December’s flooding took a heavy crop toll among farmers in the Russian River Valley, along Peña Creek in West Dry Creek and, to a lesser extent, in the Dry Creek Valley.
Lynda and Emmett Hopkins of Foggy River Farm, in the Russian River Valley outside Healdsburg, estimate they lost more than $8,000 on fall-planted crops that were inundated by December’s heavy rains. Although the standing water from the Russian River receded after about 36 hours, some crops were a complete loss.
“We lost all our above-ground crops, the broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts,” said Emmett Hopkins, 32. “It’s not just the inundation but the layers of silt that destroyed them.”
“We knew up front that we’d lose those things,” added Lynda Hopkins. “But the root crops, particularly the carrots, started to rot and turned to slime.”
The rain’s long duration set up an anaerobic situation in the soil, in which all the pores that usually contain air filled with water.
While a farmer is used to the vagaries of weather and the vulnerabilities inherent in planting on a floodplain, the disasters make their jobs harder. Usually they are not frequent enough to drive people out of business.
The last time the Hopkins’ property flooded was New Year’s Eve 2005. They farm about eight acres of bottom land that is surrounded by parcels that hold vineyards.
Their Eastside Road property was purchased by Emmett’s grandparents in the 1950s. Historically, the property has been used to grow the gamut of Sonoma County crops, from hops to prunes to pears and grapes. The fertile alluvial soil entices farmers to plant on the plain, where the ground is level.
In addition to the Hopkins’ lost brassicas, a bed of snow and shelling pea seedlings vanished as if they had never been planted. Herbs like sorrel, sage, thyme, oregano and chives also are unusable and will have to be cut back.
While they lost the money for the seeds and the labor costs involved in planting them, Foggy River’s biggest hit comes from the lost sales to CSA shares and farmers market customers.
“It’s hard to sell at the farmers market when you don’t have enough to fill your booth and bring in the customers,” said Lynda. “When they can’t get carrots, they move along to the next booth.”
But diversification has kept them from further losses. The Hopkins have 11 kinds of dried heirloom beans that were harvested over the summer, plus beets, barley and long-lasting storage crops that were harvested before the flood lasting. These include cabbage, winter squash, celery, leeks and onions.
Before the flood, the Hopkins and their farm workers spent three days before the flood lashing down barrels and shelves, and moving bins of squashes from the barn to a safe place above the expected flood line.
Now three weeks after the flooding, they are still shoveling, squeegeeing and washing silt off shelves and floors and bringing things back in from the vineyards. They expect clean up to take another three weeks.
“We missed some of the details when we were preparing for the flood,” Emmett said, pointing at two gates lying at the edge of the vineyard. “They just floated off when we forgot to lash them down.”