A crowd gathered in New Paltz’s Hasbrouck Park last Sunday to listen to good music, do a little shopping and — most importantly — donate to the local victims of tropical storms Irene and Lee. With a torrential and unending rainfall and flood water rising higher than most living New Yorkers can remember, Irene dealt a heavy blow to farms. Hector Tejada, the man behind Conuco Farm on Springtown Road, watched just about everything he had planted for fall float away in the storm. “My farm was washed out completely,” the farmer said. “Six months of my season was gone.”
Conuco grows rare, heirloom veggies and runs a lot of produce to Brooklyn to sell. Irene meant that half a year’s work was gone and $50,000 of crops, including potatoes and winter squash.
Ian Taliaferro, of Taliaferro Farms on Plains Road, also watched a lot of his family’s livelihood destroyed in the weakened hurricane. With about 50 acres of crops total, Taliaferro Farms saw roughly 17 acres to 18 acres of their crops drown and withered in the flood water.
“All the stuff you worked all year to make is dead,” explained farmer Ray Bradley, of Bradley Farm on Springtown Road. Even facing thousands of dollars in revenue lost, all that local farmers can do is try again. “You’ve got to keep moving.”
For the farmers benefiting from the Flood Aid concert in New Paltz, the effort is a really, really good thing. While some of them are doing individualized fundraising to rebuild their flood-damaged farms, there hadn’t been a big unified effort to help everyone until now.
Steve Greenfield played saxophone at the benefit concert. For him, volunteering his time was a no-brainer. Outside of volunteering his music to flood victims, Greenfield also serves as a New Paltz Fire Department volunteer.
“I got to see the devastation firsthand because I was out responding to calls,” the firefighter said. While the NPFD got a lot of typical flood calls — soggy basements, stuck cars, boaters caught in the swift rapids — they also saw stuff that seemed hard to believe.
After Mayor Jason West called for a curfew on Aug. 28, during the worst of Irene’s flooding, the Fire Department was still out there working. On that night, flood water on the Wallkill River was rising at a rate of about eight feet per hour. “You could actually see it rising,” Greenfield explained. “That has an effect on you. That really stays with you.”
During the flood, thousands of unripened pumpkins shot down the river at 20 mph, fast enough to smash and break wide open after hitting a tree root — just from the force of the flood alone. “People don’t actually realize the force of the water.”
Delaney Taliaferro, the daughter of the Taliaferro Farms’ owners, opened the day by singing the national anthem. Musicians who played at the benefit concert included Ratboy Jr., The Trapps, the Bow Thayer Band, Mark Sager and the Black Horse Riders, Casey Erdman and Friends, the Greyhounds, Mr. Roper, Dzuibecko, Connor Kennedy Band, Alexis P. Suter and the Flood Aid All Stars. Other guests included Patrick Carlin and Produce Pete from NBC news. The event was also streamed live on the Internet. All of the performers gave their time for free and the sound equipment and loudspeakers were donated.
Proceeds from Flood Aid are being distributed based on a survey of how the damaged played out in town. For instance, farms get 50 percent of the money, 35 percent goes to families whose homes got wrecked in the flood, and firefighters, paramedics and other first responders get 15 percent.
Families who are getting assistance from Flood Aid have to register through Family of New Paltz. For some people that’s given them pause. They think they’re taking away money from the needy to help with repairs for their home.
“They need to know that they can go and it’s not taking away from anyone at Family,” one of the Flood Aid organizers, Theresa Fall, explained. The money from Flood Aid will constitute a new, different funding source to help flood victims only.
Flood Aid itself had raised more than $30,000 by the afternoon of Oct. 16. As of press time, and after the concert was over that amount had jumped to $50,000.