Home News and Features FEAST Program Still Providing Food After Losing Farm

FEAST Program Still Providing Food After Losing Farm

MYCC members Cadence Tyler and Lena Donofrio, at work cleaning up the FEAST Farm after the flood. Photo by John Lazenby.
The FEAST Farm in Montpelier suffered a total crop loss during the July 10 flood, but through hours of volunteer effort and some grant funding, the seniors and others for whom the FEAST program serves meals are still provided for.

“It’s a unique and special program,” said Charlie Watt, manager of the FEAST Farm, which grows food for the FEAST program and Meals on Wheels and is run by Montpelier’s Community Services Department. “The farm is at the confluence of the Winooski River and the Stevens branch of the Winooski,” he said. It’s “surrounded by 270 degrees of river.”

“The morning after the flood, it was completely underwater,” said Watt. “We had 100% crop loss. Mostly physical loss, but also just the toxic flood waters. Anything that did remain was no longer edible.”

Before the flood, the farm had been growing “typical market crops,” said Watt. “Things like greens and spinach, peppers and tomatoes, beets and carrots and beans, to name a few. And cabbage, broccoli.” At the beginning of the year, Watt had worked with the FEAST program’s chef to figure out a cropping plan.

The FEAST program has received a Local Food Purchase Assistance Plus grant, “which helps supplement the food that we lost,” said Watt. “We will be reopening the FEAST farmstand next week” at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center, where there will be “fruit, meat, dairy, and eggs from local farmers that we’ll be giving away for free.” The program also hosts weekly lunches.

The FEAST Farm sits just downstream from Casella Waste Management’s residential drop-off site on Route 2. “We had hundreds of trash bins wash up onto our site,” said Watt. “We were able to strike a good relationship with Casella, because we helped out with so much of the retrieval of their bins lodged in the woods, and then our fields. They lent us a dumpster to help with our cleanup efforts, which was nice.”

“The Montpelier Youth Conservation Corps was a big part of the recovery,” said Watt. Normally, the corps helps grow food at the farm, but this year they helped with flood recovery.

There were “a number of volunteers that would show up through sign-up at the Montpelier hub,” said Watt. “One Saturday there were 50 members of a church from Maine.” Workers put in “hundreds of labor hours.”

The farm lost its deer and rodent fence, which protected the vegetables and tree nursery. “We had just purchased new irrigation infrastructure,” said Watt. “Some drip lines and big lines connecting the water to our fields were washed away and damaged.”

“Strangely enough, we wound up with three extra picnic tables,” he said.

Watt told The Bridge “I feel lucky to have been able to be absorbed by the parks department,” who pivoted all of its work to flood recovery. “We played a part in managing the downtown hub, which was like the volunteer coordinations,” in Montpelier.

“In the immediate aftermath of the flood, we kind of shifted from what the farm needs to then just like addressing immediate community needs,” said Watt. “As that work kind of subsided, we set our sights back onto the farm.”

The FEAST Farm is now working on moving to higher ground, because, Watt said, “it’s not a matter of if, but when that farm site floods again.”

“We’d love to have it be a site where we can invite community members for workshops and other educational purposes, and include spaces for community gardening,” said Watt. A community kitchen and maybe a shelter “would be beautiful to see.”

Volunteers at the FEAST Senior Meals Program “can look to learn from a very talented chef, who takes local produce and [turns it] into delicious tasting meals”, said Watt. At the FEAST Farm, volunteers “can really get an insight into what vegetable and farming looks like,” from “nutrient management to planting and harvesting methods.”

“People having a connection with the food that they’re eating, and the land that’s producing that food, and the people that are growing that food,” Watt said, is a “really important part of our community resiliency.”