CSI: CSA – After Sandy, a community rallies around a ruined farm
November 5th, 2012
10:00 AM ET
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Stacy Cowley is CNNMoney's tech editor. She's in a complicated relationship with her CSA and explores the odd vegetables that show up in her haul in CSI: CSA. Previously, she fended off a stampeding herd of zucchini.

The vegetables I've been writing about this season - the invasive purslane weed, inscrutable kohlrabi and endless bushes of leafy greens - all came from Added Value, an urban farm located on the edge of Brooklyn's Red Hook waterfront neighborhood.

By Monday night, the farm was buried under almost three feet of water. Sandy's storm surge sent a flood of river water, mud and industrial sludge cascading through Red Hook, drowning hundreds of homes and local businesses. The farm lost its fall crops, some of its physical structures, and an estimated $10,000 to $40,000 in equipment.

Added Value isn't your typical farm. It sits, literally, in the shadow of an Ikea, just a few meters away from an once-industrial waterfront that's now a patchwork blend of commercial plants, artisanal food makers, boutiques and a handful of big-box retailers.

That's an economically fragile and sometimes uneasy mix. When the puzzle pieces connect, though, it creates unique opportunities - like Added Value.

Established to bring fresh food and youth employment to a neighborhood that desperately needed both, the 10-year-old farm focuses on education. It trains and pays area teenagers to grow crops, run a weekly farmers market and help manage one of Brooklyn's largest composting programs. On a three-acre plot that was once a dilapidated city block, the farm raises produce to sell to Red Hook's local restaurants and to Added Value's annual CSA subscribers.

A community-supported agriculture share is technically a gamble: You pay in advance for a stake in your farm's annual production. In good years, you reap the bounty; in bad ones, you share in the losses.

There's nothing like a complete wipeout to remind you of how real those risks are.

The farm will bounce back. It will take lots of effort and big chunks of money to rebuild, but New York City is rallying in the face of Sandy's devastation. More than 100 volunteers swarmed in Saturday to clear debris and pull up the ruined crops. Soil samples are off for testing to find out what contaminants seeped in.

Whatever turns up, Added Value's director, Ian Marvy, is optimistic that the farm can combat it - thanks in part to the lessons agricultural scientists learned from Katrina.

For example, did you know that mushrooms eat petroleum?

"We might be a fungus farm this spring," Ian told a group of us Saturday morning.

We'd gathered at picnic tablets at the edge of the farm to discuss its future, shivering in the wind but warmed up by bowls of donated chili, corn bread and baked ziti. Like most of Added Value's workers and volunteers, Ian is juggling Sandy's wreckage at both work and home - the first floor of his house got washed away. Our hastily arranged CSA meeting kicked off with a discussion of FEMA claim forms (pro tip: turns out garages don't count as part of your "primary dwelling") and a block-by-block rundown of which streets took the worst of the flooding.

The farm is inventorying its needs and organizing benefits and volunteer events to meet them. The local restaurants it works with - all of which were decimated by the flood - are banding together at RestoreRedHook.org. I'm planning to attend many fundraisers over the next few months.

I had notes and photos saved for a few more posts about my CSA adventures, like the week we got what looked like an entire edamame bush in our shares, or the teeny kermit eggplants that look like squashy baseballs and make excellent curry. Our season - now abruptly over - was slated to run through Thanksgiving.

I still have a few remnants from last week's share stashed in my fridge, though. Some red peppers, a bag of turnip greens, a cluster of radishes and, as ever, one random new thing I'd never cooked with before: Napa lettuce. Epicurious suggests it will be tasty in a pork and cilantro stir fry.

We're opening up a bottle of really good red wine - a Williams Selyem Pinot Noir I'd been hoarding - to have with it. I'll be toasting our farm, and hoping that come next June, it will once again be harvesting a crop of veggies to overwhelm and perplex me in the kitchen. And most of all, I'm hoping that Red Hook's local businesses will pull through and survive the economic devastation this storm wrought.

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Filed under: CSA • CSI: CSA • Disaster • Farms • Feed the Soul • Flood • Hurricane • Local Food • Urban Gardening

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. summer time

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    November 9, 2012 at 9:31 am |
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    November 9, 2012 at 1:39 am |
  3. fiftyfive55

    The major word not mentioned once here is "INSURANCE",why is that ???

    November 8, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  4. Native Illinoian who lived in NC for 4 decades

    @ suj – You're the one living in a "small world". I know the full extend of the drought here in Central IL. The creek beside my house has been bone dry for months. My cousin's have been "hauling water" for their homes and their cattle since mid-June of this year. HOWEVER, the magnitude of the damage inflicted upon the people of NJ, the outer boroughs of NYC, the fact that as of today there are 700,000 homes without electricity as below freezing temperatures and an impending NorEaster is on course to "hit" devestated neighborhoods this week deserves Concern and Compassion – not your inhumane rantings.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  5. suj

    Well now. The summer drought has obviously been forgotten. Remember, this is where more than 2/3 of the continental US suffered such a water shortage that crops, lakes and small towns dried up and blew away. The beginning of the Great Dust Bowl. So now a small piece of land (in proportion to this last summer disaster) got wet, too wet and this is more important now because it affects YOU the author? How small your world must be.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      You seem to be making it your business today to go around to posts and kick New Yorkers while we're down. In NO WAY did anyone imply that this dwarfed the drought (which we have covered on this site a LOT and continue to do so). Is there not something more productive and kind you could be doing with this energy?

      November 5, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
      • Native Illinoian who lived in NC for 4 decades

        I "survived" Hurricane Fran sweeping through NC from Wilmington NC along I-40 into the "Foothill" cities of Greensboro and Hickory NC, etc. I reposted the "story" of Added Value farm hours ago and have 'received' several "likes" since then. I have several cousins whose livelihoods are centered on organic farming, who contribute to and are consumers of "small farm" produce. I KNOW what "suj" seems NOT to KNOW: the magnitude of a hurricane's force upon a metropolitan areas is "unimaginable" - especially as "Sandy" was 'declared' today to have had the 'magnitude of 2 atomic bombs'. YES, the drought conditions here (in Central IL and throughout the Central US) have been and continue to 'newsworthy' - despite some reports that conditions have been 'relieved' or 'resolved'. Water restrictions remain in place for many municipalities. Yet, folks like myself who have "survived" the flooding downfall of rain and the impact of sewage filled streets and highways, etc. are Standing with you and all those who are determined to "survive" Sandy's impact.

        November 6, 2012 at 1:08 am |
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