Produce farmers say Sandy’s timing let them dodge disaster

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Abra Morawiec cuts loose tomato plants in a damaged greenhouse at Garden of Eve Thursday afternoon.

Hurricane Sandy may have brought historic flooding and severe winds to the East End earlier this week, but local produce farmers say the storm’s timing was about as good as it could get.

The superstorm that flooded many areas along the North Fork with water from the Long Island Sound and the bays struck so late in the season that most farms had already harvested their high value summer crops.

“Our season basically finished up at Halloween,” said Jeff Rottkamp of Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm in Baiting Hollow. “Had this been two months ago, we would have had a disaster.”

More than a year ago, Tropical Storm Irene hit the North Fork, knocking over crops and — more damagingly — whipping up salt water from the sea onto the produce. It will take about a week or so to see how bad the salt spray from Sandy is, Mr. Rottkamp said, but since most crops were already harvested, the effects will not be as economically devastating.

At Schmitt’s farm stand on Sound Avenue, Debbie Schmitt was just opening up shop Thursday afternoon after power was restored. She said corn had been knocked over and the delicate herbs like cilantro and arugula were ruined by the storm, but otherwise the farm escaped without much damage.

“We’re a lot luckier than a lot of other people,” Ms. Schmitt said.

A greenhouse containing tomatos at Garden of Eve in Northville had its plastic covering ripped away by Sandy’s gusts, killing off the crop. On Thursday, a worker was cutting away the tomato plants from the greenhouse and disposing of the ruined fruits.

Chris Kaplan-Walbrecht at Garden of Eve said though the farm does plant crops into the winter, the unpredictable nature of weather in November means the crops planted then are “riskier.”

The farm lost some baby peas, baby lettuce and mustard due to the storm, but the damage was not as bad as it was after Irene when more valuable crops were in the field.

“I’m not really disappointed,” he said. “We definitely got salt [spray] going, but it even killed some of the weeds, which was fine.”

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Additional reporting by Beth Young