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Local ag groups help small farmers recover after eastern Ky. flooding

A layer of mud still sits atop Larry Noble's farm after the floods in eastern Kentucky.
A layer of mud still sits atop Larry Noble's farm after the floods in eastern Kentucky.

The floods overwhelmed the creek beside Larry Noble’s home in Perry County. In the blink of an eye, rising water washed away a hundred of Noble’s chickens and two dogs from his farm. 

“It come so fast and come in the night, I can’t tell you nothing. It just come all at once,” Noble said. 

The floods in eastern Ky. wrecked homes, lives and an important source of income and fresh food for the region. In just the first week, farmers in eastern Kentucky reported nearly $3.5 million in damages and lost income, according to the Community Farm Alliance

Growing and canning food at home are among the traditions that have been passed down through generations in eastern Kentucky. The number of farms declined as coal mining increased in the region, but that trend has reversed over the last decade, said Jennifer Weeber with the Community Farm Alliance.

“Really over the last eight to 10 years, there's been a lot of work in diversifying the economy of eastern Kentucky, and farming has been an important part of that,” Weeber said. 

Many of the farms Weeber works have lots ranging up to four acres. They often grow specialty crops like tomatoes, green beans, peppers and squash for subsistence and sale at the region’s thriving farmers markets. While the income often isn’t enough to raise a family, it’s common that one family member works the land while the other has a job with health insurance.   

But the flooding has destroyed many crops, swept away tools and topsoil, and left behind mud that can contaminate next year’s harvest. 

“A lot of crops that might have been harvested and sold were still in the field. So they’re really feeling economic pain from the cost of seeds and fertilizer 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 is a coalition of more than 1,000 members across 60 counties in the state. The alliance is now working together with the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky to provide grants up to $5,000 for flood-impacted farms. 

Already they’ve had more than 40 applications from small farmers and provided more than $670,000 in grants to help families, farms and businesses in the region.

Another organization, the Southeast Kentucky Sheep Producers Association, began delivering trailers loaded with supplies to Hindman and Hazard in early August.  

“Our association has taken up donations, and we’re buying fencing and feed, hay, straw, whatever the small farmers need,” said Lester Brashear, the Perry County representative for the alliance. 

Brasher has 20 head of sheep and has been working the same plot 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 bottomland is fertile, it comes with its own risks and hardships.

“This is not land you can put a tractor on,” he said.  

Brashear has been speaking with farmers in Perry County and helping them connect with resources, through the Sheep Producers Association and the Perry County Agricultural Department. That’s how he met Larry Noble, the farmer who lost his chickens in the flood. 

They shared a lot in common: farming, a fondness for great Pyrenees guard dogs, and the understanding that it’s up to people to lift each other up. 

As they parted, they shared some words of wisdom from their own families.  

“My mother always told me never give up nothing. Nothing. Don’t never give up nothing,” Noble said. 

“My grandma about raised me, and she used to say ‘Those that’s got are subject to lose, and them that’s don’t got, can’t lose’,” Brashear replied. 

Farmers can apply for grants to recover at AppalachianKY.org. People looking to help can donate can visit that same website or the Sheep Producers Association or their GoFundMe page

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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