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Flooded South Surrey farmers look on bright side

South Surrey farmer James Yue wades through his lettuce field Tuesday afternoon, days after it was flooded by torrential rainfall. Below, Yue holds a Taiwanese cabbage. - Tracy Holmes
South Surrey farmer James Yue wades through his lettuce field Tuesday afternoon, days after it was flooded by torrential rainfall. Below, Yue holds a Taiwanese cabbage.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes

Checking on his lettuce crop the morning after Sunday’s downpour, South Surrey farmer James Yue wanted to cry.

Where the fields used to be, there was a vast body of water – the result of torrential rains that drenched the Lower Mainland.

Nine acres of his leafy crop – of his livelihood – are still underwater. As of Tuesday afternoon, it was still deep enough that when he waded in, it reached to his mid-thigh, and he estimates it will be another three weeks before it can be replanted.

“It’s devastating,” Yue said of the damage. “What I lost, you can’t recover it.”

Yue, a fourth-generation farmer, estimates the deluge – which hit the eastern corners of White Rock and South Surrey particularly hard – has cost him at least $100,000 in plants, fertilizer and more.

“And that’s being conservative,” he said. “You don’t expect these things. My mom’s been at it for 55 years – she’s never seen anything like it.”

Yue’s family owns three farms – 100 acres in all – in the 4300-block of 176 Street. They started farming in 1967.

James YueHalf of the land is used for lettuce – from romaine to iceberg, all grown from seed – which Yue said makes James’ Garden one of the province’s largest growers. Squash is his second-biggest crop.

The produce is largely sold wholesale to local buyers, as well as to others in Alberta.

Yue estimates the storm wiped out lettuce that would have filled 4,500 cases – more than 100,000 heads in all – and set his leek crop back months.

That pricier vegetable would have been harvested mid-July. Now, it won’t be ready till late fall, possibly as late as November. The lettuce harvest, typically ready for the end of May, has also been set back.

“The whole of June is wiped out, too, now,” Yue said. “I won’t have any until July.”

He is thankful he delayed planting additional squash a week ago. If he hadn’t, his losses would have been deeper.

Last weekend’s rainstorm was described as a “100-year event.” Of the 91.6 mm recorded, 86.2 mm fell on Sunday – much of it over a short time span. The volume over a 24-hour period was more than what typically falls over the entire month of May.

Yue’s crops were not the only ones affected.

Mike Nootebos of Mary’s Garden, in the 15600-block of 40 Avenue, also lost produce to the storm. His loss is “in the thousands,” but nowhere near that experienced by Yue, Nootebos said.

Once Mary’s Garden is open for the season – in about a month – customers may notice things like lettuce or spinach at times missing from the selection, he said.

“We planted two patches (of lettuce), one was flooded, the other one’s fine,” Nootebos said. “There’ll be a gap for a week where we’ll be out of… about a half-dozen items.”

Both Yue and Nootebos said they are not letting the losses dampen their spirits.

“You just kind of look ahead and carry on. You have to,” Nootebos said.

Yue, who started working the land with his parents when he was six, agreed.

“You feel defeated at first,” he said. “Then you look at the bright side.

“I’ve got my family – that’s the most important thing. It’s not the end of the world.”

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