by Eileen Weber
If nothing else makes it clear how difficult and tenuous farming is, the after-effects of Hurricane Irene should be a wake-up call. With 10 inches of rain or more, thousands of acres of crops were lost to flooding in New York, New Jersey, Vermont, and western portions of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The vegetable delivery from my own CSA, Stoneledge Farm in South Cairo, NY, has been shut down for the rest of the season. With some portions of their crops under as much as 10 feet of water, the FDA declared it—along with produce from a number of other farms—a food safety risk and inedible.
“As much as we would like to keep delivering, our farm will abide with the FDA, NYS Ag and Markets and Cornell Cooperative Extension recommendation not to harvest the produce,” Stoneledge Farm posted on their blog. “Our farm needs to start to clean up and get back on track for next season. At the height of the harvest season, it is a difficult decision.”
In a September 3rd article in The New York Times, the loss of produce for the farmer’s markets is sorely evident. Some patrons rely on the fresh vegetables for their own businesses. They will now have to look elsewhere for items that may be more expensive or have a higher carbon footprint.
And for others, the fresh produce was part of a larger initiative to provide healthy food. Harvest Home is an organization that runs farmer’s markets in low-income areas.
“We have no idea what we’re going to do,” Maritza Wellington Owens, founder of Harvest Home, was quoted as saying. “We might have to shut markets down. It might just come to that.” The Associated Press reported (via The Boston Globe) that Fair Weather Acres in Rocky Hill, Conn., had all 450 acres wiped out. Nearly 1.5 million pounds of beans were destroyed which translates as a $700,000 loss. And that’s just one of the many farms in the Connecticut Valley that were harmed by Hurricane Irene.
"Just dead plants, nothing salvageable," Bill Collins, the farm’s owner, said. "We're in pretty serious financial trouble."
According to a September 6th post online from the Rutland Herald, it wasn’t just the crops that were spoiled. In one example, a dairy farmer lost a week’s worth of milking when the power went out. That’s wasted labor and lost revenue.
But now that the power is back on and the floodwaters have receded, what does that mean for the farmland? The soil is now defiled with contaminants—anything from raw sewage to chemicals—that leeched in and the plants are covered in silt. New plantings for fresh crops cannot take place until the soil is contaminant-free.
“I might have to wait 60 days for the pathogens to be out of the soil,” Jeremy Gildrein, a farmer whose crops were ruined by floodwaters from the nearby New Haven River, was quoted as saying. “If that happens it will be too late to plant anything else this year.”
For some farms, it wasn’t a total disaster. Some crops may have been destroyed, but other crops from fruit trees were left unscathed. While my CSA may not be able to distribute vegetables, they are able to provide the fruit share after careful examination.
“We're so glad that after stepping back and having time to assess the situation,” LeeAnn Christopher, the CSA’s coordinator, said in a recent correspondence, “it was determined that they safely can.”
Let’s not forget that that growing season hasn’t been all fun and games. With a winter packed with violent snowstorms and a particularly rainy spring, many farmers got a late start. Now that growing season has been cut incredibly short.
For many of these farmers, the land is all they have. It is their main asset and, in some cases, their only source of income. So the next time you balk at paying $6 for a basket of peaches, consider why they cost that much.
Image courtesy of Stoneledge Farm showing the flood damage of their fields.