Crops planted back in the fall have had a hard time surviving at Crabtree Farms near downtown Chattanooga. They bloomed well, but Executive Director Sara McIntyre says the unusually warm winter weather has produced many side effects, including how the foods taste.
"Typically, colder weather makes brassicas, the kinds of plants that grow in the winter, sweeter. What we're getting now has a stronger, broccoli-like flavor to it," says McIntyre. She's talking about kale, chard, and mustard greens to name just a few.
What's even worse is the plants are being attacked by bugs like harlequin beetles, aphids, and cabbage worms that won't go away once they're here. McIntyre says the crops in just one of the several greenhouses alone would normally be harvested many times over, bringing in hundreds of dollars a week. But it's all been lost.
"A lot of our crops are just decimated," adds McIntyre. "They're just eaten and eaten and eaten and eaten. And you can't sell a holey leaf to someone to eat."
More money has been spent on spraying their all-natural insect repellent, trying to prevent further infestation. It costs $250 a quart. More weeding has meant higher labor costs. It's adding up to a lot of extra expense for this small, non-profit CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. If we don't get cooler weather soon, you could even end up paying more for spring fruits and vegetables being planted now.
"You're going to see the costs for those items rise [because] you're going to see the abundance of them drop," explains McIntyre.
All these farmers can do is adapt creatively.
"Farmers are scrappy. They're good at working with little to get much," says McIntyre.
McIntyre knows sometimes farmers just have bad years no matter what they do to survive. But she's doing everything she can to keep mother nature from letting her customers down.
"I have 100 families who depend on me for their vegetables every single week from May to November. I can't scrap my plan," states McIntyre.
She says she needs highs in the 50s and lows just above freezing every day for at least a few weeks in order to yield the best spring crops possible. Unfortunately, this isn't likely to happen.