Although Hurricane Sandy and the nor’easter directly on her heels passed more than 50 miles west of here, they did not spare the East End. Many people lost power, some people lost their homes or suffered such severe damage they have still not moved back in.
Along our food chain, the damage varied although the disruption to business-as-usual was widespread. Crops sat unharvested and undelivered as gas shortages kept food movers like J. Kings and Fresh Direct from visiting farms. Restaurants and grocers were forced to toss tons of food that spoiled without power, while groups like Long Island Harvest scrambled to save what edibles they could and still supply the food pantries and soup kitchens that had additional mouths to feed.
Some farmers made it through with a few downed trees or a couple days without power. The timing of Sandy was just late enough to not affect the wine harvest. Every report reaching Edible stated all grapes had been picked before the storm. But as Roman Roth, winemaker at Wölffer Estate, reminds us, some years they’re picking into November. The damage mostly occurred after the storm, when a gas shortage, lack of electricity and cleaning up the mess shrank the number of visitors to wine country. Juan Micieli-Martinez, winemaker and general manager at Martha Clara, says, “People were coming in, but we were without power for several days and without phones and Internet for a full week. This is relatively minor to what some people have faced, but it has been pretty detrimental to us as a business.”
The wine community felt for the folks at low-lying Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn, a buyer of Long Island grapes that was swamped by the surge that hit Gotham, losing equipment and inventory. Some “survival packages” of mixed cases are still left. Buy their wine.
Veggie fields still full of cauliflower and fruit trees were windstripped and sometimes worse. A Cutchogue farmer, however, endured floods that put 100 acres of land under salt water. Prudence Heston, who owns Salt Air Farm with her husband, Dan, is now hoping for a very rainy winter to push the salt under root level so the fields will revive. “We had a terrible time here,” she says. “The dyke broke, and it wasn’t until Thanksgiving that we finally stopped the water.”
The Heston’s farm, which backs up onto the Peconic Bay, was protected by dykes built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1944. In some places the water breached the dykes, she says, but in one place a tree fell and created a hole that let the water rush in. The damage was immediate, but will also create problems for years to come. The flood ruined fields that had just been prepped to plant cover crops, and fields that grew in low-lying areas like their strawberries and turnips. Across the way, her uncle Tom Wickham’s orchards got swamped, losing 600 just-planted fruit trees, but the asparagus, which happens to be a salt-hardy plant, will probably poke through the soil next spring.
Waterfront restaurants, like Pepi’s in Southold, took on water, as did bayfront seafood packing houses and fishing operations. Mike Osinski of Widow’s Hole in Greenport said he was able to round up all the cages swept off. And Mike Martinsen, whose Montauk Pearls are featured in this issue’s Notables, said more than 20 people, roused by Facebook and Twitter, helped him save his oyster farm by working all day to bring in his cages. “I was in the water at one a.m the day before the nor’easter,” he says. “And ended up working until four p.m. the day of the storm. The white water was whipping; we were teetering on the edge.” But he pulled through. “It was awesome,” he says. ‘It’s a community; that’s what it’s all about.”