Archive for April, 2015

Suzy Hodgson at UVM Extension’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) interviews Amanda Andrews of Tamarack Hollow Farm about her experience with farming on a floodplain in Vermont and her recent move to higher ground.

Can you describe your move to Vermont and farming on the floodplain in Burlington?

Amanda: I moved up here in 2010 after working on farms in New York State. My partner and I started leasing land on a former dairy farm, which had been abandoned in 1978. It had changed hands a number of times and the City of Burlington wouldn’t allow residential development; it was zoned agriculture, with the Winooski winding between it and the adjacent Ethan Allen Homestead and the Intervale Center.

We knew the Intervale Center socially and knew about the Winooski prime soils there. We knew it was floodplain and what was happening at the Intervale, where it floods yearly in the spring with the snowmelt. Our farming friends said that we’ve only had one flood that was ever a problem in the 20 years we’ve been here. It’s a “non issue.” Flooding wasn’t holding anyone back.


Tamarack Hollow Farm. Photo credit: Amanda Andrews

CSA:  What was your experience farming on the floodplain?

Amanda: When we started our farm, there was no problem. We had a normal planting season on 2.5 acres and as part of our lease agreement, we rejuvenated and cleared 35 acres for new pasture for our livestock in 2010. But in 2011, there was the heaviest snowfall in 30 years and that spring was the heaviest rainfall.  That year Lake Champlain flooded where the Winooski meets the Lake and it backed onto our farm. The lake level reached a record high of 104 feet. This was our 2nd spring so we thought it must be a freak occurrence. We were under lake level and the water didn’t clear off until the end of June when we could plant.

CSA: When and how did you make the decision to move to higher ground?

Amanda: At the end of August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene hit and our farm was flooded again. 2011 was a total loss.

Having two major once-in-a-lifetime events in one year, we decided seriously to think of moving even though we had just arrived.

Summer 2012 was really great but still in the back of our minds, we continued looking, talking with the but most of the available land was large dairy farms without much vegetable soils, and we didn’t want a mortgage, a big old barn, and be tied to livestock. The economic collapse of 2008/09 meant people weren’t spending $12/lb. on meat.

Summer 2012 was really great but still in the back of our minds, we continued looking, talking with the Vermont Land Trust but most of the available land was large dairy farms without much vegetable soils, and we didn’t want a mortgage, a big old barn, and be tied to livestock. The economic collapse of 2008/09 meant people weren’t spending $12/lb. on meat.

In 2013, our farm flooded in May, June, and July. Spring snowmelt wasn’t a problem; it was heavy rains. We had standing water on our farm and an adjacent wetland took over 10 acres of our vegetable fields. On July 4, a microburst storm came over the lake from the Adirondacks and hit Burlington;  sewers were overflowing in Burlington. The next day the river flooded and our farm was flooded.

Tamarack - flooded

Standing water on spring greens, Tamarack Hollow Farm, Burlington, May 26, 2013. Photo credit: Amanda Andrews

CSA: What were your losses?

Amanda: We had done all our direct seeding in April. We’d planted peas, carrots, beets, potatoes, tomatoes, winter squash, spring greens, we lost all spring and summer vegetable. We had to move all our livestock, equipment, everything off the farm.

We put all our  workers in furlough and lost upwards of $75,000 worth of produce. We waited for the farm to dry out, and at the end of July, we planted everything. What did work to our advantage is that since we lost so much in May and June, we seeded extra fall crops as we had extra space. Having lost the spring crops, we had space for fall crops, broccoli, kale and kohlrabi. We seeded heavily and had an OK fall – it didn’t put us out of business. If we had flooded again that fall, it would have been the end.

CSA:  Have the weather-related effects of climate change been what you expected? Have they been manageable?

Amanda: What we experienced in Burlington, it wasn’t necessarily the snowmelt, the historic reasons for flooding, it was heavy rainfalls, short duration, and very very heavy. With four inches-in-a-day rain storm, even if you’re not on a floodplain, that sort of rain can still screw you over. I’d make crop plans over the winter with contingencies on top of contingencies. If there is flooding in May, this is what we do; if there is flooding in June, this is what we do. If in August… I had to have contingencies for all of these as we were going to flood at some point during the growing season.

