Jim Core

Folsom, La.

Battered by Katrina, Louisiana Row-Cropper Digs In, Replants and Says Thanks to Farm Aid

By the time Hurricane Katrina reached its shrieking peak at about mid-day on Monday, August 29, Louisiana family farmer Jim Core had already moved beyond agonizing over the losses.

At the peak of the storm, I was just sitting there watching it. I already knew we'd taken a beating. There ain't no use to worry about something you can't control," says Core.

The 65-year-old Core, a fourth generation produce farmer who has worked the same 40 acres near Folsom all his life, has been without utilities close to a month already. The high wind and heavy rain ripped his fall crop from the ground; his greenhouse was left in tatters; plastic mulch was torn up and strewn across his acreage; dozens of trees were toppled, snapped off and tossed into farm fields, making it nearly impossible to cultivate and replant.

"The last of the summer crops we had out there, okra, peppers and eggplant, well it knocked all of them flat," Core says.

Despite the damage, Core and his wife Gladys are determined to hold on.

"We've done it all our lives; ain't going to change horses now," he says in his quiet, but self-confident voice.

It's going to be a challenge, though, because did the storm do incredible damage to his home place, it demolished the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans, where Core, and his wife sold much of their crop. The high-end food markets where Core also sold tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, beets, carrots and other specialty crops have also been lost.

Once the damage to his farm was surveyed, Core sought help through state and federal programs, but was discouraged by what he heard. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross found a way to provide the so-called "MREs", or Meals Ready to Eat, but because they had no serious damage to their home and had not evacuated during the storm the only help they could expect was a small business loan from the federal government. Core was told any help from the state might be three months or more away.

In a desperate bid to find help for his father-in-law, Jack Cousins reached out to Farm Aid for help. He telephoned the 1.800.FARM AID hotline, and working through its' long-time connection to the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, Farm Aid was able to direct $300 in emergency cash assistance to the Cores to help sustain them in their crisis.

Core says he's proud to receive Farm Aid help, although it clearly came nowhere near meeting the tremendous expenses he'd incurred during the storm.

"It's tremendous," says Core of the aid. "I've been following Willie Nelson from the beginning. I event sent some checks to them. Farm families are a scarce animal. Seems like a lot of people are not going to be happy until they eradicate us."

Core, though, is far from eradication. Within days after the storm, he was back in his fields, planting quick growing varieties he could move to market in a hurry.

"I figured in 60 days I could turn a crop as long as we don't get a ton of rain all at once," he says, knowing on the day we spoke with him that Hurricane Rita was bearing down on the Gulf Coast.

Rather than wait for markets in New Orleans to reopen, Core is moving in a different direction.

"I got a hold of folks in Jefferson Parish. They need a good market and I'm going to see if we can start a market down there. I'm going to pursue this thing and see what they can do with it," he says.

"We're coming back all right, and we'll do as good and better," Core declares.

Already things are looking up, he says, as long as he can keep his generators running, his crop irrigated, and the heavy rains away.

"As each day goes by, I can see things getting better. I can walk the fields now and see a little green, which is kind of nice."

Date: 9/29/2005