‘My life’s work’: Farmers detail loss of beloved land, crops in Sumas Prairie, B.C.


The Sandhu family has been farming fruits and vegetables in the Sumas Prairie for three generations.

Avtar Sandhu’s father brought the property in 1974 and since then, Sandhu, his sons and nephews have tended the fertile land in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley with care.

When it was drowned by seven or more feet of water on Nov. 14, they were heartbroken.

“It’s hard to put it into words — depression, sadness — it’s hard to say,” said Sandhu, surveying the damage from last week’s natural disaster.

“Everything our parents, aunts and uncles have built up — it’s heartbreaking to watch it wash away,” added his nephew, Gary Sandhu.

Read more:
‘I can’t stand by’: Farmers, volunteers risk their lives to save livestock trapped in B.C. floods

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The family business supplies provinces across the country and some American states with blueberries, strawberries, broccoli and other fresh goods. Those plants are now underwater and so are their tractors.

Nevertheless, the Sandhus are determined to rebuild.

“We’re not going to let our customers down,” he told Global News.

“We’re not going to give up. We’ll be planting as soon as the lands get drier and we get approval for soil tests and whatnot.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. floods: Future of recovery for Sumas Prairie flooded farms'

B.C. floods: Future of recovery for Sumas Prairie flooded farms

B.C. floods: Future of recovery for Sumas Prairie flooded farms

It’s a positive attitude shared by many farmers in Sumas Prairie, who have banded together in the wake of evacuation orders, lost homes and crops, to advocate for support.

“I want to assure everyone that the Sumas Prairie farmers here are a very strong community,” said Gevan Gill, owner and operator of B.C. Blueberry Farms.

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“We’ve been banding together and we will rebuild. We ask Canada to help us out.”

Read more:
B.C. floods: New video shows Abbotsford dairy farm under 8 feet of water

The Gill family lost their residence, farm and packaging facility in the flood. The latter contained expensive equipment that cannot be salvaged now that it’s wet, he added.

Their blueberry plants are dead, clawing back more than 10 years of field growth into a strong, healthy and reliable crop. Gill said the farm’s buyers, including Walmart and Costco, are already asking if they’ll be able to stock the shelves next season.

“For the near future, the blueberry farmers here don’t know what they’re going to do for livelihood. Our houses are gone as well as our income,” he said.

“It’s my life’s work.”

Gill said the best thing governments could do for impacted residents and farmers is guarantee such a disaster will never happen again, whether it’s through dike reinforcement or other flood mitigation measures.

Click to play video: 'Flood-ravaged B.C. braces for two more storms'

Flood-ravaged B.C. braces for two more storms

Flood-ravaged B.C. braces for two more storms

Peter Reus, owner of Van Eekelen Enterprises, said he also expects financial aid both from the province and from Ottawa.

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His family farm lost more than $1 million of leeks, cabbages and other crops — about 70 acres’ worth of plants that are now “garbage.”

“We built it up from scratch and to be confronted with this, which was completely avoidable … That hurts,” he said.

Read more:
B.C. floods: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with B.C. Premier John Horgan

One of the first steps in rebuilding will be assessing the damaged mechanics, said his son, Michel Van Eekelen.

That will take time, he added, and even when it’s done, the pandemic could slow down the acquisition of new supplies such that farmers will miss the next growing season,

“It sucks when you hear there was lack of maintenance (on dikes),” he told Global News. “I don’t know if it’s true, but if it is that’s a disappointment in our government for not getting on it.”

Click to play video: 'Weather and travel warnings issued ahead of two more storms'

Weather and travel warnings issued ahead of two more storms

Weather and travel warnings issued ahead of two more storms

As it stands, the eastern part of Sumas Prairie is still underwater and will likely not be drained for several weeks, according to Abbotsford, B.C. Mayor Henry Braun.

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The city is currently focused on preparing for two atmospheric rivers forecasted to hit between Saturday and Wednesday, soaking the Fraser Valley again with another 60 to 80 millimetres of rain.

Those storms are expected to be less intense that the one that struck on Nov. 14 and 15, but Sandu is keeping his fingers crossed anyway.

“Do your best and pray for the rest. That’s all you can do,” he said.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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