Middletown Thrall Library Presents
the Agricultural
Records of the
Black Dirt Region

This documentation project was funded in part by a grant from the New York State Archives Documentary Heritage Program, 1997 - 98.

The Index I. Historical Description Research Value of Agricultural Records II. Project Description and Methodology III. Site and Survey Participants IV. Resources Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County DeBuck's Sod Farm Drowned Lands Historical Society Farm Workers Community Center Orange County Clerk's Office Orange County Soil and Conservation District Pine Island Chamber of Commerce Pine Island Historian Pine Island Turf Nursery Wallkill Valley Drainage Association USDA Farm Service Agency
Historical Description The black dirt region, originally called "the drowned lands", consists of the remains of a great shallow lake, which formed as the last glaciers were melting away 12,000 years ago. As the ice continued to retreat, the climate warmed and lush vegetation grew, died, and sank to the bottom of the lake. Eventually, most of the lake became swampy, and the decaying organic matter continued to accumulate in the water to a depth in excess of twelve feet in places. The shallow lake lay in this valley from that time until about 100 years ago, when immigrants came to this area and realized the value of the soil which lay below what they then called "the drowned lands." Orange County produces one half the onions grown in New York State on 5500 acres in the black dirt area. The main type of onion grown is the yellow globe, which is a premium cooking onion. Black dirt onions have been shipped as far away as Israel, and also to the northeastern states and southern state markets. Once known as the "Onion Capital of the United States", the black dirt farmers now face competition from areas having longer growing seasons. Other crops grown in the black dirt area include lettuce, radishes, cabbage, carrots, corn, pumpkin, squash, and there are also sod farms. The Research Value of Agricultural Records Why should we be interested in identifying and preserving agricultural records? They are a means by which our culture is passed from one generation to the next, and they provide information from which one generation can learn from its predecessors. Today, there is more interest in family and community history, a need to understand one's "roots". People can learn much about their ancestors, the first immigrants who came to Orange County to reclaim the black dirt from the undrained bogs. Many different ethnic groups were involved with farming in this area. Agricultural records are indispensable sources for the work of historians and other specialists who interpret the past for present and future use. Many agricultural records have immediate, practical, everyday uses. They are of use to government officials, public interest groups, and to business people. They provide information essential for research into environmental, health and welfare issues, and farming trends. Agricultural records can be used in the classroom to help students better understand the lives of farmers, the machinery they used, the crops that were planted, the organizations to which they belonged to protect their interests. Younger generations and scholars can use the records to learn about the culture and their ancestors through the use of such records. By identifying, collecting and preserving farming records now, future generations will have a better understanding of farmers' lives in the present and the past. These records are an important part of Orange County History as well as New York State History. Gail Myker, Project Director Middletown Thrall Library July 1998
Project Description and Methodology The purpose of this project was to identify organizations and individuals that may have agricultural records relating to the black dirt region of Orange County. In order to get a sense of who might hold these records, an advisory board was created consisting of individuals that were familiar with and live in the black dirt region. These individuals ranged from actual black dirt farmers to city historians. The advisory board was very helpful in establishing a starting point for creating a survey form which could be used as a primary tool for locating records. A list of thirty participants were identified as possibly holding black dirt related records, and out of those ten were physically visited. Site surveys to the ten chosen participants were conducted over a four day period and in an interview style. These ten participants take up the bulk of individuals or institutions that currently hold identifiable black dirt records. These records are identified in the following finding aid and described in detail. The site visits during this project were conducted by the consulting archivist and the Pine Island Historian, Frances Sodrick. The visits were used as an information gathering process by which a better understanding of the black dirt region and its records could be gained. The first sets of visits utilized black dirt farmers to determine which survey participants would actually hold records. Upon interviewing the farmers it was concluded that some held records while others did not. Of the farmers that did hold records, the records consisted of organizational newsletters, photographs, scrapbooks, and family related records about farming. Many of the farmers pointed out that they only kept records that were required by law until they could be destroyed. Also it was discovered that many farmers retained a majority of their financial records in electronic format. Most farmers suggested they would need time to look through their records before truly knowing what types of records they held. It is this Archivist's