In 2012, David Crafton moved to Norway, South Carolina, to farm full time. A town of fewer than 200 households in Orangeburg County, it boasts row crops that dominate agriculture; its vegetables, fruits and nuts are regarded as “specialty crops” by the state department of agriculture. Crafton raises pastured pigs and grows a market garden using methods he calls “beyond organic.”
In 2014, a drought hit South Carolina that lasted two years and was followed by a flood in the autumn of 2015. Local media declared 2015 an historic crop year for Orangeburg County because of widespread losses. Crafton lost his entire vegetable crop, as well as the pasture he had planted to feed his pigs throughout the winter. The toll of the losses extended beyond financial. Crafton experienced emotional distress as well.
People, especially pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap types, tend to avoid discussing emotional effects of a disaster. Yet, stress, grief, anxiety and depression are common side effects of major disasters. According to the American Psychological Association (APA):
“Even when you’re not hurt physically, disasters can take an emotional toll. Normal reactions may include intense, unpredictable feelings; trouble concentrating or making decisions; disrupted eating and sleeping patterns; emotional upsets on anniversaries or other reminders; strained personal relationships; and physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea or chest pain. Psychological research shows that many people can successfully recover from disaster. Taking active steps to cope is important.”
Vivian Marinelli is a psychologist and senior director of crisis management services at FEI Behavioral Health in Milwaukee. FEI provides resiliency solutions and crisis management services to communities and organizations nationwide. Marinelli said preparing physically and emotionally for disaster can help people cope when disaster strikes. There are four phases in what FEI calls the “disaster management cycle:”
Mitigation involves doing a risk assessment and considering the types of disasters that typically happen in your area, as well as personal events that would wreak havoc on your operation. On a large scale, these may be extreme weather events, fires or explosions. On the personal side, it may be a sudden illness or death of a family member or key farm staff. It may be a blight or disease that causes total crop loss. Marinelli advised conducting an overall assessment for your farm. It can also be helpful to learn about risk assessments done by and for the community.
Preparedness means identifying resources that one can access in a crisis. Do you have all the resources you need on the farm or do you share certain resources with neighboring farms? Does your community have sharing agreements with other communities? In Waukesha County, Wisconsin, county officials embrace an all-hazards planning approach, since it is impossible to predict all aspects of a disaster situation.
“This planning benefits all Waukesha County residents, both those of the farming community and the community at large,” said Bridget Gnadt, of Waukesha County Government.
In your preparedness plan, identify who who to call and emergency contact numbers. Part of preparing is developing relationships. It’s easy to get caught in the sunup-to-sundown farming schedule, but Marinelli stressed the importance of taking time to reach out and connect with people who may be able to offer support in a crisis.
Marinelli also advised considering all aspects of the worst-case scenario and planning accordingly. For smaller weather-related crises, make sure you
- have a way to access weather reports if there’s a power outage (such as short-band radios);
- fuel all generators;
- charge all cellphones, laptops and other battery-operated communication devices; and
- stock a first-aid kit with basics as well as prescription medicines your family members require. For example, if you have diabetes, make sure you have insulin and can keep it cool.
Marinelli also suggested moving equipment away from buildings and tying it down. If high winds or a tornado comes through and equipment flips over, the likelihood is you will just have to turn it, rather than fix a damaged building because of it.
Finally, get to know your community resources, including locations of local shelters. Waukesha County plans ahead to address immediate concerns, like temporary feeding and sheltering of people and animals. As part of their “all-hazards approach,” the county recognizes the importance of planning to address the needs of all people, including those with access and functional needs. They also conduct planning to address the psychological needs of people in disaster.
What you can do to prepare emotionally for disaster is consider the emotional support system you already have in place. Is it family, people at your favorite coffee shop or your pastor/rabbi/imam? Consider what you do on a day-to-day basis to cope with stress. Is it taking a walk on the property, listening to music, reading a book? Getting into the daily habit of relieving stress will give you the emotional tools you need to stay calmer in a crisis.
