WHITLEY COUNTY — “Just because I’m standing in a mud hole that don’t mean God’s forsaken me — that just means he’s got something better in store,” said Rich Meadors with Sally Gap Farms.
Like Meadors, many farmers across Whitley County are struggling with loss and damage due to the recent flood waters, they’re assessing the damage and hoping for a brighter future.
“It’s unbelievably bad, it’s heartbreaking,” said Rich Meadors. “Barns are gone. And everything that’s left is tore up so bad.”
Tuesday morning, Rich and Charline Meadors were starting to clean up the devastation on Sally Gap Farm — the devastation left behind by destructive flood waters. Friday and Saturday were the worst for Meadors as he watched more than 50 picnic tables float away and playground equipment including sandboxes and pony stables leave his popular pumpkin patch.
“It’s been an enormous mess,” said Rich Meadors.
The Meadors have spent close to 10 years working the land, creating a pumpkin patch, a farm and a life they love. It’s become a safe, successful and fun-filled environment for families to come and bring their children, for schools to bring students on field trips and for endless memories to be made.
The Meadors farm year-round. Currently they’re working in high tunnels, preparing for the Whitley County Farmers' Market to open in April.
“We’ve got tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage growing right now and the lettuce is already up,” said Meadors. “Now along with getting three greenhouses going and keeping all the plants took care of we’re having to do all this major cleanup and rebuilding at the same time.”
He’s prayed about it and asked the Lord for help.
“This will have to be more than just us,” said Meadors. “We’ll have to have the community join in and say we’re going to help.”
Meadors said when he starts to rebuild, it will be on higher ground. If something like this were to occur again, he wants to be prepared.
The community has already reached out to Sally Gap Farms, starting a GoFundMe Page. Meadors said some people have also volunteered to help in the cleanup which he said will be much needed and much appreciated. Meadors is hoping to get started with cleanup this Saturday.
“Anybody that’s willing and able I can use them,” he said, estimating nearly $70,000 of loss.
While the devastation surrounds the Meadors family, they are strong in their faith.
“My family is still alive,” said Meadors. “God is going to see us through this and the sun is going to shine one of these days.”
Raising his voice in a preacher's tone, Meadors declares an intention that his farm will be built back and built bigger and better than before.
“If you have faith in God and you ask him, the Bible says anything that’s in your heart, he will give you your heart's desire,” said Meadors. “We want people to know that through God and the community this September, there will be a pumpkin patch.”
The Meadors children who are vital to the farm have big ideas and are ready to rebuild with a fresh start.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Ryan Quarles commented on the situation Tuesday afternoon telling farmers to reach out for help.
“2020 is already off to a wet start for Kentucky farm families, especially in eastern Kentucky. Nobody knows that better than the folks in Whitley County, where farmland has been flooded due to heavy rain,” said Quarles. “We know that there may be resources available at the federal level to help assist farmers in recovering their losses. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture encourages farmers to contact the FSA Office in Barbourville to see what sort of disaster assistance they may qualify for due to the flooding.”
Kristin Smith with Faulkner Bent Farms said she’s never seen the water so high in her life.
Smith said at least 50 percent of the farm’s pastures turned into “lake front property.” And although they didn’t lose their home or their barns like many did, the farm suffered a lot of fence damage with an estimate of around $10,000 or more in damages.
Stevann Fraley with Fraley Farm isn’t sure the nut trees she planted last week along the bank of the river are still there or not because the water is still too high for her to check on them.
Fraley Farm located just off Croley Bend Road didn’t see as much damage as many others in Whitley County, but Fraley said she had never before witnessed anything like rising waters of the past few days.
Her home was spared as it sits back off the bank, but at least four feet of water filled up in her storage building that housed a tractor and an RV among other items. Fraley said the storage building now smells terrible and is covered in two inches of mud.
Fraley knows there are people in much worse circumstances, community members that have lost their homes and other farmers that have lost so much of their livelihood.
While Fraley never feared her own home would flood, watching the water rise was frightening, worrying about her friends and neighbors.