It’s been the winter that wasn’t, and unprecedented warm temperatures are affecting local farms and the produce that is going to be available this (actual) spring. In the meantime, the farmers whose livelihood is often subject to the whim of Mother Nature are taking a “hope and wait” view of the spring harvest.
Among the many concerns farmers face regarding the warm weather is insect infestation, a particularly troubling problem for the many organic farms that bring produce to NYC-area greenmarkets. Few days this winter were below freezing, meaning many insects survived into spring.
“I’ve already seen aphids,” said Healthway Farms farmer Joseph O’Brien as he sold fully grown herbs from his stand at McCarren Park in Greenpoint on a recent Saturday. However, his more immediate concern is drought. “The problem we’re seeing is a lack of moisture; everything is way ahead of itself (in the growth cycle), meaning more dryness in the soil.”
Another obvious concern for growers is a late-spring frost. Paula Lutkas, Just Food’s CSA in NYC Program Manager, explains, “Warm weather at this time of year can be seducing to farmers and tempt them to push their spring planting earlier than they usually would. While this can give them a head start if all continues to go this way, it also can be risky.”
The maple syrup industry has already seen the end result from a tapping season that was reduced by as much as 50 percent owing to warm weather. At the Woodhomestead Maple Syrup tent in Union Square Market, Jessica Vanglad noted that the season wrapped up by the first week of March. “Anyone who got a late start didn’t get enough sap,” she said.
Regarding available produce, farmers are struggling to keep up with their supply. Rather than pull onions and garlic, for example, workers are busy transferring lettuces from greenhouses to outdoors, while fully blossoming orchards are being prepped for an early fruit season.
The result is a boon for greenmarket shoppers accustomed to rooting through root vegetables in March. For now at least, the warm winter is creating a bounty for farmers and vegetable lovers alike.