After Sandy, a Red Hook farm awaits a soil test that will reveal its fate, as a local restaurant lends a hand
4:09 pm Nov. 12, 2012
In Red Hook, Hurricane Sandy didn’t just destroy businesses and leave thousands of residents without power. It also crushed the neighborhood’s burgeoning agricultural industry, embodied by a 2.55-acre community farm across the street from Ikea called Added Value.
On October 29, the storm flooded the farm with two and a half feet of brackish water from the Erie Basin. The remaining fall harvest—which consisted of thousands of pounds of eggplants, kale, arugula, and other vegetables—was wiped out. Computers, tools, and equipment used by the Red Hook teenagers the farm employs were also damaged. Ian Marvy, who founded the farm in 2001, estimated the losses at around $40,000.
To aid in the rebuilding effort, Palo Santo, a chic pan-Latin restaurant and wine bar squeezed between brownstones on Union Street in Park Slope, held a benefit for the farm on Sunday night (pictured below). The restaurant, which sources some of its vegetables from Added Value, offered a two-course meal plus drinks for $50. Half the proceeds went to the farm, and the 50 available seats quickly sold out.
Compared to the fancier options this weekend provided in the way of disaster-relief dining—like the $95 “caviar brunch” at Caviar Russe on Madison Avenue—Palo Santo’s benefit was a modest affair. But the show of support from people in more affluent Brooklyn neighborhoods was consistent with the outpouring of donations Red Hook has received in the last few weeks.
“It’s really amazing to see the love Red Hook is getting,” said Corbin Laedlin, Added Value’s youth employment program coordinator, who was sitting at the bar Sunday evening with a glass muddled-fruit-infused champagne.
Laedlin, who is 25 and grew up in Red Hook, then delivered the grim news.
“All we’ve got left are a few crates of sweet potatoes and some garlic,” he said. He added that the farm (seen at left in healthier days) sent soil samples to the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, which is currently determining the level of contamination. “If the soil is contaminated, we’ll have to consider remediation techniques.”
One likely contaminant is petroleum, which seeped into the water in Red Hook when a local gas-transfer station flooded during the storm.
“Salt is easy enough to deal with,” said Jeff Sandgrund, 35, an Added Value board member, who was eating a chayote salad with pomegranates and watercress nearby. “You can flush salt through the system, and it doesn’t have any long term harm. But petroleum would be another story.”
At the crowded oak tables near the back, Claudia Albert and her friend Mike Morris were talking about wine.
“He’s drinking a Tempranillo, I’ve got a Malbec,” said Ms. Albert, 66, a former superintendent of public schools in Stonington, Connecticut, who now lives in Windsor Terrace. “I don’t mean to take anything away from Added Value, but the Red Hook Winery was also devastated,” she said. “They use New York grapes, and they lost all the wine they were fermenting on their property.”
Mr. Morris, 67, a former wholesale wine distributor from Bay Ridge, shook his head in sympathy.
Palo Santo’s chef and owner Jacques Gautier was visiting Vietnam with his family at the time of the benefit. In his stead was Mike Usewicz, Palo Santo’s former chef de cuisine and the founder of Mermaid’s Garden, a community-supported fishery that sells fresh fish at Added Value’s Saturday morning farmer’s market.
The fishery took a week off during the storm, Usewicz said, when the fisherman they use in Long Island and New England pulled their boats out of the water. But after another day of delays caused by the Northeaster, Mermaid’s Garden was back.
“This is from Montauk,” Usewicz said, plating a piece of albacore tuna in the kitchen. “The boat that caught it is called The Panther.”
The loss of Added Value has already had repercussions for Red Hook businesses and residents alike. The farm sells produce to three Red Hook restaurants: The Good Fork, Kevin’s, and Fort Defiance, all of which suffered extensive damages during Sandy. And the farmer’s market Added Value hosts supplied fresh produce to hundreds of locals each Saturday. With the closure of Fairway and Fine Fare, two of the only supermarkets in Red Hook, many residents now have to travel outside the neighborhood to buy fresh vegetables.
Ian Marvy missed the Palo Santo benefit, having come down with a cold. Speaking by phone on Monday, he blamed his illness on a combination of stress, cold weather, and a lack of nutritious food.
“There’s been way too much baked ziti in my life lately,” he said, “and not enough raw kale going on.”
To help compensate for the squandered harvest, Marvy said, green markets around Brooklyn had donated 4,000 pounds of produce to Added Value on Saturday. Laedlin and others distributed it at Coffey Park, near where the National Guard had delivered pallets of bottled water and freeze-dried meals days after the storm.
“Even if Fairway had stayed open,” Marvy said, “it doesn’t serve the majority of residents in Red Hook, who can’t afford to shop there.”
Marvy said he expects the test results to come back from Cornell within a week or two.
“At best, we have some salinity issues, in which case we buy more soil and soak it,” he said. “But if they find semi-volatile organic compounds, we could wind up bringing in the backhoes, scraping the farm and starting over.”
He was less daunted by the prospect that one might expect.
“People start over,” he said. “Farmers re-sow. It’s something they’ve done for thousands of years, through a lot of natural disasters.”
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