People said it’s a flood plain, what did you expect? Floodplains flood predictably, but what happened in the past five years is totally unpredictable flooding and that’s the difference. It’s not that you’re going to flood between April 1 and May 1, which is what it had been for hundreds of years.

Now, you might flood in June, July, and/or August; we have experienced flooding in every summer month. That is not in the historical record. The Winooski flood plain is farmed in every town the Winooski goes through. Because we were closest to the Lake, we got it the worst. We got everyone’s floodwater but we’re not the only ones going through this.

It’s definitely a risk, if you’re further upstream, flooding may be manageable. Downstream, we were flooding that much more often. It’s a tradeoff for that prime soil.

CSA:  What particular site characteristics were you looking for beyond higher ground?

Amanda: A lot of the farmland that exists in Vermont is on the Winooski and for obvious reasons we shied away from this. What we wanted was really, really well-drained soils. We weren’t interested in dairy farms as they had poorly drained and shallow soils. And anything with clay was out. I cross-referenced potential agricultural parcels with the State’s soil maps for soil types, topography, forests, wetlands, and water bodies. We found an agricultural parcel with Vershire-Dummerston complex – a sandy loam – which is very well drained., not A+ but 84 on the scale 1 to 100 with no asterisk for flooding risk like our Winooski farm.

Plowing the new farm, Tamarack Hollow Farm, Plainsfield, May 9, 2014

Plowing the new farm, Tamarack Hollow Farm, Plainfield, May 9, 2014. Photo credit: Amanda Andrews.

CSA: Are you planning to change your crops?

Amanda: There will be slight change in our crops. Down at the Intervale, our planting was bottom heavy. Our experience of climate change is that the spring season is shrinking; it’s later to start, with very heavy storms, and heats up rapidly. Now we have high dry land, so we can get to our fields in spring but spring is not as long.

My experience is that spring is starting later and ending earlier. We’ll have high tunnels for spring production and perennials that come up on their own so I don’t need to be in the fields to cultivate. We’re trying to do things that aren’t dependent on tractors in the spring when soils are wet.

A big risk is increased diseases. We’re getting diseases and pests that used to just affect southern growers. We don’t grow berries yet and are looking carefully where we put them. We are looking for disease resistance in our seed varieties and there’re lots of successful breeding programs and surveys to see what farmers need in varieties.

It is troublesome. I wish we could grow all heirloom varieties, but as diseases are shifting, the resistance packages bred into the heirlooms no longer cut it. And we have new weed species moving up from the south. We need to know how much viable weed seed is in the soil and to keep that down as a long-term management goal.

CSA: Moving forward, how are you planning for climate and weather changes? Any specific example for plants?

Amanda: We’re buying rhubarb and asparagus and getting perennials established. We’re growing more herbs as you can get them in the ground earlier in the spring. The first project we did after water and power was put in a huge walk-in cooler. For us, business plan-wise, lots of fall crops are easier to grow, fall is extending.

While we’re losing spring, we’re getting longer falls.  So we are trying to be very fall heavy to make more income in the winter so we can be buffeted from the shorter spring. It’s a shifting calendar.

We’re not considering strawberries, it’s becoming more and more difficult due to a lot of spring rain making it difficult for strawberries to fruit. Ten years ago, we probably would have put in an acre of strawberries as that was the thing to bring people to your farmstand. Instead we have ton of storage crops that we can sell in the December and January and markets have been responsive. Now you can grow rutabagas and carrots and sell them.

CSA: What advice would you give to other farmers from what you learned about climate change?

Amanda: Farming was hard enough before climate change, it’s not like it was easy before and now it’s really hard. If you really want to be a farmer, there’s nothing that can be said to keep you from trying farming. What did the farmer do when he won the lottery? He kept farming until it was all gone. You’re going to keep doing it until you’re broke.

