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A Christmas to Remember from Oregon FSA

May floodwaters never take your Christmas Tree!


A Holiday Message from the Oregon State FSA Executive Director

A Christmas to Remember

The fall of 1964 had been wet, much like this one, with a good snowpack developing in the Cascades, stretching down into the foothills. Our farm bordered the Willamette River and its waters ran thick and brown, reaching a finger over its banks and into the lower orchard. This was customary many winters, but things changed dramatically a few days before Christmas.

It started with what Granny called a Chinook Wind—a warm airflow coming off the ocean that worked its way over the coast range, through the Willamette Valley and up into the Cascades.

That wind, combined with a warm rain began to dissolve the low elevation snow, sending it rushing into the Willamette system. The river began to rise precipitously, pushing hard over its banks and cutting across the fields behind the house and barns. It was starting to look like a wet Christmas was on its way.

Living in a floodplain of the Willamette River, my family was used to floods. Heck, they were an every few years occurrence, cutting off the county road and restricting access to both town and the lower place. The house and barns were generally safe however—even in what looked like a flat floodplain those farmers found enough elevation to build on to keep their structures dry most years. In bad years they stood out as small islands in a large lake.

The Tuesday before Christmas it became apparent the situation was getting serious. We spent that morning moving equipment up to high ground, getting livestock into the barns, and generally tying down anything that could float. Us kids spent most of the day packing firewood up to the house and splashing around in our rubber boots.

By mid-day it was clear that this was no ordinary flood, the water was rising too fast and the projections we were getting over the radio were for a crest well above normal flood stage. By mid afternoon we could no longer get to the barns and the house was surrounded on all sides.

By dark the water was in the barns, the shop and woodshed were awash and the porches at the house were just barely dry. For the first time, it looked like the house itself might see water inside. Just weeks earlier my grandparents had installed new carpet, and as the water began to crawl up onto the front porch Granddad began pulling it up to keep it from being ruined. Granny walked to the picture window where the Christmas tree stood, and picked it up, stand, ornaments, and all. With a look of disgust she threw it out the front door and into the flood. It was gone in an instant.

Morning broke clear and relatively sunny—the rain had stopped but the damage was done. There was three inches of water in the house and several feet in most of the outbuildings. In the barn the livestock were all standing in water.  We lost a couple of cows and a pony named Jimmy to pneumonia over the next few weeks.

Ironically, the electricity and phone continued to work and Granny and Granddad just put on their rubber boots and stayed home. They had to move around the house carefully to ensure they didn’t splash water up into the wall outlets. Periodically a neighbor would show up by boat to use the phone.

The cleanup took months; the economic recovery took a bit longer. There wasn’t much for government help in those days, so belts were tightened a notch or two and the family figured it out. It was just one of those situations that so many farmers and ranchers have experienced, where mother nature’s less benevolent side won the day.

One of the reasons FSA exists is to help moderate the effects of natural disasters and falling commodity prices on the agricultural community. When you don’t control the weather, when international forces affect the market in a manner impossible to anticipate, there is room for a bit of a safety net for those who earn their living from the land.

No government program is perfect, but I’m proud of the programs FSA administers to help producers deal with drought, flood, fire, and tough markets. Since passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, Oregon FSA has put literally hundreds of millions of dollars into the hands of producers in response to tough times.  It’s the right thing to do.

So on behalf of all of us at Oregon FSA, may this be the happiest of holiday seasons for you and yours, and may floodwaters never take your Christmas Tree!

Phil Ward
State Executive Director
Oregon Farm Service Agency


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