Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Joel talks about a farm disaster in our own backyard

Farm Aid blog readers from the greater Boston area will have already heard about the terrible fire late Saturday afternoon at the Verrill farm in Concord, MA. But for those of us working in the HOMEGROWN Village at the concert on Saturday in Mansfield, about an hour’s drive from Concord, word of the fire came in just minutes after the fire had started at around 5 p.m. Many exhibiting crews, including those from New Entry Sustainable Farming Project and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), have worked closely with the Verrills over the years and were deeply concerned about what was happening. We’d all heard recently about the devastating toll hurricanes Gustav and Ike had taken on farmers and ranchers in the Gulf coast region, but the fire that destroyed the Verrill farm store was a family farm disaster in our own backyard.

Sunday afternoon I drove out to the Verrill farm. The scene was grim yet also energetic, as a wrecking crew pulled down the remaining walls of the burnt out, 3,000 square foot farm store, and farm staff salvaged whatever they could from what had been their primary workplace just the day before. One detail sticks with me: The staff was extremely happy to discover that recipes collected over the years had not been totally lost, and they were collecting the charred books and binders in a blackened grocery cart even as the wrecking crew continued its grim work.

I visited with Joan Verrill, whose husband Steve was busy with insurance folks, and with their daughter Jennifer. Both were shaken but, like family farmers all over the country I’ve known, stoic in the face of disaster. I visited because I wanted to let them know that Farm Aid is not a distant, faceless national organization but literally their neighbor — our office is in nearby Somerville, MA — and that we would do whatever we can to help. We were already strategizing with the MDAR and many others in how best to assist the family. As saddened as the family is at the total loss of the center of their farm business, they were also clearly determined to re-build, and seemed heartened by the many friends, neighbors, customers, and others who were dropping by to offer their support and let them know they were not alone in their time of need.

I’ll update you all on the Verrill farm rebuilding effort as things develop, and meanwhile if you have ideas for how to help, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly at farmhelp@farmaid.org or by calling 1-800-FARMAID.

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