Friday, November 03, 2006

Joel talks to a farmer hit by disaster

Half a year’s experience as Farm Aid’s Hotline Coordinator has given me real insight into the range of weather-related disasters faced by farm families across the U.S. Since April, I’ve responded to calls and emails about disasters of many kinds: prolonged drought across the Plains states and elsewhere; tornadoes in the Midwest and Southeast; flooding throughout New England; earthquakes on the Big Island of Hawaii; fires in California, Oklahoma, Texas, and North Carolina; and the continuing effects of hurricane Katrina and other storms along the Gulf Coast.

One morning, I arrived at the office to find a phone message waiting for me from a Midwestern farmer. He had called at 4 a.m., just moments after tornado-like winds had blasted his equipment shed, causing untold damage to all his farm vehicles and machinery. He was incredibly composed at the start of his message, but by the end of it he had broken in sobs and clearly needed someone to talk with. He and his family were all safe, but the trauma of the event was just too much to contain at that moment.

I finally reached him by phone, by which time neighbors and friends had come to the family’s aid and clean up had already begun. Yet he was pleased to get the call, and I was extremely happy to get through to him and be able to offer even the most basic information on how to get local, state, and federal help. In all such cases, the initial crucial step the farmer must take is to document the damage (using photos, video, etc.) as thoroughly as possible before any real clean up begins. Such documentation can make all the difference in whether one later receives compensation from state or federal agencies for damage inflicted by the disaster. If you ever have questions about any of this, simply pick the phone and call 1/800/FARMAID.

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