National HAH VISTA Weathers Hurricane Irma & Helps Clean Up12 Oct 2017, by AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, National Site, Volunteering in
As a part of its national pilot project, Harvest Against Hunger partnered with Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA) to place a Harvest VISTA with the Florida Gleaning Project to build systems and capacity to support state-wide gleaning efforts. Forrest Mitchell started his term in February of 2017. Here, he reports on the recent hurricane damage in Florida to his project’s farm partners and how Hurricane Irma shifted priorities for his project.
Four weeks after Hurricane Irma, Floridians continue to work hard cleaning up the aftermath. Debris is still on the sides of roads waiting to be collected, loose power lines dangle from splintered beams, flooding comes quickly after normal rains only to negate weeks of hard work, and mosquitoes plague the dusks and dawns of each day in great numbers. All the while, the next tropical storm approaches and residents hope for the best. There is plenty of work to do.
Forrest made it through the storm unscathed, as despite losing power for three days and internet services another week, his hometown of Titusville, was well prepared for this storm and recovered well. Unfortunately, many Florida farms were not so lucky. Farms in southern Florida counties saw as much as 90% crop losses, with millions of dollars worth of losses and necessary repairs. The fields of corn Forrest anticipated gleaning with volunteers, beginning the first of October, have blown over and stunted in growth, requiring another month before there is anything substantial to pick. Now, with no produce to distribute but plenty of eager volunteers, SoSA is continuing the hurricane recovery any way they can.
Bekemeyer Family Farms, a hydroponic U-pick strawberry producer, and gleaning partner of SoSA’s, fell weeks behind the planting season because of intensive preparations for Irma. The week after Irma passed the state, SoSA Presbyterian volunteers went out to the farm and helped prepare the soil for the towers that will house strawberries. By the next week, all the strawberry plugs had arrived and required fast planting to ensure their health. SoSA volunteers returned to the farm to help plant the crop.
Though Hurricane Irma created unforeseen challenges for farmers in Florida, SoSA was well placed to help, with its incredible corps of volunteers, and offered timely assistance so that farms can get back on track and ready for a future glean.