June 26, 2009

Storm demolishes Sarasota plant nursery

SARASOTA - Back in 1976 when Wendy and Max Cohen planted the first seeds on their 20-acre farm, the land was covered with palmettos. They started with four greenhouses and over the decades cleared the land for 26 more.

With each greenhouse holding up to 850,000 vegetable seedlings, which are shipped to commercial farmers along the East Coast, business was good at The Plant Farm.

But the farm took a hit Tuesday night when a storm came rumbling through and destroyed all but one of the greenhouses. The Cohens were away on business in South Carolina when they received a call from one of their maintenance workers Wednesday morning.

“He didn’t know what happened, but said the place was flattened,” Wendy Cohen, 60, said.

The Cohens and Lamar Matthews, co-owner of the farm, are convinced a tornado did the damage.

The greenhouses, which were built to withstand 75-mph winds, were leveled, as was the water system. A semi-truck was flipped over, and one side of the packing house was ripped off — 18-inch steel beams were torn from the concrete and twisted.

Rick Davis, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, said there was a severe thunderstorm warning issued Tuesday night and wind gusts of more than 50 mph, but nothing on the radar indicating a tornado.

The damage at the farm could have been caused by a microburst — a narrow band of strong wind that funnels down similar to that of a tornado, Davis said.

Whatever it was that came through caused an estimated $1 million in damage, the majority of which will not be covered by insurance because greenhouses are difficult to insure.

“In 1976, we were able to get greenhouse insurance, but six years later we couldn’t. We tried other insurance packages, but over the years they canceled us and canceled us,” Wendy Cohen said. “Then the premium was so high, we would’ve had to close. We’re only able to insure our plants and seeds.”

Max Cohen, 67, said they will look into government assistance, but plan to rebuild no matter what.

“We’re not ones to give up. We work seven days a week and we’ll rebuild one by one,” Wendy Cohen said. “Our job is to try to get back up and running. We’ve got farmers depending on us that have been with us as long as we’ve been here.”

Help has already arrived. Many of the farmers that the Cohens have done business with for decades have prepaid for the upcoming season to help the farm rebuild.

Published: Friday, June 26, 2009 at 1:10 a.m.

1 comment:

  1. There's always time to start anew. Everything will be alright as long as the government is there to support. Nurseries destroyed by natural calamities like this is a big loss to mostly farm owners.

    Sarasota plant nursery