We began 2018 with record rain fall in the spring. Then extreme heat in the early summer. Then more and more rain, receiving over 30-inches of rain from the beginning of June to the end of August. Garden season washed out. Hay season interrupted. Pig pastures flooded – three times.
The hits just kept coming, but we had lots of positives happening too. A Ribbon-cutting and Farm Tour Day in early February that was a great success by all accounts. A good farmers’ market season that gave the farm a ‘shot-in-the-arm’ financially.
Excitement abounded when we launched our first annual Corn Maze on October 5th! Excitement about our great friends and family that had agreed to help us out; excitement regarding the 18, yes 18, school and church groups that booked trips to come to the farm and experience the maze. Me, Kelly and the boys were excited. Our community was excited.
I got a message from a teacher that was bringing a large group of 2nd graders, “School may be cancelled tomorrow (Tuesday, October 9th), may have to reschedule field trip.” She was referring to the threat of Hurricane Michael. At the time, it was still a Tropical Storm near the Yucatan Peninsula. The forecast was predicting landfall in the Panhandle of Florida (the area from the Pensacola to the Big Bend) as a Category 2 Hurricane. We weren’t worried, after all, it’s not going to be a major storm, right? Storm prep consumes our day.
Storm prep continues. Gas for generators, gather water for cows and pigs. Move lightweight stuff out of the yard and put it away. The forecast began to call for strengthening. A Category 3 storm, a major storm, would make landfall in the Panhandle possibly near Panama City Beach. My older brother Kyle called and told me he was coming after the storm passed. Lots of friends and family called and expressed their thoughts and prayers. My patent response was, “we’re ready – or as ready as we can be.”
I’ve lived in Florida all my life. Born and raised, native Floridian. I’ve experienced countless tropical storms and a few small hurricanes. Hurricane Opal in 1995 hit my parents house in Baker, Florida and it was bad. Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004, Dennis in 2005. Major Storms that cause massive devastation. Even though, I’ve lived in hurricane country my whole life, I was unfamiliar with the terminology, rapid intensification. A term that the news media began to use in every update and in every broadcast. According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), rapid intensification is when a storms maximum sustained winds increase by 56 kilometers per hour in a 24-hour period. Hurricane Michael jumped from a Category 2 storm to nearly a Category 5 in less than 24 hours. Michael made landfall on October 10th as the strongest storm to ever hit the Florida Panhandle and the third strongest storm to make landfall in the continental United States. To put it bluntly, Michael was a monster. Our farm is located 65-miles due north of where the storm made landfall and we had sustained winds of 130 mph. Entire forest of pine trees wiped away. Live oak trees that were 200 hundred years old, uprooted from their foundations. Total loss of power and communication.
Kyle called in the early morning hours after the storm, but the call dropped. He sent a text that simply read, ‘headed your way.’ It took him seven hours to drive from his house in Birmingham to our house in Marianna; a trip that would normally take about four hours. He brought gas and supplies.
In the days that followed, a steady stream of friends and family made their way to the farm. My parents, younger brother Adam, best friend and first cousin Philip with his son Eli. Our neighbors Greg and Chelsea. Many, many friends and family came and helped. We received lots of help moving trees, rebuilding fences, patching the roof, it was overwhelming to have so many friends and family stop in and help.
We were without power for twenty days and when the linemen showed up at dusk dark on October 30th, I almost cried! Power was restored!
We received 35-inches, nearly three feet of rain from October 10th to December 31st, 2018. Epic amounts of rain, but now we had no trees to absorb the water, no roots to hold the ground steadfast. We now faced a whole new set of challenges.
We’re continuing our efforts to clean and restore the farm. We’re planting oak trees and cypress trees, burning piles of debris, rebuilding the farm store. We sold our Kubota tractor, a mainstay on the farm since 2004, we needed to make room for our new 100hp, 4×4 Massey Ferguson with loader and grapple. Having a bigger, heavier tractor on the farm will allow us to operate faster and more efficiently. The new 4610 has an ‘Ag Frame’ that will allow us to operate larger implements and cover a lot of ground in less time than ever before. Stay tuned – there are great things yet to come!