by Anne Obelnicki, RAFT Grow-Out Project Coordinator
I’ve been thinking a lot about agricultural disasters today. Unlike what the word “disaster” usually implies, in farming, it doesn’t take much to cause some serious problems. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to the perils of restaurateurs. Every chef dreads the snow storm that is normal for the season, but comes without warning and results in wasted inventory when customers stay home. In farming, it can be as simple as a little more rain and a little less sunshine, or neighboring home gardeners plant sources.
This summer, in the Northeast, the hot news is late blight ravaging Northeast tomato and potato plants. Chef Dan Barber did a good job of explaining how this disaster began in his New York Times Op-ed piece.
Every time I talk to one of the RAFT Grow-Out farmers they tell me worse news about their tomato fields. When I went to Red Planet Vegetables outside of Providence, RI last week they told me their tomatoes looked great until just a few days earlier when the blight arrived. Now they are living day-by-day with the tomato plants. If it’s hot, like it has been the past week, the blight slows down and the ripening tomatoes speed up. If it’s cold and damp, the green tomatoes just sit while the plants rot away. Unfortunately with this neck-and-neck race, the plants will never make it to the normal end of the season, even if we have hot days from now to October. Many farmers have ripped out most of their tomatoes already.
Unfortunately, late blight isn’t all Northeast farmers have had to deal with this season. All the wet, cold weather at the beginning of the summer put everything about a month behind. While many beautiful, abet late, vegetables are finally coming in now, the problem comes in October when the frost arrives at the same time it always does. A late start to the already-short Northeast growing season means farmers will have a shorter selling season, with fewer vegetables resulting in less income.