belief that with time the farmers and their families would be able to contribute to a collection of records relating to agriculture in the black dirt region. The second set of site visits was conducted by utilizing local and city historians as the primary participants. Both participants appeared to have primary as well as secondary sources of information relating to agriculture in the black dirt region. One of the more abundant sources of records in this category is Pine Island Historian Frances Sodrick, also this Project's Consultant. This historian's collection consists of photographs dating back to the early twentieth century which document farming in the black dirt region. Newsletters and articles done in major magazine publications also make up part of her collection. Other secondary sources of information also include books which document the creation of the region from the ice age to today's unique fertile farmland. Scrapbooks which document the region's agricultural growth and recent decline are abundant in this historian's collection. This historian was also a farmer herself and a major participant in many farm organizations, which adds to the primary documents found in her collection. Many of the historian's records include documentation of her own experiences as a female farmer in an industry that was once primarily male. The third set of site visits was conducted by utilizing local farm organizations and cooperative extensions an the primary participants. These two groups of participants appeared to have a wealth of information relating to farming in the black dirt region. Within this category many formal government agencies were utilized to determine the historical and archival nature of each agency's black dirt records. Almost all of the participants in this category hold records directly relating to farming in the black dirt region. Although a written survey had been sent to all thirty participants for this project, not all participated. Upon completing the site surveys listed above a much clearer definition of who held black dirt agricultural records was established. Also, by utilizing all participants this resource guide proves to be unique in that it is the first of its kind to provide a centralized finding aid for scholars, children, farmers, and educators not only in Orange County but also throughout New York State. Christopher Gratzel - Project Archivist Frances Sodrick - Project Consultant
Site and Survey Participants The following list of organizations, farmers, historical societies, and businesses were contacted for the purpose of creating this resource guide. Participants listed in bold print make up this finding aid due to the fact that a substantial amount of both historical and archival material relating to agriculture in the black dirt region were located at those sites. It should be noted, however, that other listed survey participants might also hold similar records but did not participate in the initial or secondary survey. An asterisk identifies possible additional resources. Cavallaro Farms * Cornell Cooperative Extension DeBuck's Sod Farm Davandjer Farms Drowned Lands Historical Society Farmworkers Community Center Goshen Public Library & Historical Society * Independent Republican J&E Produce Growers, Inc. Alen Kocot, Jr. Peter Laskaris * Orange County Clerk's Office Orange County Farm Bureau Orange County Farmers' Museum * Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District Orange County Vegetable Improvement Coop. Stan Osczepinski Jr. Pine Island Chamber of Commerce Pine Island Historian Pine Island Turf Nursery Middletown Times Herald Record Wallkill Valley Drainage Association Town of Warwick Historical Society USDA Farm Service Agency
Resources Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County Dillon Drive - Community Campus Middletown, NY 10940 (914) 343-0664 Open to Public: No Research by appointment or mail Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County is a community-based organization linked to Cornell University and other land grant universities. This connection enables educators and volunteers to provide students, agriculturalists, and farm related organizations with hands-on information based on current research. Both public and private resources, including county, state and federal government; grants; and private donations provide funding. Title: Integrated Pest Management Quantity: 5 cubic ft. Inclusive Dates: 1980 - 1994 Scope and Content: Records include correspondence relating to pest management within Orange County, including but not limited to the black dirt region. Different types of pesticides are described in terms of their relevance within different time periods throughout farming history. Other major portions of this collection include material on the Onion Growers Council as well as the Warwick Migrant Workers Committee. Title: Newsletters Quantity: 3 cubic ft. Inclusive Dates: 1916 - present Scope and Content: Its title, "AGFOCUS," is published monthly and includes but is not limited to the following topics: Gardening, water quality, conservation, field crops, livestock, education and integrated pest management. The newsletter offers individuals, communities, and members of the agricultural industry current information relating to the topics described. Title: Minutes Quantity: 5 cubic ft. Inclusive Dates: 1912 - present Scope and Content: Minutes include decisions on how the cooperative extension should meet both its short and long term goals. General minutes include discussions on agriculture, integrated pest management, education, conservation, livestock and water quality. The needs of the agricultural industry within Orange County are discussed in order to meet both Cornell's and the community's needs.
