Organic farm struggles to survive in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian | Eastern County

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While the Myakka City area was hammered by Hurricane Ian, Bill Pischer wants Manatee County residents to understand that the storm had devastating agricultural effects in other parts of the county as well.

Pischer, owner of Jessica’s Organic Farm at Hauri Road and 47th Street, west of Interstate 75, said the farm was still trying to recover from severe damage that threatened to put Pischer out of business.

“We had relatives,” Pischer said. “But it was the most intense.”

He said few other organic farms exist in the area, so the loss would be significant for local residents.

“We grow it and harvest it, and bring it to market,” he said. “It’s not a common thing.”

Cody Pischer keeps a bed of small plants inside the larger nursery. (Photo by Ian Swaby)

The certified organic farm provides food through the market it operates on its property from Friday to Sunday. The market also offers certified organic produce from other farms.

The farm grows lettuce, spinach, basil, kale, okra, sugarcane, pumpkin, papaya, and watermelon, among other vegetables.

Cody Pischer, who is Bill’s son, said that although the farm suffered damage from Hurricane Irma, it was much worse.

“On a farm, losses are to be expected,” said Cody Pischer. “It’s usually nothing that big.”

The farm suffered damage to the two nurseries on the property.

The largest and newest nursery suffered major damage with its metal frame twisting and its canvas cover shredded.

Cody Pischer said it would likely need to be replaced entirely, which could cost them thousands of dollars.

With the winter months and cooler temperatures approaching, repairs need to be done quickly. Plants in this nursery have suffered damage from exposure to sun and rain.

And rain from Tropical Storm Nicole also hurt the farm as the greenhouses weren’t up to scratch due to hurricane damage.

Cody Pischer said it took around five months to build the larger nursery and they expect it to last over 20 years.

“It’s quite frustrating when you build something and then it’s all taken down in a day,” he said.

He said they might try a low-altitude greenhouse when they rebuild it, hoping to make it less susceptible to wine.

The other nursery was nearing the end of its expected lifespan, but Cody Pischer said they hoped to get a few more years out of it before they had to invest in a new one. Hurricane Ian left the timber frame of this building in a crumpled mess on the ground.

They build a makeshift structure to house the plants until they can begin building a new nursery.

The Pischers said they also lost a grove of trees, about half of which were papaya trees.


A grove on the farm lost about half of its fruit trees to the storm. (Photo by Ian Swaby)

One of the items Bill Pischer hopes to purchase, finances permitting, is a generator. He said it would be a key upgrade.

He said that the farm’s watering system runs on electricity, as do the cold rooms.

After Hurricane Ian, Bill Pischer said all hands tried to keep up with watering with watering cans because they couldn’t use hoses without power.

While the small nursery can use rainwater to some extent, with a material called shade cloth along its top that disperses water over the plants, the main nursery is watered manually.

Pischer said the farm had to change its priority in terms of vegetables for some of the fields that had been saturated by the heavy rains. He had to switch to lettuces, kale, cabbage, arugula, parsley, cucumber and dandelion in fields that had been targeted for different produce before the hurricane.

Bill Pischer called his outlook “rather optimistic” for the farm’s recovery. However, he said the state of the farm now depended on “the will of God”.

Fundraising efforts are planned. He said any input from the public would be greatly appreciated.

“We just take one day at a time and go from there,” he said.

Bill Pischer said the farm had been in the area since 1979 when he started the business.

Since 1983, it has been certified organic, he said, by Gainesville-based Quality Certification Services. Bill Pischer said the plants are fertilized with a granular mix rather than chemicals.

Cody Pischer said while many of their customers come from the area and include restaurant owners, others come from as far away as Miami.

The farm is named after Bill Pischer’s eldest daughter, Jessica Pischer. Bill Pischer and his wife Pam Pischer, Cody Pischer and his other daughter Rachel Pischer run the farm.

Those who want to help the farm can go to GoFundMe.com/f/nursery-restoration-project.


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