From farm to table, submerged

Greenmarkets are very popular in the New York area these days.

This summer, the Riverdale Y started a “Sunday Market” featuring Hudson Valley farmers at my son’s former high school, a few blocks from my apartment. So when I was buying eggs and cherry tomatoes there this weekend, I asked the young man taking my money whether his particular farm had been affected by Irene.

He didn’t think so. But many Northeastern farmers whose fields were flooded at peak growing season by the rains from Tropical Storm Irene will have less to bring to market over the next few months – including the well-known Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan.

In various news accounts, I have read about summer vegetables submerged under water; stored tomatoes splattered by mud, creating what looked like an inedible chili; chickens taken by canoe to safety; and goats who produced less milk because they were stressed out by the storm.

That may sound cute in an “Old MacDonald” kind of way to us city folks, but it’s been a catastrophe for the farmers.

The Rev. Carol Coltrain, who is organizing assistance in upstate New York on behalf of the United Methodist Upper New York Conference and the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has seen the devastation from Irene, both in the farm fields and the town of Middleburgh.

Last Thursday morning, she went to the Middleburgh diner, a regular community gathering spot that was dry on high ground, and ran into a sixth-generation farm couple who had lost everything to the water – their fields, the barns, the house.

“We’ve had floods here before, but this is by far the worst,” she told me. “There’s no one alive who remembers anything this bad.”

On Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited a farm near Middleburgh and other flood-damaged sites with U.S. Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack and other elected officials. The governor has created a $15 million Agricultural and Community Recovery Fund to assist the farming areas affected by Irene.

It’s not enough. According to the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union, (http://bit.ly/n9aQ0P) the agricultural toll from Irene is estimated at $45 million in New York State alone, with a loss of 140,000 acres of farmland.

United Methodists will be assisting farmers and others in the Eastern United States whose homes, businesses and livelihoods were damaged by Irene. You can make a donation, designated for Hurricanes 2011, at http://bit.ly/EsgDg.

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