Growers: Hurricane Could Have Been Worse

Anthony Van Hoven was driving to pick up his brother in Washington, D.C., when the 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook the area around Battlefield Farms in Rapidan, Va.

Van Hoven, Battlefield’s president, didn’t feel the earthquake while he was driving. His operation felt it, though, along with the impact of Hurricane Irene last weekend. Fortunately, the earthquake caused minimal damage and the hurricane really didn’t affect Battlefield at all.

“The earthquake just freaked everybody out, breaking some water mains and pipes attached to the buildings,” Van Hoven says. “Besides that it didn’t do too much–just cosmetic damage. It was more scary than detrimental.”

A number of other growers along the East Coast feel as fortunate as Van Hoven after Hurricane Irene came through. Peace Tree Farm experienced wind gusts as high as 50 miles per hour in Kintnersville, Pa., but because owner Lloyd Traven and his team thoroughly prepared, the operation avoided serious damages.

“We got really lucky with Irene,” says Traven, whose business is located about 75 minutes north of Philadelphia. “We only lost power for 10 seconds. Of course, we had gone over every inch of the property and put every loose object and potential missile in the right place; fueled the tanks for the generators; put blocks around all downspouts; blocked doors; locked all vents and turned on the small possible fan in each old house to create a vacuum to hold covers on better. All carts and vehicles went inside. Computers were off. All water tanks were filled.”

To the north, Connecticut growers report sustaining little to no damage. Good preparation was again key.

“You look at where you’re most vulnerable–greenhouse structures, loose impediments,” says Mike Emmons, nursery manager at Prides Corner, based in Lebanon, Conn. “Even things like porter potties can be projectiles. We spent two days preparing and securing the facility.”

The one downside for Prides Corner is it was without power into Monday morning.

Another Connecticut operation, Sunny Border Nurseries, took the necessary steps to avoid disaster as well. Jeremy Webber, director of field operations, says the only facility damage Sunny Border experienced was to the outside of one greenhouse. Sunny Border was without phone service into Monday morning.

“We lost the skin off one little house,” Webber says, “but we had to recover it anyway.”

In Maryland, Catoctin Mountain Growers made similar facility preparations but experienced peak winds of only 13 miles per hour.

“We got a bit of wind on Saturday night but it really wasn’t that crazy,” says Catoctin’s Henry Thorpe. “My wife was actually disappointed. We made all these preparations for this event and nothing really happened.”

Even growers and retailers in Virginia, which took the brunt of much of the hurricane, are in decent shape relative to how they expected to be faring this week. Tish Llaneza, the owner of Countryside Gardens near Norfolk, Va., says thousands are without power in her area but her retail garden center’s power never went off. Llaneza’s team is busy cleaning up, though.

“We are fine and really glad it is over,” she says. “We had a lot of damage in the area and a few deaths. My husband and staff jumped right in to help with the cleanup and we should be looking great by [Monday’s] end.”

Even growers in Long Island, N.Y., are faring well considering it took one of the biggest blows from Hurricane Irene.

“So far I’ve heard no terrible news for our growers here,” says Nora Catlin, floriculture specialist and extension educator at Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. “A couple panes of glass broken here and there, some container plants tipped over. Most folks seem to have weathered the storm fine, at least according to what I’ve heard so far. Lots of folks are out of power, but I think many folks expect it to be back on by the end of [Monday]. Most growers have generators at their operations, so they’re getting by just fine.”

Two weeks ago, we actually polled growers about whether or not they have backup generators at their operations. Eighty-eight percent of growers who responded indicate they do indeed have at least one backup generator.

How was your greenhouse operation affected by Hurricane Irene? Tell us in the comments section below or interact with others online at Fresh Air Forum.

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One comment on “Growers: Hurricane Could Have Been Worse

  1. Anonymous

    I guess I should have said that most people HOPED power would be back on by Monday. There are many areas, particularly on the east end, that likely won’t be seeing power until Friday or Saturday.