Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Berry Farm We Salted - EOSF PART 4

Salt and Strawberries. Do not mix. Ever. It means decreased yields. Big time.
So before we buy the place we hear there may be “salt storage problems” at the highways department (HD) next to us. Hubby does some research and discovers that salt and strawberry farms are a lethal combination. Hubby bee lines for the main office of said HD and is reassured that they follow all environmental protocol, their buildings and standard operating procedures are by the book and we have nothing to worry about.
Our first summer on the farm was hot hot hot and dry dry dry. We had to irrigate a lot often. We had two fields that it was just not possible to pump water to with the aluminum hand move. Hubby, the master of figuring things out, installs a drip irrigation system on those two fields. (Even though Farmer guy told us “Drip irrigation doesn’t work”) So we use a small gas pump to pump water from our upper pond to one field that had 200 blackberry plants, 150 blueberry plants, gooseberry plants and ½ acre of strawberries. We use a city water hose to feed the drip tape on the smaller field with 1/6 acre of strawberries. As the summer progressed the upper field began to look worse and worse. Seriously the plants were blackening. We thought we were overwatering, we thought we were underwatering, we really had no idea what was wrong being the strawberry newbies that we were….But one 20 foot section of one row that had no drip tape on it (we ran out) was looking gorgeous. The field that we were using city water on and watering the same amount also looked marvellous. HMMMMMMMMMM
Late summer we recalled that farmer guy told us that the upper pond was a “spring” and we could hear water running in to it – even after 3 months of no rain. We thought it would be a great idea if we dug a ditch between the upper and lower pond and use the constantly running spring to fill the lower pond to pump on the rest of our fields. As the digger guy dug the ditch and the water gushed from the upper pond into the lower pond it was like the tide going out. A salty seaweed smell wafted out of the now almost empty pond. The lightbulb went on (finally). SALT. STORAGE. PROBLEMS.
We tested the water, we had independent testers test the water. It was off the clock for saltiness. Like 90% decrease in yield salty. Like ½ acre dead strawberries, dead blackberries, dead blueberries…..Yep, now we know why Farmer guy’s drip irrigation didn’t work. I didn’t sleep that winter.
One day on the road that fall I saw a broken down salt truck outside the HD. I got the camera and got some great shots. Of salt. Falling off the truck. Everywhere. It looked like it had snowed on the truck. They loaded the trucks and then bounce across the parking lot to the exit. Basically from one side of their property to the other, the length of our property. Did I mention they are uphill from us and that it rains a lot in the winter here….
We contacted a lawyer.
Who advised us that dealing with the problem ourselves would be “the most economical” way to get a settlement. So with their help we draft a letter and by the next week we had a meeting set up with the HD management.
Apparently after Don’s first visit to their offices they went into a frenzy of salt control and stupidly they now tell us all about it. (I guess we came across as dumb hick strawberry farmers!) They built a “dutch ditch” and they put up cement blocks so “the guys” would wash the salt trucks over the bladder (to contain salt) not just in the parking lot. So much for standard operating environmental procedures. They offer us the moon in work done….new irrigation ponds anywhere we wanted, bypass ditches, ditches on their property but they disagree on the amount we are claiming in costs – ie. Lost income, replacement costs and loss of value of our contaminated property.
The next spring they start work with their heavy machinery by building a road through the woods from their place to ours. A great admission of guilt I’d say. In fact they flat out told us the salt was from them. They filled in our upper pond, built a ditch the entire length of our property to divert water (on to our neighbour’s property…..), levelled and graded where the pond used to be, put in culverts, pumped our lower pond and filled it with freshwater, and ok’d us to have a well drilled. (They still have not reimbursed us for the well which was essentially dry.)
As time goes on we realize more and more the damages are far reaching and never ending. No fresh water on our property (livestock would die drinking this water) where once we’d had a nearly endless supply is costly. We have huge well established trees beside the bypass ditch dying now. Our claims for damages keep going up every time we send them another letter. And they start offering us what we wanted in the first place. If we sign a full release. Which we refuse, of course (remember the salty water going into our neighbour’s property?). We consult our lawyer again and as of now have started full on legal proceedings. They are hooped. Their general manager told us at one point he does training seminars on salt for their BC wide company – and he talks about “The berry farm we salted”. Great.
Bugs bugs and more bugs coming next…..

1 comment:

mamak said...

Holy crud. This is fascinating stuff, and of course crazy sad in terms of polluting the environment and your farm. I wish you the best in getting what you deserve.