Gaston & Catawba

Flood strips flower farm's bloom

A week after heavy rains flooded parts of the region, flower farmer Jefferson Herr walked through a ruined crop to look at the damage to his family's livelihood.

The creek he uses to irrigate the flowers had overflowed its banks, submerging coneflowers, rotting dahlia bulbs and leaving dried mud between the petals of otherwise beautiful zinnias.

Herr looked over eight acres of carefully tended blooms, about 80 percent of them now unsuitable for sale.

The mud sucked at his flip-flops as he wound his way through the lost crop. At the field's edge, creekside vegetation still bent toward the flowers, showing the path the water took as it flowed up and over the normal creek edge and over the embankment Herr built up after a lighter flooding several years ago.

That earlier flood had come at the end of the season, minimizing the loss. This time, with two months of harvesting left, Herr estimates the floodwaters destroyed more than $30,000 worth of flowers and bulbs.

The dahlias alone, the bulk of his crop, cost up to $20 a bulb to plant. Herr said about 5,000 are now nothing but rot.

He doesn't know if he's eligible for government disaster-relief money. State emergency management officials said they are waiting to hear if a low-interest federal loan might be available to him.

Herr and his wife, Sheng Yang, immigrated to America from their native Laos in 1990. They settled in south Catawba County near the Lincoln County line in 2000 and started the flower farm at the suggestion of Herr's sister. The couple and their children sell cut flowers at farmers' markets in Hickory, Lincolnton, Davidson and Charlotte and are now selling what little survived.

The family has built a life around the farm, and Herr hopes they can keep it. He's trying to find land elsewhere to start over next year. If he's unsuccessful, he could have to return to the machine shop work he left to farm full-time.

“I'm looking for land that's a little bit higher, but I can't find any. If not, I'll come back to this,” he said, crossing his fingers and smiling ruefully. “Good luck.”