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How spring rains have challenged local farmers
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Shoppers browse booths filled with homegrown produce Tuesday, June 19, 2018, at the Hall County Farmers Market. - photo by David Barnes

The sun was beating down hard Tuesday, June 19, at the Hall County Farmers Market, making it easy to forget the heavy, steady rains of spring.

But farmers could still remember.

“It’s been bad,” said Jim Matthews of Maysville. “I would have sweet corn now, but I lost my second planting completely.”

It was a common story among the dozen or so growers who showed up at the market, which opened for the selling season May 8 and is held at 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 7 a.m. Saturdays.

Rains, winds and hail through much of spring — and particularly flooding from Subtropical Storm Alberto — ruined crops or severely limited what produce farmers could haul to the market off Jesse Jewell Parkway at East Crescent Drive.

“There’s some stuff I’ve planted three different times, such as peas,” said Edsel Thomas of Cleveland. “The hard, beating rain packed the ground so hard they wouldn’t come up.”

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Cleveland resident Edsel Thomas weighs yellow squash Tuesday, June 19, 2018, at the Hall County Farmers Market. Recent bouts of heavy rain and flooding have hurt local farmers' crops. - photo by David Barnes
Hall County Farmers Market

Where: 734 E. Crescent Drive, Gainesville

When: 2:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 7 a.m.-noon or sellout

More info: 770-535-8293

He said Tuesday’s market was the “first time I’ve been here this year. This is the first time I’ve had anything to bring.”

“Spring was tough,” said Anita White of Lula. “It’s put us behind a great deal. The plowing was the problem. The fields were so wet, you couldn’t get a tractor in there. It delayed a whole bunch of planting.”

She sold flower arrangements next to husband David White, who brought squash, cucumbers, leaks, kale, radishes, spring onions, carrots and turnips.

“We lost a whole bunch of crops … and just have to count it off,” Anita said. “And you don’t want to start planting in July. It’s just too hot and the bugs are awful.”

The couple grow over three seasons — lettuces and greens in the spring, then squash and cucumbers and finally the flowers, mixed in with weeds Anita calls “flowers without a home.”

Fruits and vegetables aren’t the only agricultural products affected by bad weather.

Just ask Jay Parsons, owner of Dances with Bees in Cornelia.

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Cornelia resident Jay Parson, left, helps Frances White, from Gainesville, pick out honey Tuesday, June 19, 2018, at the Hall County Farmers Market. - photo by David Barnes

“This year, I had no tulip poplar honey or blackberry honey,” he said.

Poplar honey particularly has “a huge amount of nectar,” Parsons said. “If it rains, is windy and all that, it just washes all the nectar out of your plants.”

“I feel like everybody shares a piece of the grief,” said Josh Presley, Hall County extension agent, a University of Georgia graduate who started the job June 13.

“If you flood out plants you have in the ground, you really suffocate the roots,” he said. “Blackberries are highly affected by rainfall. They get super mushy and you lose your harvest. Strawberries are the same way.”

Otherwise, high winds and hail can damage fruit trees.

“Sometimes you lose your initial investment … and then you lose even more investment as you’re trying to hopefully have something to harvest,” Presley said.

One crop that tends to be resistant to heavy rains is established corn.

“They can really thrive with more rain,” Presley said.

“But then, you never know. Mother Nature sails her own ships.”

By mid-June, daily rains and storms started fading, replaced by sunshine and summer-hot temperatures.

“Now, we need some rain,” Thomas said. “The root system is not very deep.”

White agreed: “Right now, it’s dry again — everything is suffering and wanting water.”

Crowds of customers, meanwhile, didn’t seem to shy away, with Chris Cleveland of Clarkesville seeing a steady stream of customers bagging his potatoes and tomatoes.

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Clarkesville resident Chris Cleveland, left, helps Becky Vinson, from Gainesville, buy produce Tuesday, June 19, 2018, at the Hall County Farmers Market. Recent bouts of heavy rain and flooding have hurt local farms. - photo by David Barnes

“We’ve got a crowd here and they’re optimistic, and we’re happy to have the sunshine,” Presley said. “(Farmers) are thankful to have something to bring, and we’ve obviously got enthusiastic customers.”

“Business definitely has picked up,” said customer Courtenay Wishousky. “When the season got started, there wasn’t even a handful of (farmers).”

Farmers were happy, too, mostly shrugging off what they’ve been through the past couple of months.

“Challenges are part of our life,” David White said. “And every year brings its own challenges.”

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