Once the flats were passable, cyclists, pedestrians and motorists caught a glimpse of the havoc Hurricane Irene unleashed along the Wallkill River corridor, particularly the Ferrante family’s Wallkill View Farm.
Once there were acres of sweet corn, swelling orange pumpkins and sunflowers decoratively gracing the sides of Route 299. Now there were black-and-grey silt-filled fields, stagnant bodies of water, cornstalks bent over as if scorched, a fetid, rotten smell of a hard-earned harvest fermenting after a days-long inundation with flood waters and wind. There was a lone sunflower, dangling off of its blackened stalk, that was the only speck of color in what is typically a palette of agricultural splendor.
Down the road from the Ferrantes, east of the river, is 17 acres of destroyed farm fields at the Taliaferro Farms, a community supported agriculture farm (CSA) which lost 80 percent of its late-summer and autumn harvest. Taliaferro lost its entire potato crop, its late bell peppers, corn, autumn greens, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and fruit. All of them, gone.
These are the organically grown crops that feed fresh produce to more than 330 families.
“We’ve lost more than $200,000 in crop sales,” said Pete Taliaferro, noting that to help offset the cost of the CSA, he and his family sell their excess crops to various markets. “Our lower fields were under six feet of water — not just for a few hours, but for 36 hours straight. I’ve never seen anything like it. And we’ve been kicked around all year with three-day rain events, heat waves … but this was devastating.”
Taliaferro admitted that when by-then-Tropical Storm Irene hit and continued to hit as the rain continued and the river rose and flooded his farm, he “was sweating bullets.”
“I was scared out of my mind,” the farmer said. “We work hard, we work incredibly hard to feed our people and we feed them well. But a CSA survives on retention. I can’t run to a bank. Our members are our bank.”
But his fear turned into gratitude and a deeper sense of community. “The outpouring of support we’ve received, the letters, the phone calls, the offers to use someone’s truck or people asking if they could come over in muck boots and help us clean up, members asking if they could pay in advance for the following year if that would help … it has been unbelievable.”
Reports of neighbors and community members, friends and customers helping the Wallkill View Farm’s Ferrante family to get their fields cleaned up, their greenhouse restocked, their flooded market building repaired were very similar to that of Taliaferro’s. Neighbors also stepped up to help the Huguenot Street Farm CSA owned by Ron and Kate Khosla, who also experienced tremendous crop damage and loss.
“I can shoot from the hip and get myself out of almost any jam,” Taliaferro said. “We were able to dodge the tomato blight two years ago. We’ve survived all kinds of weather, but this was something that we couldn’t climb out of without the help and support and understanding of our CSA family.”
To that end, the Ferrantes announced that they’d have to close down for a weeks, but planned on reopening this Thursday. The Taliaferro Farm has told its membership to give them two to three weeks to finish the clean up, replant many of their fast-growing autumn greens and sell some of their remaining crops at market. Under that plan, their CSA clients will have fresh food again by late September or early October.