Response depends on the level of disaster. State or national agencies like the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency may offer support.
“One of the biggest issues we’ve seen following a disaster is communicating,” said Marinelli. “How do you reach people when phone lines are down; roads are blocked?”
Marinelli said she has observed farmers’ reluctance to use federal resources during major disasters. FEI encourages agencies and organizations to send communications in the various languages spoken in the community. FEI encourages Farmers who are uncomfortable seeking help from state or federal agencies for any reason to turn to local community agencies, including social organizations and churches.
“It really is about personal planning,” said Marinelli. “Develop your own emergency response plan as a farmer. You don’t just have your individual needs, your family needs; you need to support your farm as well, especially if you’ve got livestock, because they’re depending on you taking care of them.” (See the Farm Emergency Preparedness Plan checklist on page 22).
If flooding or downed trees block roads, call the people on your list, whether they are a farmer down the street, in another county, or a family member in a different area code. If the area code where the storm occurred is not available, you need to be able to reach someone and say “I’m trapped. I’m OK, but roads are blocked and I need some help.” Because they’re in a different area code, they can let relief workers know who you are, where you are and that you need assistance.
Responding to emotional upheaval
If you reach the point where you need more than your daily stress-relieving routines to feel whole, local community social service agencies may offer counseling for individuals or families. Some agencies offer support services for a low cost.
In a large-scale disaster, the Red Cross usually offers support, even referring individuals and families to counseling. The American Psychological Association reports that although psychologists are often mobilized to help at disaster sites, they do not offer therapy at disaster sites. Instead, psychologists help people experiencing disaster “to move from feeling hopeless to having a more long-term, realistic perspective. This process can include taking small steps toward concrete goals and connecting with others as they learn to cope with a disaster’s logistical and emotional challenges.”
“It really is taking a look at what do I do day-to-day,” said Marinelli. “Where are my needs? When things get really rough, what support systems do I have? Probably the first and most difficult piece is to even identify that [you] need additional help.”
For Crafton, the emotional toll of the 2015 crop year was steep. “The emotional toll had everything to do with the financial toll,” he said. During the drought, he watered his crops but 100-degree temperatures made it hard to keep moisture in the soil. “There was no insurance to cover what I was doing. My typical monthly income shrunk by $2,000 to $3,000. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a lot to me. [After the deluge,] my fields were flooded for weeks.”
According to Crafton, South Carolina’s response to the drought/deluge cycle in 2015 was lacking. “We have a lot of disorganized organizations,” he said. In contrast, Waukesha County carefully conducts damage assessments and meticulously documents response and recovery costs to increase the chances of qualifying for state or federal disaster aid. The types of services offered vary depending on the type of disaster, the stage of the disaster response, the magnitude of the event and the availability of aid. Once all immediate subsistence needs are met, Waukesha officials link affected individuals and families to additional community resources to help in long-term recovery of all types.
Crafton recognizes his good fortune that his house and barn did not flood because of their hilltop location. “Some people lost their homes. The pigs survived in the barn.” However, since the flood destroyed the forage, Crafton had to feed the pigs hay. Purchasing food for more than 100 pigs added financial strain. To get through, Crafton cut corners wherever he could to get through the year. “When you have something like that, and it pretty much destroys your forage and your crops, it takes years to recover when you don’t have insurance,” he said. “The money that I didn’t make the previous year would have typically gone into seed for the following year, fuel, equipment and whatever else I needed, including food for the pigs. Growing seasonal crops, you wonder how things are going to be for the next year. You cut corners in your personal life to keep the farm going. You eat cheaper. You don’t travel.”
Before the disaster, Crafton was living with his girlfriend and her two children. “I had a family,” he said. “The stress of the events had a lot to do with the end of the relationship. She worked from home. The kids helped out on the farm. Financial stress is hard on anybody, but when it takes years to recover, it’s just that much harder for everyone. It’s like, you get all the typical things you would have in any relationship and you [have to] multiply it, because that toll isn’t just for a month or two; it’s a long, enduring emotional roller coaster, and it’s a hard roller coaster to ride.”
