An outpouring of assistance surprises Northfield farmers swamped by rain and hail just before the flooding Up North grabbed the headlines.
The Brussels sprouts look sturdy, the curly kale leaves are a deep green and the bees are lingering near the heirloom sunflowers.
Nearly two weeks ago, these plants were submerged in more than 8 inches of water.
"I think that moment was so intense it was hard to be emotional," said Monica Caldwell, the manager of SEEDS Farm in Northfield.
But now reinforcements have arrived to revive Caldwell and a fellow farmer slammed by a three-day barrage of rain and hail June 14-17. Community members, businesses and farmers are donating time and produce to help pull their feet out of the mud.
Caldwell estimated her 40-acre farm suffered more than $30,000 in damage from the storm, which was quickly overshadowed by the flooding disaster in Duluth the next week.
But Caldwell sees more than dollar signs. There are destroyed watermelons, tomatoes, seeds, 22 drowned chickens, washed-out flower beds and a sunken John Deere tractor. She vividly remembers going in to "chicken-saving mode," trying to rescue as many hens as possible by putting them in floating plastic containers in the rising waters.
She could do little to prevent the loss of more than 50 percent of her fields to flooding and hail damage.
"There were a couple of days of complete sorrow and wrapping our heads around what was going to happen next," she said.
But as people heard about the flooded farm from Facebook, other social media sites and by word of mouth, donations soon followed. Gifts of time, money and plants showed up from strangers and friends, overwhelming Caldwell and her staff.
Transplants and even a salad
The same is true for Dayna Burtness, owner of Laughing Loon Farm, a plot of 5 acres located on the SEEDS Farm.
More than 60 individuals or businesses volunteered time or money, and some local farmers have donated a number of transplants to help. One of those is the Bachelor Farmer, a Minneapolis restaurant that frequently uses Burtness' produce in its farmhouse-inspired dishes and was a stop for President Obama on his recent visit.
The restaurant is featuring Burtness' sugar snap peas in a salad and donating the proceeds from the salad to Laughing Loon. Executive chef Paul Berglund refers to it as the "Loon salad" in the kitchen, touting the crisp snap peas combined with mint ailoi, herbs, English peas and walnuts.
But it's more than just a salad, Berglund said.
"Hopefully it lets Dayna know she's got friends," he said. "I think it feels good for everyone on staff to be able to do something for her."
A handful of the restaurant's staff have also helped with cleanup efforts at the farm.
"No one is going to let me starve," Burtness said with a laugh.
Questions -- and answers
But there were plenty of "tears and puking" after seeing hours of her work washed away. Questions like 'Is this for me?' 'Do I have to quit farming?' and 'Will I be broke?' surged through her head when she began assessing the damage totaling $20,000 to $30,000.
For small farms like hers, there are few options for insurance and Burtness had none for this kind of disaster. Though she might not turn a profit this year, Burtness said she has been humbled by the support from the community and strangers who have stopped by to help her and SEEDS Farm.
The soil holding the surviving vegetables passed a test by experts and professors at St. Olaf College, ensuring it didn't contain any toxins and the food is safe to sell.
On Saturday, the farm will have a volunteer day to involve community members in the replanting, a symbolic step of moving forward, she said.
"You just have to take it step by step," Caldwell said. "It wasn't a complete loss so we're thankful for what we have left."
Asha Anchan • 612-673-4154