Community rallies around organic farms damaged in storm

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
Published on April 17, 2014

Community members and friends are helping two organic farms, one in Annapolis and one in Digby County, get back on their feet.

An online crowdfunding campaign is half way to its goal of raising $10,000 to help Wild Rose Farms in Gilberts Cove and Whippletree Farms in Round Hill, just outside Annapolis Royal, recover from damage sustained during a nor’easter on March 27.

Both farms lost a greenhouse and the seedlings and crops growing inside them when 140 km/h winds ripped the steel and plastic structures apart.

“An old farmer told me I should plan for chaos every five years,” said Gilberte Doelle, who runs Wild Rose Farms with her husband Siegmar. “I didn’t want to believe him, but I see he might be right.”

Doelle says the wind flipped their new metal greenhouse and then ripped it apart without her or her husband hearing anything.

The metal arches and supports bent in two and some snapped.

“With a commercial engineered greenhouse, the integrity comes from the whole structure together,” she said. “If one part breaks, the whole thing goes.”

The Doelle’s greenhouse was less than five months old; they just finished building it in November last year.

They had a back-up generator to keep the walls inflated even in the event of a power outage.

“All it takes though is something to go through the plastic and once the wind gets inside, it’s all over,” said Doelle.

They decided last year to build a commercial greenhouse because it was about three times cheaper than building a wooden one and, ironically, all the advice they had received said to buy and build a commercial structure because they are stronger and longer lasting.

“We felt we didn’t want to do as much maintenance,” said Doelle. “Because of the humidity in the greenhouse, the wood rots and pieces need replacing every couple of years.”

The Doelle’s 13-year-old wooden greenhouse meanwhile withstood the storm with only minor damage.

The Doelles have already sketched out plans for a new wooden greenhouse—this time using larch instead of pine. The larch should withstand the humidity better and they have also found an organic wood treatment to protect the wood.

Doelle missed a couple weeks of big sales at the Annapolis Royal Farmers Market –she had a good-sized crop of salad greens and people were buying everything she could get to market.

“High-quality greens are popular at the market at this time of year,” she said.

She also lost seedlings for other crops she had started early.

All in all she figures the storm did $10,000 to $15,000 in damage.

“I can laugh about it now,” said Doelle. “I did a lot of swearing and a lot of crying. But swearing doesn’t help, crying doesn’t help.”

She says there was never any question they would rebuild again but they weren’t sure when.

They immediately shelved some plans they had for expansion this summer and they made plans to reduce staff hours.

Now with the crowdfunding campaign taking off, they should be able to keep the staffing levels the same this summer.

Doelle says the whole experience since the storm has been a lesson in humility.

“Organic farmers are independent people,” she said. “We think, ‘I grow my own food, I don’t need anyone’s help.’ But we also grow food for other people, so for them at least, we have to be willing to accept some help.”

She says the community response was immediate. Neighbours offered space in their greenhouses and one is even watering and looking after seedlings in his greenhouse to save Doelle from driving back and forth.

Doelle sells a lot of her produce via Community Sponsored Agriculture agreements – customers pay her in the spring to grow crops for them.

“A lot of the members have paid early and others have gotten a full share when they normally just get a half share, because they know cash flow is going to be tough for us right now,” she said. “I’m very grateful.”

On top of it all, a friend from the farmers market community, Rowena Power, started a crowd-funding campaign on with a goal of raising $10,000 to help both the Doelles and Stewart Fotheringham and Nicole Burkhard of Whippletree Farms.

As of Thursday, April 17, after being online for less than a week, the campaign had already raised $4,770 – and it will remain open until the end of May.

“Thirty of forty years ago, when there was a problem, people would just get together and take care of it,” said Doelle. “I don’t know much about the Internet but I guess this is the modern version of that. It is an amazing thing.”