Last Wednesday, a chemical fire erupted in Ghent, NY, a little over 15 miles north of where our farm is. It burned for around 20 hours or so. We are lucky not to be closer, but we definitely noticed some evidence that the fire was taking place. Since that point, we've been obsessively checking any/all information regarding the testing that has been done to ensure air, soil etc quality.
We don't consider ourselves to be alarmist, though we are very cautious and pretty shrewd when it comes to believing anything out-right. The initial tests have been positive, there is little contamination from PCBs in the direct area of the fire, and close-ish surrounding areas. This is great news, and we are pretty relieved. But, there still remains to be further testing, including indicators for dioxins, which are pretty hazardous contaminants.
We have spent hours over the past few days trying to figure out how to handle the situation, given that we've seen some evidence of the fire here, without any tangible guidance from state/local offices, extension services etc. I think the advice given thus far has been decent for the average gardener, throw out things with soot, wash/peel everything else- but it doesn't really give us confidence as a small business focused on organic products. It makes us uncomfortable as food producers to tell people that they *should be fine* just washing out produce after an event like this. We don't feel confident that we have all the facts, and folks should be washing our veggies regardless... that's not really a confidence booster for us.
We decided that based on the info we had on hand, we would only deliver some of the produce, and things that would have been protected from any blowing ash etc until we can really get enough information. It was incredibly painful to walk into our field, after months of toiling to keep everything hydrated, and not deliver so many things we had nearly killed ourselves growing. This first year has been a labor of love. We're not sure if we are being overly cautious or not, and the precautions we've taken might be unnecessary. But when it comes to food, we'd rather be considered alarmist, or overly concerned then reckless.
I sincerely hope that in the coming days, with more test results, we'll be found to be completely fine-- and that our decision to hold produce will have been utterly needless. But we know that the nights of tossing and turning around this decision would have been more gut wrenching if we had brought food to members, and then found out later that there was more to be concerned about. We don't just grow ethical, sustainable produce for kicks, we do it because we believe it's healthier for people and the planet. How can we say that without the due diligence of all the testing available after a huge chemical fire? Maybe it's the years in politics and activism that have made us suspicious, maybe it's the lack of experience running our own farm... or maybe we are just too obsessive for our own good.
I know one thing though, this year has given me more gray hairs then any other.