Natural Foods Merchandiser

Flood relief effort for farmers under way

Efforts are under way to provide relief for Midwestern organic farmers whose harvests were literally washed away during torrential rains in late August.

As part of the Sow the Seeds Fund, natural foods co-ops in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa are collecting money at cash registers, through sales of Peace Coffee's Sow the Seeds Blend, or at Proceeds will go to Minnesota and Wisconsin farmers who support Midwest co-ops.

Participating co-ops include Outpost Natural Foods and Willy Street in Wisconsin, The Wedge, Eastside Food Co-op, River Market, Just Food Co-op and St. Peter Food Co-op in Minnesota, and New Pioneer Co-op in Iowa.

The Valley Stewardship Network, a nonprofit organization in Wisconsin's Kickapoo Valley, the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are also helping with farm relief.

Donations will go to the more than 300 organic farms in the Kickapoo River Basin and neighboring regions estimated to have been affected by floods caused after tropical storm Erin dumped a foot of rain in the area. Not only were a variety of crops that were about to be harvested washed away, but some land may be too soggy to plant fall vegetables such as salad greens and spinach. In addition, mudslides have taken out fences, allowing cattle from organic farms to escape.

Although there aren't any statistics yet on total damages, early estimates range from $8 million to $40 million in crop losses.

"I heard that Featherstone Farm in Winona County lost? a couple hundred thousand dollars in produce, and Harmony Valley [in Viroqua, Wis.,] lost $300,000. Driftless Farm had potatoes washed into the fence line miles down the valley," said Organic Valley Farms' Pool Director David Bruce.

Organic Valley has about 1,200 member farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but many of those farms are on ridges and were unaffected by flooding. "Compared to some of the other farms, we've done remarkably well," Bruce said.

Bruce said Organic Valley and other producers are "redoubling efforts to make sure there [are] no contamination issues" from floodwaters. "We're encouraging people to wash produce in water tested to be free of contaminants, or in water treated with a mild bleach solution."

Organic Valley won't accept any produce that came in contact with floodwater or was within 30 feet of floodwater, Bruce said.

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