Recovery for Some South Carolina Farmers from 2015 Flood Is On-Going

Jan 24, 2017

Some farmers are just beginning to shake off the effects of the historic flood of October 2015, though others will take longer to come back.  One of those recovering is Eric McClam of City Roots, an urban farm in Columbia.  Because the farm is divided into two locations, one plot  was able to escape heavy damages and continue operating to help lift up the damaged second property. 

Plus, diverse activities such as farm tours for groups helped keep the operation going while the lower acreage dried out and was replanted.  Out in Richland County, meanwhile, Joe Jones, who divides his time between teaching at USC and farming, has managed to raise new sheep to replace those lost to pneumonia and worms that cost him about half his flock when the heavy rains saturated the ground.  Both men look forward to a better 2017.

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City Roots was started in 2009 by Robbie McClam as South Carolina’s first urban farm. His son Eric would join a year later to manage the farm. Located in Columbia, they’re able to reduce food miles by meeting supply demand as locally as possible. “We wanted to be rooted to our community and be in a city, urban setting where my dad and I are both from,” Eric says. He and his father wanted to “spur interest in local food, and also do that in sustainable, organic fashion, for which we want to be better stewards of our land.”

Their vision took a hit in 2015 when 20 inches of rain fell onto their farm. Not only can the rain ruin crops, but after the flood they were left with no power or running water, creating further problems. Eric McClam explains, “[Plants] need heat, we need ventilation, we need water to water our plants. And so we had crop failures in the greenhouses.”

In all, City Roots suffered close to $40,000 in damage. That’s an amount of damage from which they were able to recover due to various factors. Year-round microgreens, farm tours, and the harvest dinner series were ways they had diversified revenue streams. Then, a year after the flood, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture offered some funding through new legislature that helped push them further back on their feet. “It’s been a while, but we’re doing much better,” Eric McClam states. “I think we’re okay at this point. Getting there.”

Animals at Doko Farm in Blythewood, SC.
Credit Tut Underwood / South Carolina Public Radio

It’s not just farmers with crops that were affected by the flood. Doko Farm is a Richland County farm that specializes in pasture-raised heritage meats. Joe Jones, a USC professor who also owns the family farm, lost nearly half of his sheep flock in 2015 due to the saturated ground. Several of the sheep caught pneumonia, and the wet ground was the perfect setting for parasitic worms to spread. “The thing with sheep, just like a lot of flock animals, they don’t show any weakness,” Jones explains. “So if you look at them, they look totally fine, but some of them might be really sick.” Luckily, Jones was able find the cause of the problems quickly enough to administer antibiotics to the remaining flock.

Doko Farm received no aid from the government, but they have managed to grow their sheep flock back to its pre-flood size. Fortunately, other animals on Doko Farm, like turkeys, weren’t as affected by the flood. Both Joe Jones and Eric McClam are looking forward to a better 2017. In fact, Eric McClam says City Roots will be leasing more acreage to grow even more crops in 2018. With the 1,000 year flood behind them, the future is looking much brighter.