Hurricane Sandy’s Impact on Urban Farms

November 27, 2012

From the latest issue of Food, Nutrition & Science, urban farms struggle to rebuild from Hurricane Sandy's destruction.

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy ripped through the North East, harming homes and businesses and causing destruction estimated at $20 billion or more. While the effects of this devastating storm are still being calculated as rebuilding efforts get underway, some damage is difficult to quantify. Area farms, especially urban farms in New York City and New Jersey, are facing immeasurable crop losses that may take years to recover from.

Added Value’s Red Hook Farm in Brooklyn is one such farm rebuilding post Sandy. Red Hook Farm is one of the city’s oldest urban farms, as well as one of its largest. Almost 4,000 people volunteer there, and nearly 1,000 school children participate in educational programs at the farm and more than a dozen are involved in a leadership program.
Flood waters from Sandy damaged the Red Hook Farms’ entire crop, and the loss is devastating, especially after a year of such bountiful harvest. Eggplants were still ripening, and cabbage was still in the ground. Unfortunately, though, flooded produce cannot be sold. So now everything gets dug up, chopped up, and composted back into the ground to make a rich soil for next year’s crop.
Ian Marvy, Red Hook’s founder, says that soil contamination is an additional concern. Since flood waters bring more than just water, Marvy says they will have run soil samples to make sure pollutants haven’t been left behind. If they do find pollutants, they will have to develop a remediation plan that could include inoculating the soil with fungi spores, saturating the land with compost tea, or even removing it all and starting over with new top soil. Either way they will rebuild.

Another area farm struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy almost wiped out their entire apiary is the Brooklyn Grange Farm, also in Brooklyn. With over two acres of rooftop under cultivation in Brooklyn and Queens, the farm has been selling vegetables to restaurants, CSA members and directly to the public successfully over the last two years. They also keep egg-laying hens and a commercial apiary, where they were cultivating bees for their honey and breeding regional hardiness into their DNA.

Prior to the storm, Brooklyn Grange Farm president and head farmer Ben Flanner used concrete pavers to weigh the bee hives down, but the flood waters proved to be too high – a good 8 to 12 feet – and too strong. By the next morning, most of the hives were washed out to sea. A few hives, however, drifted around and got lodged under a big flatbed truck parked at the end of the pier. Some of them, amazingly, survived.

Even with the few recovered hives, restoring the apiary will take years. Monetarily, the apiary lost about $10,000 worth of equipment, but that does not include the loss in honey production over the next few years, and the blow to their selective breeding program, which was working to breed bees with genes best suited to the NYC environment. Thankfully, the farm has already raised a portion of the funds they will need to rebuild in 2013.

“Beekeepers from across the country have come forward to offer equipment and even new colonies, which will allow us to rebuild in the spring,” says Anastasia Plakias, Brooklyn Grange Farm Co-Founder. "We are saddened by the loss but heartened by the generous support of the community in the wake of the storm.”

Sarita Daftary is the Project Director for East New York Farms, an organization that motivates youth and adults to address food justice in the community by promoting local sustainable agriculture and community-led economic development. Their two urban farm locations suffered minor damage from Hurricane Sandy, but Daftary says the experience is a reminder of the importance of local, urban agriculture.

“Urban farms, including gardens that are producing food, are feeding this city, and have been for over 30 years. In many working class communities throughout New York, where fast food restaurants, corner stores, and liquor stores far outnumber grocery stores and parks, gardens have been some of the only sources of fresh food for years, with the added benefit of creating public green spaces and gathering places. The gardeners we work with grew over 14,000 pounds of fresh, organic produce for sale at our market last year. And that number does not even include the produce that these gardeners brought home to their families and gave to the neighbors,” says Daftary.

According to the USDA, about 15% of the world’s food is now grown in urban areas. As food insecurity and poor health become more serious in U.S. cities, and with 80% of the U.S. population living there, urban agriculture is becoming a higher priority for city planners.