Flooding overwhelmed the creek next to Larry Noble’s home in Perry County. In the blink of an eye, the rising water swept away a hundred of Noble’s chickens and two dogs from his farm.
“It came so fast and at night that I can’t tell you anything. It just came all at once,” Noble said.
Flooding in eastern Ky. they destroyed homes, lives and an important source of income and fresh food for the region. In the first week alone, eastern Kentucky farmers reported nearly $3.5 million in damage and lost income, according to the Community Farm Alliance.
Growing and canning food at home is one of the traditions that has been passed down from generation to generation in Eastern Kentucky. The number of farms has decreased as coal mining has increased in the region, but that trend has reversed over the past decade, said Jennifer Weeber of the Community Farm Alliance.
“Really, over the last eight to 10 years, there’s been a lot of work to diversify Eastern Kentucky’s economy, and agriculture has been a big part of that,” Weeber said.
Many of the farms Weeber works on have lots as large as four acres. They often grow specialty crops such as tomatoes, green beans, peppers, and squash for their livelihood and sale at the region’s thriving farmers’ markets. While the income is often not enough to raise a family, it is common for one family member to work the land while the other has a job with health insurance.
But the flood has destroyed many crops, washed away tools and topsoil, and left behind mud that can contaminate next year’s harvest.
“Many crops that could have been harvested and sold were still in the field. So they’re really feeling an economic pain from the cost of seeds, fertilizers and diesel to get things in the field and not being able to harvest a crop and sell it,” Weeber said.
The Community Farm Alliance Weeber works with a coalition of more than 1,000 members in 60 counties across the state. The alliance is now working together with the Kentucky Appalachian Foundation to provide grants of up to $5,000 for farms affected by the floods.
They have already received more than 40 applications from small farmers and have provided more than $670,000 in grants to help families, farms and businesses in the region.
Another organization, the Southeastern Kentucky Sheep Producers Association, began delivering trailers loaded with supplies to Hindman and Hazard in early August.
“Our association has received donations and we are buying fencing and feed, hay, straw, everything that small farmers need,” said Lester Brashear, the association’s representative in Perry County.
Brasher has 20 head of sheep and has been working the same parcel of land in Perry as his great-grandfather did in 1820. He said it takes a special kind of person to work the mountainous terrain. While the soil in the lowlands is fertile, it comes with its own risks and difficulties.
“This is not land you can put a tractor on,” he said.
Brashear has been talking to farmers in Perry County and helping connect them with resources, through the Sheep Producers Association and the Perry County Department of Agriculture. Thus he met Larry Noble, the farmer who lost his chickens in the flood.
They had a lot in common: farming, a fondness for Great Pyrenees Watchdogs, and an understanding that it’s up to people to help each other.
As they parted, they shared some words of wisdom from their own families.
“My mother always told me to never give up anything. Any. She never give anything up,” Noble said.
“My grandmother raised me and she used to say, ‘Haves are bound to lose, and have-nots cannot lose,’” Brashear responded.
Farmers can apply for grants to recover in AppalachianKY.org. People looking to help can donate can visit that same website or the Sheep Producers Association or its GoFundMe Page.