Farms lose months of income after Florence

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We were all eager to see grocery stores reopen after Hurricane Florence, but our food supply doesn’t come from a store.

It’s easy to forget the farms we count on to feed us and how much damage they sustained from the wind and floods, but many suffered major losses that make a quick recovery impossible.

Old River Farms in Burgaw has been in the Lanier family since the early 1970s.

It started with one greenhouse — a $25,000 investment — and has now grown to three. The bulk of the inventory is used for UNCW and contracts with large landscapers.

The storm tore each to pieces.

Six months of income the Laniers were counting on has been washed away and they predict they will be unable to pay their employees for the time being.

This isn’t the first storm the farm has weathered. One of their cows named Lightning powered through a direct hit with scars on her back a reminder of the strike.

Those who live in Wilmington’s city limits may rarely see how expansive southeastern North Carolina’s agriculture community is, but we are heavily reliant on its success.

Any locally grown fall crops (collard greens, green peanuts, cabbage, etc.) are gone and will have to be shipped in.

“There’s not a factory out there that can produce more vegetables for you with the flip of a switch,” Michael Lanier said. “When that season is over, it’s over.”

The best he and many other area farms can do is look toward spring.  

FEMA and agriculture associations have been out to visit the farms to assess any financial support that can be offered, but it may take too long to receive the assistance needed to refill a small farmer’s coffers.

“We had to have a discussion with my family right after this happened about whether or not this is over,” Lanier said. “We’ve been working at this for a long time but this might be it for us. Do we declare bankruptcy? Do we sell everything and get out?”

It would have been an understandable choice had he made it. Instead, Lanier chose to focus on some positives in Florence’s wake.  

A bull calf was born during the worst of the wind.

A new kitten was literally blown into the barn. She lost her eye but is making up for any suffering with endless affection at the farmhouse.

Old River Farms employees are even volunteering to work. Several were on hand to help clean up Saturday when the farm intends to sell the last of what remains in an effort to recoup some of their loss: a truck full of mums.

Michael’s house was also completely flooded. Having just become a father this year, caring for a baby boy has only compounded the urgency of stabilizing their situation.

His neighbors and customers met many of those needs by flooding him once again, this time with baby supplies, food and household items.

“I just want to thank everyone so much. It kind of makes me tear up,” Lanier said with his hand over his eyes. “You guys really just absolutely saved our lives. You can consider this farm your home now. Everyone who helped us, this farm is your home too.”

About 1,000 children are scheduled for field trips at the farm in October. Lanier has had to cancel most of those scheduled in September — another source of revenue gone — but is determined to keep his October roster.

Stay current with re-openings and events on the Old River Farms Facebook page.

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