Irene Fallout Lingers for Farmers and Local Markets

Fundraiser set for Sunday to help area farmers still recovering.

If you live in a home in Bronxville or Bedford or perhaps Irvington or Rye, Tropical Storm Irene left behind flooded basements, deluged roads and extended power outages, all of which are now hopefully — if painfully and expensively — resolved.

But for the region’s farmers, the fallout from Irene is still unfolding, whether a small family farm, commercial grower or those who supply our local farmers markets.

“This was the most devastating storm and the most devastating situation to impact us in the last 56 years,” Christopher Pawelski, a farmer in the state’s famed Black Dirt region in Florida, N.Y., recently told the New York Farm Bureau.

Among those hit the hardest by the aftermath of Irene were a number of vendors who make the trip into Bronxville every summer weekend to sell at the , who are now struggling to meet customers' demands and produce enough goods to appear at all their usual locations.

"Many of the farms in Orange County were hit very hard," said Bronxville Farmer's Market Manager Mary Liz Mulligan. "Morgiewicz Produce, my big produce vendor from Goshen (NY), who has been with the Bronxville Farmer’s Market since day one 10 years ago, was hit hard. Not only by the hurricane, but the torrential rain the following Thursday. Another farmer, Shireforge Farm from Unionville (NY) has not attended since the bad weather. He was pretty much washed out. Literally. He is a one-man show and this type of event is devastating to the ‘little guys.’ Not only crops were impacted, but animals and machinery too."

While Pawelski and other farmers work to secure more expansive aid from the federal government, there is much you can do to help. 

Community Markets, which runs many local farmers markets, is highlighting the plight of their participating farmers hardest hit by Irene. Fundraising efforts they are promoting include Dine Out Irene on Sunday Sept. 25 where participating New York City restaurants will donate up to 10% of sales to aid local farmers. The funds will go directly to GrowNYC and Just Food, which will distribute to area farms.

"We did have several farmers impacted,” said Frankie Rowland, marketing and advertising director at Community Markets. Most significantly, Rowland said, were J&A in Goshen, N.Y., “which lost all of their crops with Irene, replanted and lost them all again with (Tropical Storm) Lee and now has replanted again and hopes to return to the Pleasantville Farmers' Market sometime late in the season."

Also affected: Ernesto Acevedo of Acevdeo Farm from Middletown  who "will not be able to return to the market at all this year," Rowland said. Bialis Farm in New Hampton, J. Glebocki Farm, R&G Produce in Goshen and Taliaferro Farm in New Paltz all suffered losses.

As bad as Irene was, for many farmers it was just the latest in a string of bad weather.

Irene came on the heels of a major hail storm in August that damaged apples and tomatoes in Rockland County, said Jan Davies of Dr. Davies Farm in Congers, home to 4,000 trees on 35 acres. They run two farm stand locations, one with apple picking at  306 Route 304 in Congers and the other on Route 9W in Congers. “The heat, wet summer and hail have been tough on the crops.”

It also didn’t help that farmers had most of their expenses in and were depending on the sales of crops to cover it all.

“It hit us all at the worst time,” Pawelski said in an interview. 

The region's promising apple crop and steady apple prices, at least, seem to be one bright spot amid a sea of flooded below-ground crops and ruined harvests.

"We kept the same prices,” Davies said. “For pick your own, we have kept our prices the same for three years.”

Irene toppled 150 trees at Stuart’s Farm in Granite Springs but they still have plenty of apples to pick from this season.

“We actually didn’t lose many apples off the trees, and we propped them back up with two-by-fours and rope,” said Betsy Stuart, a sixth-generation of the 200-acre farm in Somers, which has the oldest apple orchard in Westchester County. 

August rains led to a bumper crop of apples for them, including Macintosh, Cortlands and Macouns available now for the picking.

Other crops did not fare as well—over half of their pumpkins rotted in fields, the zucchini was wiped out completely and plum tomatoes burst from drinking too much rain. But the Stuarts have sourced sugar pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns from other farms to provide customers with a large selection and increased prices by only 10 cents per pound.

“We know everyone is hurting and didn’t want to pass along the pain,” Stuart said.


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