DeBuck's Sod Farm 107 DeBuck's Drive Pine Island, NY 10969 Contact: Leonard DeBuck Open to Public: No The farm's mission is to be a consistent supplier of high quality turf grown sod while at the same time utilizing innovative farming techniques to help conserve the black dirt's natural resources. Title: General Correspondence Files Quantity: 5 cubic ft., (chronological) Inclusive Dates: c. 1960 - present Scope and Content: This collection consists of correspondence on several river maintenance projects, survey maps, educational material, equipment catalogs, as well as numerous consultants' survey records.
Drowned Lands Historical Society Pine Island Chamber of Commerce Pine Island Historian RD #1 Box 10 Pine Island, NY 10969 Contact: Frances Sodrick (914) 258-4528 Mrs. Frances Sodrick is the Pine Island Historian, Deputy Historian for the Town of Warwick, and curator of the Drowned Lands Historical Society Museum. She is also an active member of the Orange County Farm Bureau, Orange County Vegetable Grower's Association, and the Pine Island Chamber of Commerce. Mrs. Sodrick holds and maintains many, if not all, of the records relating to agriculture in the black dirt region for the organizations listed above. Open to public: Yes Research by mail or appointment Title: Agriculture Files Inclusive Dates: 1955 - 1997 Quantity: 4 cubic ft., (chronological) Scope and Content: This collection of records contains brochures, photographs, correspondence, soil and water reports, newsletters, and farming procedures, all of which are related to agriculture in the Black Dirt Region. Title: Jetport Records Inclusive Dates: 1961 - 1972 Quantity: 2 cubic ft., (chronological) Scope and Content: This collection of records contains letters and correspondence generated by local farm organizations and sent to politicians. These letters and petitions are all against the building of any proposed jetport. The collection also includes scrapbooks documenting the Jetport's proposal and ultimate failure. Title: Onion Harvest Festival Records Inclusive Dates: 1939 - present Quantity: 2 cubic ft., (chronological) Scope and Content: This collection of records contains correspondence and letters pertaining to the planning of each Onion Harvest Festival. It also contains yearbooks, which include participants, local news, and photographs of the Festival's events. This event is now held every six years and celebrates the heritage of the black dirt region's farmers and residents. Title: Black Dirt Photograph Collection Inclusive Dates: c. 1920 - present Quantity: 3 cubic ft. photographs, (chronological) 1 cubic ft. slides, (chronological) Scope and Content: The photographs in this collection document agriculture in the Black Dirt Region. The slides make up a presentation done for Cornell University for the National Onion Research Council and also document agriculture. Title: Black Dirt Related Scrapbooks Inclusive Dates: 1960 - 1970 Quantity: 1 cubic ft., (chronological) Scope and Content: These scrapbooks contain among other things statistical information about farming techniques used by Black Dirt farmers. They also contain bulletins, schedules, and literature pertaining to the Pine Island Chamber of Commerce. Title: Black Dirt Related VHS Tapes Inclusive Dates: c. 1970 - present Quantity: 3 cubic ft., (chronological) Scope and Content: This collection of video recordings contain documentaries, school-related programs, cultural events, Chamber of Commerce Meetings, and other various Black Dirt related film projects.
Farm Workers Community Center Warwick Area Migrant Committee, Inc. PO Box 607 Goshen, NY 10924 (914) 651-4272 Contact: Stash Grajewski, Director Open to Public: No Research by appointment or mail This Community Center serves the migrant workers from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Jamaica, Haiti, and Central America that farm within the black dirt region either annually or semi-annually. Currently, the Center provides the following services: Information about alcohol and drugs through individual group discussions, videos, pamphlets, posters, and AA meetings; referral to alcohol and drug treatment with transportation; English as a second language classes. The center also provides many recreational activities for the children of migrant workers and offers a social hall for migrant worker social events. Health care is also provided to the migrant workers in the form of both a medical and dental clinic. Title: Photograph Collection Inclusive Dates: 1970 - present Quantity: 3 cubic ft. Scope and Content: These photographs trace the history of the origination of the Center itself along with many volunteers. Migrant workers and their families participating in Center programs, social events, and farming are the main focus of the collection.
