The almost perfect harvest

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:11

    The storms of late summer drown a magnificent bounty Goshen — It was the perfect harvest. Or so it seemed. The rains of late August turned the lowlands of the Hudson Valley back into the "Drowned Lands." The winds of hurricane Irene didn't help. But most of the crop damage was in lower terrain, which has less opportunity to drain. Pine Hill Farm and Roe's Farm and Apple Orchards in Chester and Blooming Grove had very little damage from the hurricane itself — the small carrot crop was lost at Roe's— the corn is just beginning to turn yellow or brown from the all the water. "I don't even want to be in the paper, I'm so embarrassed how we made out compared to the devastation down in the black dirt region," said Carol Roe. C. Rowe and Sons in Campbell Hall also had little damage from hurricane Irene. But even their produce is beginning to suffer out in the fields because they can't get access with the flatbeds they usually load them onto. "You can only carry so much," Chuck Rowe said. They usually deliver truckloads to New York City at this time of year. Until the rains came, the harvest was splendid. Down in Pine Island, Florida, and Warwick's deep Black Dirt region, the story is nearly complete devastation. Hoping the water would recede from his 48 acres fast enough to leave only some rot and fungus damage, Chris Pawelski was able to harvest only the three acres of transplant onions that account for about 10 percent of his crop, and none of the 90 percent of onions grown from seed. J&A Bialis Farm in Goshen, like other smaller farms that grow a variety of vegetables, goes to several farm markets and has developed a successful CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program The farm lost 90 percent of its crop. Farmers who delight in providing high-quality produce for customers who have become their friends say they are mortified that they have to seek aid. And they are even more mortified that some people seem to think farmers are trying to bilk the system by getting subsidized, when they are simply looking for the same protection everyone else in small business already gets. The bureaucratic funding abyss Pawelski has for years been negotiating with U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. Bureaucracy tends to move slowly. But Pawelski said the senators have been "outstanding" in finding disaster funding for cash-strapped farm owners. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) usually does not help farmers at all. FEMA aid comes relatively quickly but is given only to small business owners. Farms are not considered small businesses. They are "agriculture." Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) also does not provide flood funding. So thousands of farmers in our region have only crop insurance to rely on — that is, if they buy it. Many farmers bypass crop insurance, saying it's ridiculously expensive. But even when farmers do buy insurance, they often do not receive reimbursement for years. But Pawelski still has hope that, given the extraordinary effort by Schumer and his staff, farmers may obtain a FEMA exemption in this extreme circumstance. Their long history of battling the inequality of the crop insurance program and lack of USDA programs means he and his staff know all the disturbing facts and are well equipped to present them in Washington. Freshman Congresswoman Nan Hayworth did not get marks as high. While she may be eager to help, her early comments, as well as a posting on her Facebook page, supported Majority Leader Eric Cantor's position that any new FEMA funding must be offset by budget cuts in other programs. Many local people called her comments insensitive following the devastation. But Hayworth said she was misquoted and her comments taken out of context. The online news source Politco reviewed her comments in its "Flip Flop Alert." Hayworth has since made the rounds of farm meetings and press conferences, saying she believes the issues should be considered separately. Governor Cuomo has established a starter fund of $15 million for farm reparations. But the need is expected to triple that amount. Farmers take matters into their own hands With funding still not in sight, farmers are organizing their own disaster relief programs. Facebook already has a site for Warwick Valley 2011 Farm Aid, and another called Orange County Farmers in Need. The first Facebook comment says: "Support our local farmers, they lost it all." Several bands have already offered to play free concerts. Shawn Dell Joyce of the Wallkill Art School, a keen supporter of the local foods movement, is looking into organizing a benefit art exhibit. "DineOut Irene," another benefit planned for late September, will give farmers 10 percent of the take at local participating restaurants. Also in the works is "Crop Mobs," to help farmers clean their land (visit and an online auction. The challenge now is to find a way to divide the proceeds from these different benefits equally among affected farmers. Currently the only open donations site is through the Warwick Chamber of Commerce. Donations made through this site go only to farms in Warwick. Distribution will be further complicated by the numerous farms that cross town and village boundaries. Many of these issues will be worked out as plans progress. An "All Farmers and Interested Parties" meeting is planned for 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9, at the Emergency Services Center (911 center) on Station Road in Goshen. Many farmers say they were "touched to tears" by comments and well wishes from the public. A New York City family that had seen news coverage on TV wrote a letter to one farmer saying how much they appreciate the work farmers do. They enclosed a $100 check. The farmer does not want to keep the check but also doesn't want to insult the sender by returning it. The rain continues to fall, as this newspaper goes to press. The saturated ground can't absorb much more, and flash floods threaten. Cleanup continues to be difficult. The silver lining to the relentless rain cloud is that local farmers belong to a tightly knit community. They don't have to look far to find a generous spirit, some kindly comfort, and plenty of strong hands always ready to help. Editor's note: Many benefit projects are still in the early stages of development. For more details, follow future stories in this paper. Nan Hayworth on disaster relief and debt Congresswoman Nan Hayworth made the following comments on Sept. 1: "First, at a time when so many citizens throughout our District are struggling to recover from Hurricane Irene, I have written directly to President Obama to assure that the full measure of federal disaster relief is made available to them.... This is my responsibility as your Representative in Congress, and it is the right thing to do. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, I was the first member of the New York congressional delegation to send such a request to the President in regard to Hurricane Irene. "During this time I’ve also been asked about how we think about the effect of all the disaster relief we’ve needed to provide across the country this past year on the federal budget. We all know the facts: Hurricane Irene, and other severe-weather events in the South and Midwest, have made it necessary to provide urgent funds that will ultimately reach several billion dollars, possibly 10 billion dollars or more, in the midst of the most massive deficit spending in our country’s peacetime history. Our deficit and enormous, mounting debt are not benign and distant threats; the federal government is spending money it doesn’t have, which means that there isn’t enough money left in the economy to make it strong and healthy. "Fourteen million Americans, including thousands of people right here in the Hudson Valley, need jobs, and they need a strong economy if they’re going to have jobs, so we really do have to get the government’s spending under control right now. Families in District 19 have to think every day about how to balance their budgets, and they have insisted, rightly so, that the federal government has to do the same thing. "So, when we think about Irene, this is not complicated: we will mobilize the funding for disaster relief from less-essential spending, just the way American families do when they have to prioritize. "We have a responsibility to the people and communities who are suffering after natural disaster, and we will absolutely fulfill that responsibility, and do so urgently. "We also have a responsibility to provide that help without making things worse. We can, absolutely, do both. The last thing that we need is for the media or public figures to try to make this a political issue, because it is not. It is a matter of compassion and common sense, and Americans have both of these qualities in abundance."