The Great Flood of 2011

A few weeks ago, I received a wonderful email from a past volunteer about an experience I had honestly tried to forget. The email sent by Eric B., was titled “The Great Flood of 2011” had four lines and several pictures.

“The conversation went something like…
Suzi: I’m not ready to see those photos
Eric: When can I send them to you?
Suzi: 10 years.”

Between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Petaluma Bounty went through a rough financial time. Most of the team was let go and the board was considering closing the farm. A group of dedicated volunteers and I proposed a budget and plan to keep the farm going but we would have minimal staff support. Volunteers signed up for shifts to cover all farm responsibilities including watering, sales outlets, harvest, and seeding. It was grueling yet exhilarating, as we were all committed to the cause.

We had a few hiccups but were starting to hit our stride. That is, until the Sunday I was called to the farm because, “Uhh, you just have to see it.” I had forgotten to check that all irrigation had been turned off when I came back from Saturday Farmers’ Market. On Sunday, I walked back to Luma Field where a few people had gathered silently. The irrigation had run all night and our tomato and onion crop were under a few feet of water. After a few moments of disbelief, we made a quick plan to dig channels in hopes to move as much standing water off the field. The mud baths and bucket brigade lasted several hours.

I was distraught and didn’t know how we would get through a season without two of our important crops. I assumed the plants were done for and feared the same for the farm. It was also a hit to my confidence in my ability to orchestrate my first solo season. I didn’t trust myself to remember simple yet crucial steps. It was a hard week as I watched some plants wither and die. But thankfully, I underestimated the resilience of our plants, soil, crop plan, and team. It was far from a bumper crop of tomatoes but we had enough for our community and were able to fill in with other crops that fared better.

My response to Eric was “I have so much compassion for my younger self.” She was trying so hard and learning how to manage, fail, and manage failure. We ended up installing an electronic shutoff valve as a backup to my fallible memory. I so appreciate the lessons I learned and that planned or designed redundancy is an important factor on a small community farm.

The diversity of plant varieties that we grow provides resilience in unstable conditions, such as flooding or drought. It allows for failures and champions as well as positions us well for adapting to changing and uncertain climate patterns. It is not efficient and can drive a farmer nutty, but it is effective in the face of climate change.

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