I can’t imagine surviving climate change in a bubble. Our greatest resource for planning and surviving is communicating with seed companies, growers, Extension services, knowing what’s happening in southern VT, MA. What’s a problem for them this year will be a problem for us next year. I have peers in Pennsylvania and talk to them all the time.

If you look at Vermont projections for climate change in 50 years, it’ll be Pennsylvania. 


Many of the best soils for agriculture are alluvial deposits found on flood plains along rivers.  In Vermont, one of these rivers is the Winooski River which flows through Burlington into Lake Champlain.  Over recent years, as part of the upswing in the local food movement, many small farms have been attracted to the innovative farm incubator and food hub called the Intervale Center in Burlington.  However, while its location in Burlington is prime for proximity to local food fans, its river-bank location on the WInooski leaves a number of the farms at risk to flooding.

Winooski River outside Richmond, VT

Sediment covering fields from receded floodwaters of the Winooski River outside Richmond, VT Photo credit: Lars Gange & Mansfield Heliflight

Since 1970, the frequency of severe flood events has increased in Vermont with the amount of rainfall falling during very heavy precipitation events up by 67%.  Hurricane Irene damaged over  9000 acres of Vermont’s farmland, causing economic losses of about $20 billion with many farms losing all of their crops.  See photos taken from helicopter of flood damage along river corridors in Vermont.

At the Intervale, a number of farms were willing to “stick it out” after one big flood event, but by the time, another extreme event hit the farm and destroyed crops, it was time to reconsider the farm’s location.  We have identified several farms and farmers who have recently made the decisionto move to higher ground in Vermont.

Our first interview is with Amanda Andrews, co-owner of Tamarack Hollow Farm, who moved her farm from a location near the Intervale in Burlington to a new site in Plainfield, Vermont.





Photo credit: Lars Gange & Mansfield Heliflight

Route 2, Bolton, VT Photo credit: Lars Gange & Mansfield Heliflight










In this post, we continue a previous interview with Ruby Woodside, a Thomas W. Haas Climate Fellow at the University of New Hampshire, who recently completed a series of case studies on climate change resiliency on farms in New England.  Picking up where we left off:

CSA:  Were these farms innovating and figuring out adaptation strategies on their own?  Or were there sources of information that they and other farmers can look to for guidance on specific ways of becoming more resilient?

Ruby: Most of the farms had networks that they were involved with, both formal organizations and informal relationships, through which they were sharing information and ideas. Almost everyone mentioned the importance of a supportive network, especially as small businesses. Some farmers mentioned that they attended conferences and workshops on a regular basis, and many said that venues such as farmers markets served as a space to talk with others and Greens close vert_Cheryltroubleshoot. Each state seems to have a different set of resources; I heard great things about UVM Extension. One farmer spoke about the value of open source technology; keeping technology and innovation accessible (without patents) allows people to learn from the work of others and adjust innovations to fit their own needs. At the end of each case study I included a few resources for further information that the farmer being interviewed had identified as helpful.

Specific to climate change, several farmers said that they looked for help in dealing with new or increased pests and diseases. This is especially true if pests were new to the area and farmers were unfamiliar with them. Farmers mentioned reaching out to neighbors, extension specialists, or simply looking up management strategies on the Internet. As many pests and diseases are shifting regions as climate changes, having a broad network was very important in order to access information from farmers more experienced with a particular challenge.

CSA:  Looking back at all of the farms, do you see common threads that enabled the farmers to be prepared and to make concrete steps toward adaptation?

Ruby: Yes: being flexible and preparing for the worst while hoping for the best! I also think this is a common thread in any successful business. Farmers that planned for many different scenarios seemed to be the most successful in taking advantage of opportunities. For example, farmers might plant a field knowing that the crop could be lost due to either flood or drought (depending on the location). Successful farmers would have a plan in place for this event, and know exactly how much of their business was at risk. Plans could include a backup crop, alternative sources of income, insurance, or simply replanting a fast growing crop in the same area. This means that in the worst-case scenario, farmers would not be absolutely devastated by losses. Along the same lines, this allowed farmers to take advantage of the opportunities presented by changes in climate. For example, the flexibility to plant an extra crop at the end of the growing season, despite the risk of frost, meant that farmers might have an extra harvest. Again, these seem to be practices that many farmers traditionally do anyways, however the pressures from climate change make it more vital for farmers to be opportunistic, and have plans in place for failure.

