Now, more than ever, in New England, and New York, it is important for you to know your farmer and understand how they operate. Last weekend, we had massive flooding damage across the East Coast – and there were warnings from various State’s Department of Agriculture that it *is not safe* to eat *any* vegetables, fruits or any type of produce harvested from water-drenched farms. Depending on the type of flooding a garden sustained, it is probably better for the farmer to abandon the garden than selling you the veggies, according to information compiled by the Cornell Cooperative Extension, New York’s agricultural extension. Consult your local extension for tips specific to your area and flood conditions. A flood that results in a stream or other surface water overflowing into a garden may introduce pathogens that can cause foodborne illness.
Wastewater treatment plant liquids and solids over spilled in Greenfield Massachusetts, and flowed down the Deerfield and Connecticut River, depositing untreated human waste and hygiene products along the way. Flood waters may contain contaminants such as agricultural or other chemicals, as well as disease-causing organisms from fresh manure, septic systems, and even lagoons.
Legally it is not permissible to sell any produce that has been fertilized with animal manure within 180 days of application.
Many farmers from hilltowns such as Hawley or Ashfield, who are located far from neighbors and modern conveniences such as town water, and town sewer, may not have suffered any flooding damage, and may have completely safe produce. But if your farmer offers a CSA, for instance, and was flooded, you might want to ask yourself, why am I eating this? Yes, you may have bought into the season, but the season may have just come to a screeching halt, due to circumstances way beyond anyone’s control.
FYI: Following flooding, any leafy greens that are eaten fresh, such as lettuce or cabbage, should be destroyed. They are at risk of contamination for 90 days following a flood.
For peas, beans, squash, or tomatoes, if their fruit is present during flooding, the fruit should be picked and discarded. Any of these vegetables that contact the ground during the 3 months following the flood should be either discarded or peeled and thoroughly cooked.
Good news: Underground vegetables such as carrots and potatoes should also be peeled and thoroughly cooked. Thoroughly wash produce with thick outer rinds, such as melons and squash, before cutting open.
And if your roadstand farmer says that they used a dilute bleach solution to “cleanse” the vegetable – you should know that you will now be eating that bleach! Fruits and veggies are porous and absorb any surface chemicals used to kill pathogens. If the garden produce was flooded, don’t attempt to make an unsafe flooded garden product safe by using a fruit and vegetable spray, chlorine bleach, or other product.
Oxidate, a hydrogen peroxide product, widely used in the organic farming industry, is commonly used on vegetables – and it will be up to you to decide if you trust your farmer to have used the correct product, in the correct manner. For instance, a local CSA not far from us who did experience flooding, had three tests run: soil, water, and silt, to determine if there were contaminants in their produce.
So, you bought into a CSA and the farm was flooded, you aren’t sure about your CSA’s test status (or if they even had samples taken) and you feel sort-of obligated to eat what is given to you in your share. What could go wrong? Let’s see: Foodborne illness has been associated with garden vegetables contaminated with floodwaters containing pathogenic bacteria, parasites, and viruses. The more common pathogens involved in these outbreaks include E. coli 0157:H7, Cryptosporidium parvum, Cyclospora, Giardia, Campylobacter, and Hepatitis A. All of these diseases make people very ill and in some instances have long-term complications or may be fatal. Mmm. Yummy.
It is recommended that the “fruits” of flooded gardens not be used for a minimum of 90 days. Unfortunately that wipes out the season for us in New England and New York.
But– there is a silver lining. If you KNOW YOUR FARMER, understand the lay of their land, which fields that they harvested from, trust them, and have done your homework — you have permission to eat your local vegetables. Meanwhile, please thank your flooded farmers who worked so hard prepping their fields, weeding, and laboring all season long, until being flooded on August 28, with a smile, hug, a piece of currency, something. Many of them will not be able to qualify for any type of insurance or flood payout.
Moral: Know your farmer. Talk about food often. Learn always.