Snow, wind brings down greenhouses
Snow that drifted on the south side of Wild Sky Farm's greenhouse bent the steel frame during the Feb. 8 and 9 nor'easter.
The Kitchen Garden's greenhouse collapsed under snow during the Nor'easter. The greenhouse was scheduled for rebuilding on Wednesday, February 20, 2013, but was postponed due to windy conditions.
Snow drifted on the south side of Wild Sky Farm's greenhouse in Easthampton during the Feb. 8 and 9 nor'easter.
Anna Feldman of Sunderland, left, and Danielle Smith of Florence pull up damaged spinach to feed to the animals on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. The Kitchen Garden's greenhouse was damaged in the snowstorm and some of the crop was ruined.
Workers David Dilorenzo of South Hadley, left, and Caroline Pam of Sunderland pull up damaged spinach to feed to the animals on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. The Kitchen Garden's greenhouse was damaged in the snowstorm and some of the crop was ruined.
When blizzard Nemo blew into the region earlier in February, dumping a couple of feet of snow on the county, it left a heavy mark on several farms, causing thousands of dollars of damage by bearing down on greenhouses.
“We’ve experienced snowstorms before, and we’ve woken up in the morning to giant drifts of snow, but we’ve never woken up to three greenhouses down,” said David Wojciechowski of Harvest Farm in Whately.
The wholesale-only farm lost 15,000 square feet of greenhouse space — about one quarter of total growing area in 15 greenhouses — that’s typically used for geraniums and bedding plants. Fortunately, they were empty at the time of the Feb. 8 blizzard, but there are plans to cut back on bedding plants this coming season because of limited space.
“It’s a major setback,” said Wojciechowski. “The wind sort of came down like a downdraft and flattened one and tried to flatten the other two. They could have handled the snow easily had it not been so windy, and they could have handled the wind if it hadn’t been so snowy.”
Wojciechowski, who’s rebuilding the 35-foot-wide, plastic covered structures with a used frame from a neighbor and materials from a greenhouse supplier in Connecticut, said he’s never experienced anything quite like this in 30 years.
And he’s not alone.
Montague farmer Ryan Voiland said he was lucky that his large greenhouses were undamaged, but he did lose two smaller “caterpillar tunnels” that are about 200 feet long and 8 feet tall, with spinach and kale crops inside.
“We knew the caterpillar tunnels are sort of vulnerable during snowstorms,” said Voiland, who took turns with his wife, Sarah, sweeping snow off during the night. All looked OK when he swept at 11 p.m., but by the time she went back out at 3 a.m., they were about 90 percent collapsed.
He kept some of Red Fire Farm’s larger greenhouses protected by turning up the heat to 75 or 80 degrees so that the snow would melt off.
“Overall we feel very lucky,” he said, since the loss with the mangled frames totaled about $2,000, compared to $30,000 or $40,000 had it been the undamaged 4,000-square-foot greenhouses.
The spinach that was still growing in one greenhouse may even be salvageable, he said, once he’s able to clean up the debris and the snow has melted.
While both Wojciechowski and Voiland weren’t insured for the damage both said they will manage. Other growers around the Pioneer Valley may be harder hit financially.
Farmers who lost greenhouses that they use for winter or spring growing now find themselves in a difficult situation, said Philip Korman of Communities Involved in Sustaining Agriculture. The Deerfield-based nonprofit organization has announced it is re-opening an interest-free, emergency loan fund for farmers who suffered damage in the storm. The fund, which Korman said has at least $75,000, is the second round of a fund the organization set up in response to Hurricane Katrina. It loaned a total of $93,000 to 11 farms around the region.
“We hope these loans will offer those farmers the option to rebuild or repair immediately to minimize future harvest losses,” said Korman.
Neither Voiland nor Wojciechowski said they will seek help from the CISA fund.
The CISA fund, which provided loans of $5,000 to $10,000 to farmers in the first round, is an important complement to the safety net provided by state and federal government programs. These small, no-interest, quick turnaround loans are able to help tide the farms over. The need for this type of assistance becomes more pressing as severe weather events become more common.
Voiland added, “It’s tough for a farmer when something he’s built for $30,000 or $40,000 is destroyed. Just getting a loan to rebuild is better than nothing, but it’s definitely a big hit for somebody who’s lost a structure he’s invested those sort of resources in.”
Caroline Pam of The Kitchen Garden CSA in Sunderland — who saw about one-quarter of a single 30-by-186-foot greenhouse damaged by the storm — added, “This is a difficult time of year to have an unanticipated expense like that.”
Pam, who had spent about $75,000 about two years ago to build the structure, said, “These were highly unusual circumstances. The snow drifted and accumulated on the south side of the greenhouse, so eventually the roof couldn’t shed snow and it collapsed.”
She estimated it would cost between $5,000 and $10,000 to repair the greenhouse, where about half of the crops were also destroyed, at a cost of around $5,000 or $6,000.
Korman said the CISA fund, which started with an anonymous $50,000 that a host of donors were able to more than match for the first round, later attracted another major donor who “wanted to ensure the fund was viable going forward in case something else happened. And in fact, something happened.”
The deadline for applications to the CISA fund is March 31.
On the Web: www.buylocalfood.org
You can reach Richie Davis a
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