Also, I know this is very general, but the most resilient farmers seemed to be the most open minded and creative. This means the willingness to try new things (and the careful planning so that if the “new things” fail, all is not lost). For example, one farm switched production entirely from dairy to livestock. This was not specifically in response to climate change, but I think is a great example of the types of shifts that many people may have to make as the environment changes. Other creative ideas included a corn maze on the farm, teaming up with other producers to access larger markets, and hosting community events on site.

CSA:  What would you tell young, or beginning, farmers who are in the planning or business development stage of farming, in terms of accounting for the risk posed by climate change?

Ruby: Have a solid business plan, and know your profit margins. That way you know which products are most important to the business, and can make good risk management decisions. Also try to incorporate a financial buffer right from the start. This could be from a greenhouse, some type of off-season production, or finding a way to roll over surplus from one year to the next. One of the biggest threats from climate change seems to be the unpredictable and extreme weather. A financial buffer helps farmers “weather the storm.” As we talked about before, I think diversification is also very important, and building up a strong network.

CSA: Finally, where do you see the food system in New England moving in the future?  Will farmers be able to develop climate change resiliency, and what needs to happen to ensure long-term sustainability?    

Ruby:   I was really encouraged to see the great work that is happening all over New England in terms of supporting a sustainable food system. Food Solutions New England is doing a great job of building a regional network. There are so many people that care about their communities, care about their food, and are thinking creatively about what a healthy food system should look like! Yes, I definitely think that farmers can develop climate change resiliency. They already are; farming is a difficult and dynamic livelihood, and farmers have been adapting to the environment and markets for a long time.

I think that a sustainable regional food system needs farms of all scale. Small family farms are important, but of course all of our food cannot come from CSA’s and farmers markets. I think we need to support policies that help both small and middle-sized agriculture. I also think that working at a regional scale is important. In a region as diverse as New England, we are luck to have many different types of production. This means that many of our dietary needs could feasibly be fulfilled regionally. A strong regional food system also increases our food security and resilience to disruptive climate change.

CSA:  Thanks so much for sharing with us!

Ruby: Thanks for taking the time to connect with me!

To begin our project, we’d like to highlight a collection of case studies of farms recently completed by Ruby Woodside, a Thomas W. Haas Climate Fellow at the University of New Hampshire.  Her work was sponsored in collaboration by Food Solutions New England, a network devoted to transforming the New England food system for the better.  Ruby’s case studies, all 12, are available for reading and downloading through the UNH Sustainability Institute.  They cover a diverse mix of farms, from aquaculture to fruit and vegetables,Steer in pasture and many are just a couple pages long.  I encourage you to dive in, and to enjoy and learn from the breadth of climate change adaptation strategies contained within.  A few of the farms may not be that different from your own.

To dig in a bit deeper, Joshua Faulkner of the UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) was able to connect with Ruby, to ask her a few follow-up questions on the case studies:

CSA:  First, congratulations on the fellowship, and on the final product.

Ruby: Thank you! It was a great experience, and I am thrilled that people are reading the cases. I loved meeting so many different folks involved in the food system, and want to acknowledge everyone who took the time to speak with me.

CSA:  The more we travel around, the more we hear farmers talking about the need to be ‘resilient’.  After interviewing these farmers, how would you define ‘resiliency’, in terms of farming and climate change?

