Farms that Sell at NYC Greenmarkets Fared OK in Hurricane Sandy

Union Square market, Manhattan. Photo: Rose Trinh/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Union Square Greenmarket, the centerpiece of a five-block plaza at Broadway and Park and GrowNYC’s flagship market, reassuringly sprouts up every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. But during what became a long, dark week for many New Yorkers, the market didn’t appear, shuttered by Hurricane Sandy.

It wasn’t the only one. When the storm hit hardest—Tuesday and Wednesday of last week—all 20 of the farmers’ markets that typically run those days were closed. Slowly they’re reopening, relocating when necessary, to ensure the availability of fresh, local produce for city-dwellers and a return to normalcy for the farms that count on the markets for income.

We spoke with three farmers about their Hurricane Sandy experience:

Stokes Farm
17-acre vegetable farm, Old Tappan, NJ
Greenmarkets: Union Square, Tucker Square, Tribeca

When the storm peaked and wind was at its worst, Stokes Farm lost power—and the roofs off of two greenhouses. But that didn’t deter owner Ron Binaghi. “We have a bunch of trees down and a bunch of clean up. It’s nothing we can’t handle,” says the fifth generation farmer.

What did bother him was missing a Saturday selling at the Union Square Greenmarket. “It’s been a tough year economically. Our costs are higher than they normally are,” he says. “To lose one market day is like losing three weeks income. We’re only there 40 Saturdays.” This time of year is particularly important for Stokes Farm, which sells a lot of herb wreaths.

Binaghi expects the markets to be back to normal next week. “This storm will pass; we’ll rebuild and be fine,” he says. “The pity party lasts about three minutes and then we get back to work.”

Red Jacket Orchards
Family-run fruit orchard, Geneva, NY
Greenmarkets: 16 around the city, five of which are year-round

At Red Jacket Orchards, planning ahead was the name of the game. “We follow the weather all the time. It’s just kind of part of what we do,” says Mike Biltonen, farm operations manager. Seeing the storm’s projected path, the pickers shifted their schedules, finishing early. “We made sure we were done picking the Thursday before it was supposed to hit New Jersey,” he adds, “four or five days before it was supposed to be up here.”

Luckily, Mother Nature cut them a break; the storm veered farther west than expected. The timing also helped. “If it had happened in the meat of the season when we had lots of fruit, it could’ve been pretty dramatic,” Biltonen says. “We were prepared for the worst and all we got was a lot of wind and a little rain. We consider ourselves very fortunate.”

Sycamore Farms
237-acre vegetable farm, Middletown, NY
Greenmarket: Union Square

Circumstances like Hurricane Sandy and last year’s Irene prompted Sycamore Farms to create a stand at its farm located 70 miles from New York City. At the new shop—slated to open next June—it can sell its 30 different types of produce as well as experiment and expand.

Having a second outlet is key for a place like Sycamore, which normally sells at the Union Square market three days a week for 20 weeks a year. “The hurricane closed the market for a few days,” says owner Kevin Smith. “People wanted that food but we couldn’t get [it to them] from here.”

Thankfully, Smith says, they only lost a few days of selling. Plus, it’s the end of Sycamore’s farmers’ market season. “For some other producers that have a lot of fall crops, the apples and the apple cider, it certainly hurts them,” he adds. “For us, our business is winding down.”

For more information and details about when the greenmarkets will be back up and running or how to donate a bag of produce to those in need, visit GrowNYC’s blog.

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