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CSAs in the Aftermath of Irene

We know that farmers “make hay while the sun shines,” but what do they do when it rains…and rains…and rains…? The devastation caused by Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee that followed on its heels, highlight the precariousness of farming and the painful, tragic effects of extreme weather events. In the wake of these storms, farmers across the Northeast are assessing damages and picking up pieces. For many, waterlogged fields have caused total crop failures; incessantly wet weather is causing storage crops to rot rather than cure; and what should have been three more months of salable produce can now only be plowed under. No matter how skilled the farmers are, the tragedy is that it’s not their fault; they did nothing wrong — it’s just what happens.

Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) attempts to mitigate some of the risk of extreme weather to farmers. Customers buy a share of the entire season, and in the contract they sign before the first snap pea is even a tendril on the vine, they agree that “being a member of the CSA involves sharing the rewards and risks (eg. poor weather, early winter, etc.) with our farmer.” But in practice, this can be a tough truth to swallow when customers find out, as did the members of the Hazon CSA at the 14th St. Y last week, that their five months of produce deliveries were cut down to three. It’s not their fault either — it’s just what happens.

Just Food, New York City’s Community-Supported Agriculture support agency, is collecting stories of the devastation - and hope - in the form of communities coming together to support their embattled farmers. These stories will be posted in the coming weeks.

For now, we’re sharing this letter by farmers from Monkshood Nursery and Garden, who provide the produce to the 14th St. Y CSA, to put a face on the devastation:

You can help by:

Our international food system lets us bypass the effects of local food shortages by simply buying produce from elsewhere. But for the farmers whose fields are flooded and crops destroyed, it’s not so simple. A truly re-imagined food system would have eaters take responsibility for where their food comes from; this is a sobering but crucial moment for us to take that step.

Anna Hanau is the Associate Director of Food Programs at Hazon, and co-authored “Food for Thought, Hazon’s Sourcebook on Jews, Food and Contemporary Life.” She and her husband, Naf Hanau, founded a kosher pastured meat business called Grow and Behold Foods in summer 2010, and she keeps a flock of chickens in her backyard in Brooklyn.

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