Ruby: Yes, a lot of farmers talked about being resilient, and in most cases it meant some type of diversification. I had always heard the argument for diversified production, and of course we know the dangers of monocultures and how vulnerable that can be. Most of the farmers I interviewed mentioned the importance of growing different products; ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket!’ as one farmer put it. So I think that is definitely key in being resilient to climate change. It really is something that most small farmers try to do anyways, especially with the famously erratic New England weather. In addition to diversifying production, farmers mentioned diversifying their income and markets as a method to increase resilience. This is more of the business model side of the equation. If farmers rely solely on Community Supported Agriculture or a few wholesale accounts, then that also makes them vulnerable to changes, be it changes in the market or in their production. Many farmers also looked to add supplemental income that wasn’t directly from farm production. For example, hosting a workshop or finding a way to get paid for ecosystem services. This makes a lot of sense to me. So I think that resilience overall means diversified production, diversified sources of money coming into the farm, and a strong community support network.

CSA:  We know there are a variety of observed and projected climate impacts on farms in the Northeast (i.e., flooding, new pests, etc.).  Did one specific projection, or impact, rise to the surface as the primary concern for the farmers you profiled?

Ruby: Not really, but I think that is because each farm I visited was very different and in a different location. Many of the concerns are site specific. For example, the farms that I visited at the Intervale, VT, which are on a floodplain, were naturally most affected by flooding, whereas other farms felt that late summer drought was more problematic. It really depended on what they were producing and the specific geography of the farm.

I will say that almost everyone I spoke with noted that the weather seems to be getting more extreme and unpredictable. This was interesting to hear, especially as many of the farmers have been in the business their entire lives. These observations were not necessarily a part of the conversation about climate change, and in many cases I actually did not ask specifically about impacts of climate change. Instead I asked whether or not people observed any changing trends in weather patterns over the years. So that definitely stood out to me; whether or not climate change is on people’s radar, there are noticeable changes in the environment.

CSA: That confirms many of our observations and conversations as well.  We also hear that climate change is just one of many sources of risk for farmers.  Does that match up with your experience?

Ruby:  Absolutely. Climate change is not necessarily the primary concern for many of these farmers. Yes, people were worried about changes that they were noticing in the environment, and increased pressure from disease and pests, flooding, droughts, etc. Some farmers attributed these changes directly to climate change, and some did not.   However, on a day-to-day basis, farmers were facing numerous other challenges, ranging from how to finance a new infrastructure project to keeping livestock healthy to understanding complicated regulations to the daily grind of harvesting and getting products to market. I actually think that the most important thing is not how farmers are adapting to climate change, per se, but that they are able to make a viable livelihood farming and have the tools needed to do so in a sustainable way. With sufficient resources, it seems that small farms are naturally going to take steps to increase their resilience and viability. They are also going to use environmentally sustainable methods. I think that any way we can help make farming a profitable business and more holistically integrated into communities across the region will help increase climate change resilience.

We will continue the interview with Ruby in the next post, where we’ll ask about where farmers look for information on adaptation and Ruby’s thoughts on the future of the New England food system.



The UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture has embarked on a partnership with the USDA Northeast Climate Hub to engage, learn from, and share information with organic farmers within the region.  The Climate Hub, which is composed of a variety of government agencies and the land grant universities in the region, works ‘…to develop and deliver the science-based, region-specific information and technologies that farmers, foresters and land managers need now to better respond to and adapt to increasingly unpredictable weather2014-10-17 11.29.28-1 and climate.’ We are excited to be a part of this timely mission, and feel especially well-positioned to provide the connection between the universities, agencies, and the farming community.

We work with many organic producers, which are a critical part of the farming sector in the region, and who utilize unique approaches and production practices.  Through this partnership, the Center for Sustainable Agriculture plans to highlight successful strategies these farmers, and others, are using to adapt to a changing climate.  This will be accomplished through a series of short articles or blog posts over the next year.  We will also be collaborating with others in the region to host guest articles from time to time.  Please respond to or comment on our postings with your thoughts and/or contributions.  We’d love to know what you are thinking, and if you’ve had success with the highlighted adaptations, or others, on your farm.  You may also see us at a number of the region’s organic farming conferences, as we travel around with an exhibit and interact with as many farmers as possible.

Happy reading!

Joshua Faulkner, Suzy Hodgson, and Kimberly Hagen

Learn more about us here.


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