Cariboo vegetable farmer swamped by Fraser River flooding

Puddle Produce Farm manager Brianna van de Wijngaard learned Sunday her garden plot in the Old Soda Creek townsite was flooded. (Diane Dunaway photo)
On Sunday, July 5, Brianna van de Wijngaard was forced to pick vegetables from her low-lying acre plot in the Old Soda Creek townsite because it is flooded. (Diane Dunaway photo)
Brianna van de Wijngaard and a neighbour picked vegetables, placing them in a dingy. (Brianna van de Wijngaard photo)
Brianna van de Wijngaard is a regular vendor at the Williams Lake Farmers Market. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

A Cariboo vegetable farmer didn’t bargain the business name she chose would be prophetic, but with the rising levels of the Fraser River recently that’s what has happened.

Since Sunday, Puddle Produce Farm manager Brianna van de Wijngaard has been trying to salvage vegetables from her low-lying garden plot at the Old Soda Creek town site north of Williams Lake.

The water has risen so much in the south end of the plot that the vegetables are three feet under water.

“On Saturday night I went down there at about 9 p.m. because some neighbours had luckily messaged me and said ‘hey the water is getting really close,” she told the Tribune Monday. “At that point the water was just in a corner of the plot.”

She put some sandbags down but by Sunday the garden was flooded in the lower portion of the plot by the Fraser River, which has seen a dramatic rise in water levels in recent weeks.

“I had to make the call to go down and pick. My neighbour brought a boat and we dragged it along, blindly picking vegetables from under the water and putting them in the boat.”

Another section that is not ready to pick yet is also under water and she’s worried about losing the vegetables.

“The onions will probably be gone — but we’ll see. I am curious to see how much they can withstand. Not that you would ever want it to happen.

She used the lower plot closest to the river for longer season produce such as cabbages, broccoli, storage onions and winter and summer squash.

On Monday the water had gone down quite a bit overnight, but she said when they were picking on Sunday she noticed it ebbs and flows.

“Who knows? It could be because it’s colder overnight and there is less melt happening and it will pick up again. We’ll see.”

Someone who has lived in the townsite, located between Williams Lake and Quesnel, for about 60 years told van de Wijngaard he had only seen the water flood the bench about three times.

While it isn’t a common thing, she said she knew it was a flood plain and put a garden in anyway.

“I guess if I was being totally risk-averse I wouldn’t have done that, but it was just bad luck that it happened now. You can tell from the landscape down there that it really doesn’t happen frequently.”

Her customers have been understanding as she grapples to fill food boxes for orders.

“They are being really good about taking cabbage and kohlrabi this week even though it wasn’t planned. We will have some shortages for sure.”

This summer she has three employees and said they may try to replant in other spots to fill the gap.

Another area of the plot has been barely touched by the water so in the future she may consider moving the garden up more to avoid potential flooding.

“You can’t really blame anything,” she added. “It is what it is, but I cannot help being sad and disappointed because we put a lot of work in and you love seeing the plants. They’ve been doing so well and then this happens.”

When van de Wijngaard originally named her business Puddle Produce Urban Farms it was after Williams Lake where she was living at the time.

She changed it to Puddle Produce Farm when she moved out to Soda Creek in October 2016.

“It’s definitely produce grown in a giant puddle now,” she said. “On the upside, at least we don’t have to weed the darn thing for the next little while.”

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