Fields of Sea

Iowa experienced the flood of the century 15 years ago. That, of course, was a different century.

Last month Iowans saw floods unlike any in living memory. Fourteen hundred city blocks in Cedar Rapids were inundated with water up to 11 feet deep. Twenty University of Iowa buildings were flooded. Interstates 80 and 380 were closed by water flowing 2 feet over their bridges. Levees have given way from Des Moines to Columbus Junction. Thirty-six thousand Iowans’ homes were damaged or destroyed.

Then, that water moved south, breaching levees in Missouri and Illinois, infecting groundwater, flooding fields, ruining lives.

All this will have lasting impact on our state and its neighbors, but the larger impact may be felt across the country and around the world. Somewhere between two and three million acres of freshly planted farmland went underwater. Statewide, about 20 percent of soybeans and 10 percent of all corn grown is either lost or at risk of being lost, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture. The smaller sustainable family farms of the region are hit particularly hard because they lack many of the federal protections afforded the large commodity growers, but those big corporate farms grow roughly a third of the corn and soy in this country and the ripple effects on our already weakened economy will spread just like the floodwaters. Even the stockpiles left from last season’s bumper-buster harvest (those that were not themselves ruined by floodwaters) could not be shipped to market because railroad bridges are closed or washed out completely and the Mississippi River was closed to barge traffic along Iowa’s entire eastern border.

Closer to home, my dear friend Susan Jutz, director of the area’s largest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group, lost her 102-year-old barn to the storms. Restaurant owner Jim Mondanaro’s flagship restaurant Mondo’s Tomato Pie went underwater, with all its equipment, furniture, and a $12,000 inventory of food. Scott McWane’s Dairy Queen, in the family since 1951, survived a Packard through it’s front window in 1958, six feet of water in the basement in 1993, and a tornado that opened it up like a pizza box in 2006. When the Iowa River Crested on Father’s Day there were eight feet in that same basement.

While some CSAs have lost entire crops and acres of land, the CSAs that went unhurt are trying to get their food to families who have lost their homes.

Eighty-three of Iowa’s 99 counties are state and/or federal disaster areas. Whole towns are evacuated. Family businesses lost. Restaurants underwater. The rebuilding process will take years and be in the billions of dollars.

Slow Food Iowa City is heading up a nationwide movement to assist the affected farmers, wineries and restaurants. Called the Terra Madre Relief Fund, it was first launched in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, where it raised more than $40,000 and helped, for example, Kay and Ray Brandhurst get their shrimp trawler’s engine repaired so they could get back to their livelihood. It was intentionally not referred to as the Katrina relief fund because its purpose was to be an ongoing fund as other disasters affected sustainable and artisanal food producers around the country in the years to come. The name Terra Madre (Mother Earth), is a reference to Slow Food’s international network of growers, artisans, and food makers of every kind.

Donations are currently being accepted to assist in recovery for farmers and food producers connected to the Slow Food community. Please consider making a donation at In the meantime, please shop at the farmers markets and dine at the restaurants that were not directly affected, and when those that were reopen, show them your support by frequenting them. We’re all in this together.

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