After devastating Texas freeze, farmers are seeking relief wherever they can find it
Deydra Steans lost seven cows and a calf during last month's winter storms.
The fourth-generation rancher outside of Luling was one of hundreds of Texas farmers who spent the frigid week worrying about taking care of livestock and crops. Some farmers were surprised that some of their crops ultimately survived, but plenty, like Steans, faced substantial losses.
"It's not ever pleasant to come up on a cow that has died," she said. "You always wish you could do more, but we did as much as we could."
Outside Fredericksburg, Katherine Tanner and her husband, Bradley Ottmers, of Hat and Heart Farm had to melt snow and ice with a propane torch so they could keep their chickens and goats watered. Ultimately, they were without power or water for 12 days and lost two-thirds of their field crops. "We're just hoping we don't lose all of it," Tanner said.
At Edwards Ranch near Llano, goats were delivering kids during the storm. "Some of the kids were exposed long enough that their ears were frozen hard," rancher Brian Edwards said. "The whole thing was mentally exhausting because it never stopped. The kids were coming quickly, and we had to get them dried off and under a heat lamp quickly."
Replacing the lost cows will come out of the Steans' pocket. The Tanners will try to raise the next round of crops with egg sales as their only source of income for the next two months.
'Frozen, dead and rotting':Central Texas farmers get first look at storm aftermath
Texas farming and farmers market organizations quickly organized fundraisers after the storm, and one of them, the Texas Farmer Winter Storm Relief fund, has already raised double its goal, said Carolina Mueller, president of the Central Texas Young Farmers Coalition.
Mueller said they met their initial goal of $50,000 within a few days and, thanks to an additional $50,000 donation from Chipotle, they are now aiming for a total that is closer to $150,000.
The organization is hosting a concert fundraiser Saturday at the Dripping Springs music venue Dreamland that will feature performers including Bruce Robison, Kelly Willis, Jackie Venson, Sir Woman, Ray Prim, and Rochelle and the Sidewinders. (Tickets start at $50 and are available at dreamlanddstx.com.)
More than 60 small family farms applied for the relief funds in the first two days that applications were open. Starting later this month, the money will be divvied up in increments ranging from $250 to $1,500.
"Farmers are going to food banks to feed themselves because of the damage to their homes and businesses," Mueller said. "That's heartbreaking, and it makes me angry."
She has heard from several farmers whose requests for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance or whose insurance claims have been declined.
"People are being left out on their own after extensive damage and lost income," she said. "We know our little fund isn't going to address the hundreds of thousands of dollars in loss, but it can offer some relief.
"We don't have any kinds of programs to create infrastructure that will help us ... be resilient and bounce back from these weather patterns that are going to get more erratic each year."
The collaboration among more than half a dozen farming advocacy and support groups — Central Texas Young Farmers Coalition; Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; Grow North Texas in Dallas; Texas Center for Local Food in Elgin; Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance; Texas Small Farmers & Ranchers Community-Based Organization; and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley — also has felt unprecedented, Mueller said.
"This is the result of the last five years of building trust and getting to know each other," Mueller said. "We are challenging and pushing each other and loving each other, and we are all rowing in the same direction. (Working together on this fund) has been astounding."
Frankie Bayne, operations and membership manager for Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which has been advocating on behalf of farmers since 1994, said this is the first time she has seen so many of the state's farming organizations come together so quickly. "Rather than one organization trying to solve the problem by themselves when there's all these people hurting, we're working together to get this relief out there fast," Bayne said.
Although many of the organizations coming together to support Texas farmers are relatively new, some of the farms they are supporting have been around for decades.
Hat and Heart, whose freeze-devastated fields were featured on the "Today" show after the storm, has been around for more than 50 years. "Hail, ice, drought, you name it, it's happened here," Tanner said. This was the first natural crisis she and her husband have gone through while being solely in charge of the farm.
"We've been challenged and we've come through it, but we're still going through it and we will still be going through it," Tanner said. "The path forward is a lot of work. It's a lot of hands in the ground, time on the tractor. ... We are professionals, and this is what we do. No matter what, we are going to get back on track and grow gorgeous delicious healthy food."
"Nobody forces us to be here," Steans said. "We do this because we love it and it's in us. We learn to roll with the punches; it's not for the faint of heart. There's not a lot of time for sitting and sulking and crying and trying to figure it out."