CALDWELL COUNTY, Texas — In the south, farmers like Jamey Gage of B5 Farms avoid the Texas heat by harvesting some crops like tomatoes during the winter.
Using high tunnels, which are greenhouse-like structures, farmers are able to grow tomatoes in optimal temperatures even when temperatures outside of the greenhouse are chilly.
This process allows them to work around Mother Nature, but this year she had plans of her own.
Gage said he planned ahead in the days before the storm.
“I winterized the greenhouses, and I checked all the heaters, I introduced more circulation fans. I shored up all the edges of the greenhouse so that there would be additional insulation,” he said.
Reality hit him hard February 15 when temperatures were at the lowest. While the power went in and out, Gage was outside trying to salvage as much fruit as he could of the fruits.
“The temperature was dropping so fast that unless the power came on pretty quickly we knew we're gonna lose some plants,” said Gage.
Days later, the damage is still being tallied, but it’s mostly irreparable, and to Gage’s frustration: completely avoidable.
“We pay for utilities and we expect to actually receive them,” he said.
The loss of power rendered heaters inside the high tunnels useless. Gage estimates roughly 80% of his tomato crop died from the single digit temperatures and sub-zero wind chills. The cost of the damage is estimated at $75,000, not counting the money he spent on supplies and the time dedicated to the growing process.
He said he no longer trusts government officials and moving forward he’ll invest in external power supplies of his own.
“Without faith that our utilities will get to us we now have to go to an added expense of providing them for ourselves. It's clear that we can't depend on anyone else to do that anymore,” he said.
For Gage, and many like him, the work continues to assess the damage and rebuild. There will be other winters, but if he has anything to say about it: he won't leave his livelihood in the hands of politicians again.