Growing an organic farming oasis in New York’s Black Dirt region
Published: January 29, 2019
Category: Organic News, The Organic & Non-GMO Report Newsletter
The jet black, nutrient-dense dirt in Orange County, New York has been compared to “special dark” chocolate as opposed to its “milk” cousin. The Black Dirt region grew conventional onions from the 1950s to 2000; originally swampland, Polish and German immigrants began farming it in the 1800s. Now, thanks to the Chester Agriculture Center (CAC), 200 of its acres are being converted to organic—with initiatives to restore the soil and sustain organic farmers long-term. CAC was created in 2014, when philanthropist Ralph Ogden’s foundation bought the onion farms. Seven small organic farms operate there; a conservation easement will ensure protected farming.
“We saw there was also an opportunity for programmatic work on food sovereignty, hunger, education, and research on how to do organic in the black dirt,” said Beatrice Stern, Ogden’s granddaughter.
CAC offers 30-year leases to secure the land for beginning farmers committed to organic practices. Rise & Root Farm, one of the farms, was founded by urban farming advocate Karen Washington. Dig Inn Farm and Dirty Boots Farm supply vegetables to New York City restaurants. CAC farmers share infrastructure, such as refrigeration storage, greenhouses, and wash stations.
Cheryl Rogowski, a third-generation Black Dirt farmer and organic pioneer, says the concentration of organic matter in the region’s soil nears 90 percent. Weed and flooding challenges abound in the area—a system of ditches regularly purges water. Housing and market outlets present challenges as well. But CAC is committed to improving food systems in the Hudson Valley.
Source: Civil Eats
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