Helping rain-soaked soils to sprout again

Published 8:00 am Friday, June 8, 2018

Local organization hosting fundraiser for famers impacted by disaster

COLUMBUS — Jerry Lynch is a watermelon farmer in Mill Spring — or he was, until the recent rains washed it all away.

“James Sercy and I had 1,500 watermelon plants. We had just put down the plastic,” Lynch said. “We had the plants sitting out ready to go, and the flood washed everything away.”

Sarah Lasswell, owner of Moss & Thistle Flower Farm in Union Mills, holds a few leaves and rotten roots that are the remnants of her flower beds ravaged by the flood. (Photo submitted by Moss & Thistle Flower Farm)

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Local nonprofit Growing Rural Opportunities is holding a fundraiser at the Columbus Farmers Market this Saturday to help farmers like Lynch and Sercy who have lost all or some of their crop due to the recent devastating floods.

GRO Farmers Market Manger Erika McMillan said they are hoping to help the small farmers who are not eligible for funding from the USDA Farm Service Agency or the department of agriculture.

“Small farmers fall through the cracks,” McMillan said. “Our fundraiser defines a small farms as less than $15,000 per year in farm income.”

McMillan said these are the ones who seem to be in the gray area, and that makes them ineligible for help. She said many vendors in the local farmers markets fall into this category, and have lost some or all of this season’s crop.

One of the problems these farmers are facing is not only the loss of their crop, but the destruction of their land and the soil. Lynch said half of his field is now full of sand from the river, and Sercy has two tractors that were caught in the flood.

“It’s [flooding] been twice now. It washed one tractor 75 feet and smashed it into two trees,” Lynch said. “Water got into the tail pipe of the other tractor. He [Sercy] has to tear down the engine and drain and flush the transmission.”

The GRO fundraiser to help Lynch, Sercy and many more local farmers will be this Saturday at the Columbus Farmers Market in downtown Columbus. Local businesses are providing breakfast pastries and other food items for sale, and are donating items for a silent auction from 8 to 11 a.m. All proceeds will go to help the farmers.

“The problem will not be solved with one fundraiser, but this is a beginning,” McMillan said. “It’s a chance for the community to show up and support the local farmers. Without these farmers, we don’t have a local food system.”

McMillan said the proceeds from Saturday’s fundraiser will help buy new seeds, plant starts, set up irrigation and help provide soil amendments. She said many of the affected farmers will have years of work to build their soil back to good growing condition.

“The rains stripped off much of the topsoil,” she said. “Now, it’s just compacted mud and sand.”

GRO is still receiving applications from farmers who need assistance. They can email her at or fill out an application at the farmers market on Saturday. GRO also needs volunteers to help clean up the flood damage and help the farmers reclaim their soil.

Anyone interested in volunteering can get more information at the Saturday event.

In addition to assisting these small farmers affected by the floods, GRO manages the Columbus and Tryon farmers markets, operates a tool share for small farmers, organizes barn raisings and creates educational opportunities.

“We want farmers to know they are supported in the community,” McMillan said.  “We can’t raise all the money needed, but every little bit counts.”

For more information about GRO or to volunteer, visit www. or call 828-436-0040.