Lucky Dog Farm hard hit by hail
By Matthew J. Perry
An especially wet, cool June turned violent last Monday when hailstorms swept through Delaware County, making what has been a difficult growing season even harder.
The hail fell across a wide area and several towns. The stones were largest, perhaps, in Hamden, where Richard Giles and Holley White-Giles have operated Lucky Dog farm for the last nine years.
“It was ferocious,” says Richard Giles. “It blew and raged for 30 minutes and pretty much sawed everything down.” He doesn’t recall his 55 acres receiving quite so much punishment before—from the sky, at least.
“The flood of 2006 was worse, much worse,” he says. “That was a total loss.” This time around, most everything growing in the 40 acres he has planted was damaged, but some crops have hope of recovery. Sensitive plants, like lettuces, fared the worst; others, like kale, lost their leaves but may recover this season.
Because the fields are still wet, Giles says, Lucky Dog has yet to resume operations or begin replacing the destroyed crops.
Of more immediate concern to the farm is the long-term problem of cash flow. Lucky Dog participates in three weekend farmers’ markets and also sells to food wholesalers; its produce ends up in Whole Foods Markets, prominent food co-ops and many restaurants.
Many of those customers were left high and dry this past weekend. On Saturday, at the Round Barn in Halcottsville, Giles says, he quickly ran out of lettuce, although it took some time for that fact to sink in with his customers. “They’d come back and say, ‘are you sure you don’t have any lettuce?’ I had to put up pictures so I could say ‘there’s your lettuce, spread over three counties.’”
Insurance may help Lucky Dog make good on some losses. Giles has coverage under USDA’s Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), and he says that an assessor has already come to view the damage. That was just the beginning, however, of a time-consuming, pain-staking process that will include photographing the damaged crops, comparing their yield to other years, and determining the extent of the loss of revenue. As with all insurance claims, the documentation must be extremely thorough.
“It’s better this time than in 2006,” Giles says. “After the flood the assessor didn’t come out at all.”
There is more to the long-range view, however, than the myriad headaches created by replanting and calculating loss. After all, loss is part of the cyclical process, albeit an unpredictable one.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s how farming works,” Giles says. “If you’re eating local food, there will be times when the supply is short. But there’s real value in getting a feel for the real nature of food. It’s very different from just assuming the food is always going to be there.”
Farmers, of course, can never make such an assumption themselves. But for Giles, the awareness of his livelihood’s challenges—and rewards—is growing.
“A lot of my customers, especially those from around Andes, lost most of their own gardens,” he says. “So they understand what we’re dealing with here.
“It feels almost perverse to say,” he continued, but “the storm was beautiful, all that violent power, harvesting 40 acres of crop in half-an-hour. And then after the storm there were heaps of ice, in the summertime.”