FARM EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS PLAN
BEFORE A DISASTER OR EMERGENCY
- What disasters or hazards are most likely in your community? For your farm?
- How would you be warned?
- How should you prepare for each?
DRAW A FARM SITE MAP AND INDICATE:
- Buildings and structures
- Access routes (roads, lanes)
- Barriers (fences, gates)
- Locations of livestock
- Locations of all hazardoussubstances
- Electrical shutoff locations, etc.
PUT TOGETHER AN EMERGENCY SUPPLY KIT FOR YOUR FAMILY
- Out-of-state contact person
- List of contact #s for neighbors
- Identify meeting place for family
- Pet information
MAKE A LIST OF YOUR FARM INVENTORY AND INCLUDE:
- Livestock (species, # of animals)
- Crops (acres, types)
- Machinery & equipment (make, model)
- Hazardous substances (pesticides, fertilizers, fuels, medicines, other chemicals)
KEEP A LIST OF EMERGENCY PHONE NUMBERS
- Your local & state veterinarian
- County extension service
- Local fire, police, ambulance
- Insurance agent
MAKE A LIST OF SUPPLIERS OR BUSINESSES PROVIDING SERVICES TO YOUR FARM
- Livestock or milk transport
- Feed delivery
- Fuel delivery
IDENTIFY AREAS (HIGHER ELEVATION) TO RELOCATE YOUR ASSETS, IF NEEDED
- Livestock and horses
- Feed, grain, hay
- Agrochemicals (pesticides, herbicides)
STOCKPILE SUPPLIES NEEDED TO PROTECT THE FARM
- Sandbags & plastic sheeting, in case of flood
- Wire & rope to secure objects
- Lumber & plywood to protect windows
- Extra fuel for tractors & vehicles
- Hand tools for preparation & recovery
- Fire extinguishers in all barns & vehicles
- A safe supply of food to feed livestock
- Gas-powered generator
PREPARE FARM EMPLOYEES
- Keep them informed of the farm’s emergency response plan
- Identify shelter-in-place or evacuation locations
- Establish a phone tree with contact information for all employees
KNOW THE WARNING SIGNALS FOR YOUR AREA
- Learn the warning systems for your community
- Are you able to hear or see the appropriate warning from your farm?
STAY ALERT FOR EMERGENCY BROADCASTS
- Emergency Alert System broadcasts on radio or television
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio alerts
- News sources – radio, television, internet
- Charge all electronic equipment (cellphones, tablets, laptop computers)
Recovering financially and emotionally
Crafton filed for help from an independent regional bank with deep roots in the community. They sent him a check for $500. Crafton also reached out to South Carolina Farm Aid. They sent a check for $250. Although the $750 in aid did help, it did not come close to covering the cost of Crafton’s losses.
“The economic impact cannot be ignored,” said Gnadt. When farm damage occurs, Waukesha County works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency to conduct damage assessments and aid in emergency agricultural assistance applications. Waukesha County businesses and residents affected by flash floods and flooding on July 11, 2017 can currently apply for low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
USDA’s Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Plan (NAP) provides financial assistance to producers of noninsurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory or prevented planting occur due to natural disasters.
The economic impact of a disaster cannot be ignored. In Texas, over 1 million people were displaced by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. Livestock were stranded after 20 trillion gallons of water (enough to supply New York City’s water needs for over 50 years) fell on the Houston area in less than a week. The State of Texas Agriculture Relief (STAR) Fund, created solely with donations from private individuals and companies, assists farmers and ranchers in rebuilding fences, restoring operations and paying for other agricultural disaster relief. New farmers can develop strategies and learn about resources by speaking with other farmers in their community. Crafton found advice and moral support by reaching out to other farmers on social media.
By mid-2017, Crafton was back on track as he had grown the operation, yet he still couldn’t find insurance to cover his operation. However, he was optimistic. “Another summer drought with a flood like that would still be devastating, no doubt. But I’m a little better experienced, and a little better prepared now, having been through it.”