The Farmers? They’re Freezing

Chris Miller, left, of Hawthorne Valley Farm, helps a customer at his farm's stall at 116th street in front of Columbia University. When temperatures drop below freezing, New York’s farmers don’t have a choice but to layer and brave the cold. (Robert Lowe/NY City Lens)

Chris Miller, left, of Hawthorne Valley Farm, helps a customer at his farm’s stall at 116th street in front of Columbia University. When temperatures drop below freezing, New York’s farmers don’t have a choice but to layer and brave the cold. (Robert Lowe/NY City Lens)

A second “polar vortex,” which began slicing through New York City on Tuesday morning, means stepping outside is painful, even dangerous. But New York’s farmers don’t have a choice.

Gabriel Sistare, 24, started setting up the Hawthorne Valley Farm food booth at 7 a.m. Thursday at 116th Street in front of Columbia University. He’d still be working outside nine hours later. It wasn’t comfortable, but it helps him earn a living.

Sistare was dressed against morning temperatures of nine degrees in a sweatshirt, gray jacket, black and white herringbone scarf, spandex, jeans, winter boots, gloves and a hat that nearly covers his entire face. Still, he says, no matter how many layers he has on, it’s not enough. He remains “freezing.”

Lou Braxton, a salesman for Roaming Acres Farms, began selling his eggs and meat at 8 a.m. in Union Square on Thursday. Braxton has been working at the farmers market for five years. He says the trick to surviving the cold weather is getting acclimated. But it doesn’t come easily.

“I have five layers on,” says Braxton as he shows his space heater in his panel white van.

There is a real danger to staying outside in the cold for a long period of time. Hypothermia, according to Dr. Thomas J. Bolte, of Bolte Medical in Manhattan, is the biggest concern. According to WebMD, when the body is exposed to cold weather for a long period of time, it can lower low blood temperature, affecting metabolism.

And then there is frostbite. Sophia McCloud, a physician’s assistant at Emergency Medical Care in New York City, said that her facility has recently seen an increase in the number of people with frostbite on their fingers and toes, “especially from people who work outside.”

Sistare’s co-workers, Chris Miller and Tyler Sparks, are also having a hard time dealing with the cold. “We’re all freezing out here together,” Miller says as he puts his hands by the heater behind the booth.

Fortunately for the owners of Hawthorne Valley Farm, two hours north of Manhattan in Ghent, N.Y., the cold weather hasn’t greatly affected business, at least today. Sistare says the stand usually earns $2,000 on a “good day.” They anticipate the cold weather may only cost them $200.

He says there are usually 100 shoppers, but today that number may dip as low as 70. “Luckily, the students just retuned to campus,” said Sistare. “Plus we have a bunch of regular customers who show up.”

What has changed are the products that Hawthorne Valley is selling. Last year they sold produce past February. This year the “polar vortex” has prohibited the farm from being able to grow products that are usually in high demand. Browsing past the large selection of breads, cookies and cheeses, Beth Smith, 45, who’s accompanied by her daughter and shops weekly at the farmers market, quickly asks Sistare if there is any “fresh” produce. The answer is no, so Smith quickly decided to purchase two large yogurts. After hearing that the price is more than four dollars, she decides to buy one.

“That’s also what’s also different,” Sistare says. “People aren’t browsing. They’re quickly making up their mind about what to purchase. They also can’t try our samples because they’re frozen.”

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