Coming from Florida – the home of hurricanes – I wasn’t really batting an eye when the local NY news began terrorizing the airwaves with threats of Hurricane Irene.
I helped friends with hurricane preparations…storing away loose yard items, shopping for too much food and too many candles…but I shook my head at the fear-frenzy the media was creating. And it only got worse as the hurricane neared.
A few “NYC lies in the cross hairs of Irene” and “No one is safe from the wrath to come” headlines later, she finally hit. I was in the city, and the damage there seemed minimal. I tried to suppress my “told-you-so” attitude. But I had no idea what was in store for us and so many other farmers back upstate.
The focus of the predicted damage was New York City itself and other coastal areas, but the real damage affected all of the low-lying rural areas – farms particularly- which were practically wiped out by flooding.
When I returned back upstate, word started pouring in from neighboring farms and friends’ farms all across the Northeast, stretching up into Vermont: farms were literally floating.
Rivers and streams were carrying squash and pumpkins washed away from the fields. Entire crops were taken out, diseases like wilt spread overnight killing neighboring crops instantly. Many farms lost everything, forced to finish for the season.
Our farm here in Wassaic, was a little lucky. But only slightly. All of our squash and pumpkins were wiped out. Salvaging what they could the day before the storm, my farm-mates were able to save a stash for our CSA members. Potatoes yet to be harvested were drowned and rotted out, along with other root crops like carrots and turnips. New seedlings recently transplanted were wiped away, leaving our fall crop yield potential looking scary. We managed to come out with our tomatoes pretty untouched, other than a yield full of fat, split tomatoes (from being over-watered by the rain), the next batch was back to normal and still trucking along for a few more weeks.
But that wasn’t the end. About a week after Irene, another tropical storm, Lee, came through and caused even worse flooding. Our farmhouse was under water again. Black mold is currently exploding through the walls in what used to be our herb-drying room. Wet soil has been postponing the tilling and prepping of fresh beds to plant fall crops in. We had to move our greenhouse (it was built to slide and move seasonally, luckily) due to flooding and the impending need to use it as the first frost nears.
And we made it out easy compared to many other farms; farms that supplied large CSAs in the city like Just Food’s CSA farmers, who had to shut down for the rest of the season.
About a month later, we are still working and living in the effects of the flooding, with rain continuing on a pretty steady basis.
This kind of risk is what farmers face every season. And small farmers don’t have the subsidies and support the agribusiness farmers do to get back on their feet so quickly.
Just a little something to remember next time the news is blowing up the airwaves with over-dramatized headlines. Learn the lesson that I did and read between the lines. The next hurricane or natural disaster may not be the end of the world (though we know all too well they have the power to be and have been for many), but all it takes is a little too much rain and farmers lose everything, just like that.