Even though it's officially spring, winter made an untimely return to the East Coast on Friday. Parts of Massachusetts got up to 8 inches of snow, and it was heavy snow — a reminder of all the roofs that collapsed in the state just a month or two ago.
Among those hit particularly hard by the winter of 2011 were area farms, and some farmers are still repairing barns and greenhouses that crumpled under the weight of all that precipitation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says more than 100 farm structures in Massachusetts were damaged or destroyed this winter. Russell's Garden Center in Wayland lost a greenhouse. So did Gilson Greenhouses in Groton. And Sunshine Dairy Farm in Newbury had roof collapses at two of its barns.
WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer and WBUR producer Kathleen McNerney recently paid a visit to the Belkin Family Lookout Farm in Natick, where one its 17 greenhouses is now a twisted mass of bent steel and shredded plastic. Farm manager John Burns gave the tour.
JOHN BURNS: This is incredible here. I mean, this is almost like a hairpin turn if you were driving on the road. It's pretty incredible. And it's not only this piece here, but it split this gutter all the way down here.
SACHA PFEIFFER: When you say split the gutter, this is a piece of metal that has basically ripped in the middle.
This is a piece of steel that's ripped right in the middle.
It almost looks like a car accident.
It really does.
So when the people were in here, they heard it coming down? They knew that they needed to vacate?
Oh yeah. They got out very, very quickly. Actually, one of the guys hid under one of the tables. The other guy, he went out the door, and he's saying, "PJ, PJ, let's go!" So that's when PJ got up and out from underneath the table and out he went.
What have you heard about other farms that have gone through this?
There's been a lot. I know that Russell's over in Wayland had a house that collapsed. Talking to the insurance people, it's been widespread.
Why is it that barns and greenhouses and farm structures in particular have taken a big hit?
Well, I think greenhouses, certainly, don't have anywhere near the support as a regular wooden structure would have, as our homes might have. As far as barns are concerned, they probably have been neglected. I know that there was a barn in Hopkinton that I saw — it was a wooden structure — that completely collapsed. But I'm sure that was probably due to the fact that it was very old and the wood was starting to rot so didn't have the structural integrity.
Is this one of the roughest winters the farm has been through since you've worked here?
It's been the harshest winter, but I really don't think it's going to affect what we do here a lot. Because trees by their very nature, they're hearty.
Nature bounces back?
Yeah, and I think that — just like we adapt — the trees adapt, the plants adapt to the New England weather.
We've been talking mostly about the damage that winter did, but are there any benefits that winter gave you? For example, all this snow it left behind?
Certainly, all the snow that we had and the moisture that the ground has right now will serve the trees very, very well as they kick off the spring.
This program aired on April 1, 2011.