Orange County Clerk's Office Orange County Government Center Goshen, NY 10924 (914) 294-5151 Open to Public: Yes M - F, 9 am to 5 pm The Orange County Clerk's Office holds many land records relating to farming in the black dirt region. The pertinent records are listed below. Title: Maps Relating to Black Dirt Region Inclusive Dates: c. 1700s - present Quantity: Unknown, (chronological) Scope and Content: Maps filed with the Orange County Clerk consist of original numbers, cemetery, subdivisions, patent and atlases. These maps document actual measurements and surveys of original as well as subdivided properties of farmers. Title: Deeds and Mortgages Inclusive Dates: 1703 - present Quantity: 500 vol., (arranged by index) Scope and Content: These land records filed with the Orange County Clerk consist of official property transactions. Drawings of maps may be a part of the record. Title: Farm Names Register Inclusive Dates: 1912 - present Quantity: vol., (chronological) Scope and Content: Farm names registered with the County Clerk. Each entry includes the name of owner, location of farm, and a short property description.
Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District 225 Dolson Avenue Middletown, NY 10940 (914) 343-1873 Open to Public: Yes M - F, 9 am to 5 pm Research by appointment or mail Soil and Water Conservation Districts are located in each county or borough in New York State and are governed locally by a Board of Directors. Programs and services provided to farmers within Orange County include the following: Water quality management, seedling programs, stream stabilization, pond services, agricultural land conservation, erosion control, soils information, and woodland assistance. Title: Cooperative Files Inclusive Dates: 1960 - present Quantity; 2 cubic ft., (alphabetical) Scope and Content: These files include information on individual farms in the black dirt region and include its agricultural history, written conservation requests, and maps. Title: Slide Collection Inclusive Dates: 1960 - present Quantity: 200, (numerical) Scope and Content: This slide collection is composed of photographs taken by the Soil and Water Conservation district during various funded projects throughout its history. The photographs taken include but are not limited to: Conservation application including the placement and type of cover crops; Emergency conservation work, which includes wind erosion; Floods including damage and debris; Irrigation including ditch blocking; Soils including profiles, maps, surveys, and landscapes, and the general pictures of the muckland.
Pine Island Turf Nursery Pine Island Turnpike P1 Turnpike Pine Island, NY 10969 Contact: Charlie Lane Open to Public: No Research by appointment or mail The Pine Island Turf Nursery, originally a vegetable producer, decided in the 1970s to diversity and try planting sod in the black dirt region. The sod portion of the farm was started with fifteen acres and as of today it has grown to roughly 900 acres. It is currently run by second generation sod farmers of the Lane family and is one of the largest sod producers in Orange County. Title: Photograph Collection Inclusive Dates: 1960s - present Quantity: less than 1 cubic ft. Scope and Content: This collection consists of general photographs of farming within the black dirt region. Pictures within this collection consist of but are not limited to the following: Floods, drainage, farming, crops, family, migrant workers, farm machinery, and buildings.
Wallkill Valley Drainage Association RD#1 Box 10 Pine Island, NY 10969 (914) 258-4528 Contact: Frances Sodrick Open to Public: Yes By Appointment Only The Wallkill Valley Drainage Association addresses the needs of farmers by attempting to maintain the river's farmland watering qualities. It was started roughly forty years ago in order to improve irrigation to farmers as well as address the long term needs of both the farmers as well as the citizens of the black dirt region. Title: Association Records Inclusive Dates: c. 1940 - present Quantity: 3 cubic ft., (chronological) Scope and Content: This collection of records consists of photographs, minutes, as well as detailed correspondence on the association's political activities. Both Frances Sodrick as well as Leonard Debuck holds records relating to the Drainage Association.
USDA Farm Service Agency Orange County Division 225 Dolson Avenue Middletown, NY 10940 (914) 343-1872 Open to Public: Yes M - F, 9 am to 5 pm Research by appointment or mail The USDA Farm Service Agency - Orange County Division administers farm commodity, crop insurance, farm credit and conservation programs for farmers. Its programs are primarily directed at agricultural producers or, in the case of loans, at those with farming experience. On a local level, some farmers actually participate in committees, therefore giving the farmer a say in how Federal programs are applied locally. Basically, the program is grassroots based and has continued in that manner since its inception under an act of Congress in the 1930s. Title: Aerial Photographs Inclusive Dates: 1980 - present Quantity: 100+ Scope and Content: These photographs include aerial views of individual farms located in the black dirt as well as pictures of the entire farming region. Additional photographs of the muckland as well as some projects funded by the agency are available but on a minimum level.

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