By Clifford Hart
Photographed by Molly M. Peterson
It’s hard to think of an industry more emblematic of the Hudson Valley than farming. The natural forces that made the region such an agricultural mecca for the earliest farmers centuries ago—the rich soils of the alluvial plain and the temperate climate—were ultimately compounded by easy access (via the river, of course) to what ultimately grew to be the biggest market in the country.
The varied landscape of the region—from the rocky grazing lands of the southern part of the valley, to the high apple country farther north and west, to the rich croplands of the plains southeast of Albany—also meant that farming in the Hudson Valley was as richly diverse as it was fertile.
As the industrial revolution came just over a century ago, it engendered a massive change in the way farming was done, allowing “agribusiness” conglomerates to take hold of most of the food creation in the country over the 20th century. At the same time, land values soared as the New York metropolis expanded outward, and it wasn’t long before the Hudson Valley’s farming operations began to succumb to these dual mitigating forces.
Then over the past twenty years, something truly exciting occurred: people began to change the way they thought about their food, leading many to shun the artificial additives present in most mass-produced packaged foods and instead embrace natural and organic foods grown locally. More recently, climate-change awareness and activism have given people another important reason to eat locally—it contributes far less to the emission of greenhouse gasses.
What effect have these developments had on Hudson Valley farming? In short, they have created a renaissance; an emerging movement of people going “back to the earth” and finding ways to once again take advantage of the region’s bounty.
And in much the same way that might’ve happened when the region was first farmed by both Native Americans and European settlers, things are starting small. Not only have real estate prices meant it is vital to do more with less acreage—leading to an increase in higher-profit-margin organic agriculture—but there are also efficiencies inherent in managing a small farming operation intended primarily for local consumption.
The statistics support these facts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that organic farming in New York State nearly doubled in the first decade of the 21st century, while the percentage of small farms grew by roughly 10 percent over the same period.
And beyond statistics, there are the stories: countless tales of people young and old getting into farming in the Hudson Valley. Some may be taking on the mantle of their ancestors and farming family land that had been out of production for years. Others may be embarking on farming for the very first time. Either way, these people represent a vital resurgence in our region. They are taking one of the best things about the Hudson Valley—its rich land—and sharing that wealth with others.
These are the people that Organic Hudson Valley wants to honor and support. Because we know the sacrifices they are making, and because we also know that the Hudson Valley is so much richer because of them.
If you are a farmer looking to expand your network and create a bigger impact in our region, we invite you to reach out to us and see how we can work together to support one another. Contact OHV publisher Laurie Szostak for more information. █