Winter Storm Impact Report
From farm to table, freezing temperatures and power outages disrupted the food supply chain in Houston, Texas.
In light of the recent storm, Urban Harvest reached out to our community members including over 140 community gardens and 95 farmers, ranchers, and food vendors to assess the impact of Winter Storm "Uri" in our local agricultural and food sectors.
Results from feedback collected between February 22nd and March 8th, 2021 show a wide range of short-term damage caused by “Uri” and highlight the current needs of our local growers, creating an opportunity to further support our food system through targeted action.
IMPACT ON FARMERS MARKET VENDORS
Responses from our Saturday Farmers market vendors provide an overview of the magnitude of the damage in the hyper-local food sector including short-term and long-term crop losses, physical damage to the operations, and financial hardships:
Due to the freezing temperatures, five out of ten farmers lost 50% or more of their crops and many more expect to see the extent of the damage in their fruit tree orchards in the months to come. With no electricity for refrigeration or heating, farmers, ranchers, and food vendors suffered a wide range of damage: Food spoilage caused inventory losses including wilted produce and value-added products and freeze temperatures killed over 6 calves and many bee colonies.
Regarding the financial hardships associated with their businesses, our Saturday, 60% of our farmers market vendors reported a decrease in sales at our market, compared to a 70% decrease in sales outside the market, stressing the importance of our farmers markets remaining open regardless of the inclement weather.
As the majority of our vendors are small-businesses and therefore the majority provide part-time and seasonal employees with an income, there is also underreported damage regarding the loss of income for all of the employees that couldn’t get paid for the days that didn’t work.
Compared to the same week in 2020, a total estimated economic damage of $50,173.8 was calculated as a consequence of the extremely low temperatures on our Saturday 20th, 2021 market.
In the aftermath of “Uri,” farmers, ranchers, and food vendors expressed their ongoing needs: 26% of the businesses surveyed stated needs related to cashflow and employees’ safety and income stability, while another 26% expressed the need to have access to resources such as compost, plants, or hay to feed animals.
IMPACT ON AFFILIATE GARDENS' NETWORK
Results from this study revealed also community gardens been adversely impacted by the extremely low temperatures of the winter storm: 60% of our gardens reported immediate losses of 50% or more of their crops. Out of 94 gardens that provided their input, 31 gardens have lost between 50% and 75% of their production, and 29 have lost between 76% and 100% of their harvest.
The results from this network-wide Impact Report also gauged gardens’ top priorities and needs within our affiliate gardens network. Key findings show that in light of the current damage, almost 70% of surveyed gardens are in need of new plants, 60% are in need of extra seeds, and almost 30% are in need of volunteers.
Based on responses from the Impact Report, on March 6th, 2021, 90 unique gardens participated in our seasonal hub distribution and received thousands of seed packages, transplants, organic fertilizer, gardening tools, and other resources to get their gardens back in shape for the Spring season.
As we continue to assess the magnitude of the damage, Urban Harvest is taking immediate action to remediate the impact of “Uri" on our network of farmers, ranchers, and community gardens across the Greater Houston Area.
Our upcoming "Vendor U" initiative looks forward to bring new knowledge and build capacity within our network of vendors that will allow them to increase their sales both at our markets and outside! Stay tune for upcoming initiatives!
TESTIMONIALS FROM OUR FARMERS MARKET VENDORS
“Our water well ruptured and it supplies water to all of our pastures, 110 acres and 15 water connections. Fairly certain will need to replace all connections and hoping the underground piping is not broken. The electric fencing is down but the animals are fine and wondering what all the fuss is about!”
“The greatest damage we sustained was to our well pump, which needed to be entirely replaced along with other plumbing and water issues. We also lost a lot of our crops and are having to replant almost all of it.”
“We had a burst water pipe in ceiling of home which we use for office and storage.”
“Freeze put out laying hens into shock and have been laying at only 30%.”
“We will not have anything to sell for about a month, if our seedlings do not start dying from the stress.”
TESTIMONIALS FROM COMMUNITY GARDENS
“We had broken pipes and we don't know how long will take HISD to repair them.”
“Our heated greenhouse failed and 80-90% of 350 seedlings lost.”
“Everything looks sad and mushy. All the veggie and herb plants are pretty much dead.
“I don't know if the rosemary, citrus, the fig will survive- taking a wait and see approach.”
“Because of covid-19 we didn't have a lot in the garden, but everything planted froze and died and because the school was closed we couldn't receive volunteers.”
“We lost power and burst pipes- we lost all of our pepper, eggplant, tomato, and tomatillo seedlings ready to transplant.”