.
Kline said that after putting everything they have, and more, into the farm, he hopes that with community support, Sunbeam Farm will be around for many more seasons.
“It’s a slow process of acceptance,” Kline said. “Our farm is our little baby. We’ve focused so much time and energy into it. Materials were lost and some things just can’t be fixed. We’re still picking through it all, since every area was affected. It’s a mess and fairly confusing, but we’re hoping with community support, we can pull through.”
Mark Guttridge, owner of Ollin Farms in Longmont, whose fields were flooded by Left Hand Creek, has focused his efforts not only on his own farm cleanup — after incurring $8,000 in infrastructure damages and another $10,000 in lost sales and damaged crops — but also on helping other farmers get access to funds for recovery, as a member of the Farm Relief Fund Advisory Group.
“In general, farmers don’t have access to funds for flood recovery, so a Front Range Farm Relief Fund has been set up and is accepting donations,” Guttridge said. “This is a great step to help farmers with immediate needs.”
Local Food Shift Group, a nonprofit organization, has joined forces with the Community Foundation of Boulder County and the Boulder County Farmers’ Market to accept tax-deductible contributions. Donations will go toward grants and low-interest loans to farms affected by the flood.