We’ve been watching Hurricane Florence since last week. Over the weekend we were concerned about its trajectory and checked the forecast obsessively. By Monday, it was an enormous Category 4 storm headed our way, and we made lists of what we could do to get the farm ready. By Tuesday, it was the worst hurricane in history predicted to hit far up into the Carolinas, and we shifted into high gear. As I write, the whole farm feels topsy-turvy, and yet we still have blue skies.
Here in Hillsborough, we’re solidly in the middle of North Carolina, two to three hours from the ocean. Out of reach, you would think, from hurricanes. Not true. Occasionally a storm hits the coast and doesn’t slow but continues west, over land, bringing torrential rain and high winds. This type of inland hurricane is rare but not unheard of. As a child, I remember huge trees bent under the 80-miles-per-hour winds of Hurricane Fran. That storm destroyed homes, took lives, and left us without power for two weeks. Since then, several hurricanes have caused serious flooding in inland parts of the state. These days, the hurricanes are bigger and linger longer, dropping even more rain.
What are we doing to get the farm ready? It feels like a lot, but in some ways, there’s only so much we can do. It’s been a series of tough calls this week. The first question was whether or not to keep planting. We still have fall plants in the greenhouse ready to be transplanted. At this point in the season, with rapidly diminishing sunlight, if we don’t stick to the planting schedule, we lose our planting window altogether. We decided to go ahead and risk planting them out. They may drown or get battered by wind, but better that than to not try at all. The second big question was whether or not to take the plastic off our hoop houses. In high winds, the plastic can tear, and it is expensive to replace. Our biggest fear is that the whole structure could be damaged. Well, actually, even worse would be that we lose our fall crops and have to tell our CSA members that we don’t have anything to harvest for them for the rest of the season.
Yesterday, after packing and delivering CSA boxes, we worked late doing what we could to make the farm secure. We removed shade cloth from all the hoop houses and brought all loose tools, crates, and buckets inside. Today, after packing and delivering CSA boxes, we’re filling up tubs of water for seedlings because we’ll likely lose power, which means no water. We’ve already made a note to finally go ahead and buy a generator for the walk-in cooler as soon as they’re back in stock. We’ll check the projections one last time and remove the plastic on the hoop houses if we feel like there’s no choice. Then, we’ll do inside work and wait it out.
In the end, the plants have to fend for themselves. As farmers, we signed up for this. Working with Mother Nature means working with her through thick and thin. The risk is huge. All day yesterday I was in a foul mood, irritated that our already full day had become longer and more harried. I felt myself wishing for a return to normal. By the time we finally sat down to dinner, I had calmed down, remembering that this is part of what I love about farming. It is a constant reminder of our vulnerability and interdependence. The latest forecasts have shifted Florence to the south, moving us out of its direct path. Better for us but likely worse for the coast and for all the farms in the floodplains of eastern North Carolina. Our hearts go out to everyone preparing for this storm. It’s clear to us that this won’t be the last big storm we prepare for. May we learn to weather these storms together.