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Organic farm struggles to survive in the wake of Hurricane Ian

Among the significant losses at Jessica’s Organic Farm in Sarasota were two nurseries that were ripped apart and the loss of trees and crops.


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  • | 7:00 a.m. November 15, 2022
  • East County
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While the Myakka City area was hammered by Hurricane Ian, Bill Pischer wants Manatee County residents to understand the storm had some devastating agricultural effects in other parts of the county as well.

Pischer, who owns Jessica's Organic Farm at Hauri Road and 47th Street, west of Interstate75, said the farm is still trying to recover from the severe damage that has threatened to put Pischer out of business.

"We've had some close ones,” Pischer said. “But this was the most intense.”

He said few other organic farms exist in the area so the loss would be a great one for local residents.

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

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

The organic-certified farm supplies food through the market it operates on its property Friday through Sunday. The market also features organic-certified 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 although the farm suffered damage during Hurricane Irma, this was far worse.

“On a farm, you’ve got to expect losses," Cody Pischer said. "It’s usually nothing this big.”

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

The largest and newest nursery suffered significant damage with its metal framework becoming twisted and its canvas cover shredded.

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

With the winter months and cooler temperatures approaching, the repairs need to be done in a hurry. The plants in that nursery have suffered damage due to the exposure to sunlight and rain.

And rain from Tropical Storm Nicole also hurt the farm since the greenhouses were not up to par due to damage suffered in the hurricane.

Cody Pischer said it took about five months to build the bigger nursery, and they had expected it to last more than 20 years.

“It's pretty frustrating, when you build something and then it’s taken out in one day,” he said.

He said they might try a lower elevation greenhouse when they rebuild it, hopefully making it less susceptible to wine.

The other nursery was nearing the end of its expected life span, but Cody Pischer said they were hoping to get another few years out of it before having to invest in a new one. Hurricane Ian left the wood framework of that building in a crumpled mess on the ground.

They build a makeshift structure to house plants to suffice until they can begin construction on a new nursery. 

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

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

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

He said the farm's watering system operates on electricity and the walk-in coolers as well.

After Hurricane Ian, Bill Pischer said all hands tried to keep up with the watering with watering cans because they couldn't use hoses with power down.

While the smaller plant nursery can utilitze rainwater to some extent, with a material called a shade cloth along its top that disperses water across the plants, the main nursery's watering is done manually.

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

Bill Pischer called his outlook “pretty optimistic” for the farm’s recovery. However, he said the state of the farm is now up to “God’s will.”

Fundraising efforts are being planned. He said any contribution from the public would be much appreciated.

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

Bill Pischer said the farm has been in the area since 1979, when he established the business.

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

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

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

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