The Black Dirt Region, Orange County, New York
When Tina suggested we visit the farms near where I grew up in order to take photos of barns I was incredibly excited. I love farmland and old barns in general but I especially love this part of Orange County, away from the commercialized and suburban areas. This was another place that Tina and I have a lot of memories of since we often visited her father where he worked as well as her family who live on the outskirts of the fields. I also feel a connection to the farms here since my paternal grandmother grew up on a subsistence farm in black dirt country. In case you were curious, this region is a floodplain and the black dirt here really is black, left from an ancient lake bottom that’s been continually flooded for millennia. Famous for growing obscenely-flavorful onions, the fields are now more diversified in terms of crops but are just as fertile as ever.
As we approached the town of Florida we immediately began reminiscing about the awesome ice cream stand we went to in the summers, the visits to her father who worked at the quarry, and the drive out to her aunt and uncle’s house. There was a farmers market in town and we loaded up on snacks (both tart and sweet cherries and pickled vegetables… I know, weird combo) before driving out to the farms. We had just stopped to take some photos when her cousin Jenna pulled up next to us, which was a small-world moment and a really nice quick reunion. We then proceeded to get a drive aimlessly on the farm roads for a couple hours soaking in the beauty and vibrance of colors.
I very much love being in this place and it was wonderful to visit after fifteen years of being away. Part of it is nostalgia and the connection I feel, but the black soil punctuated by the hyper green crops and framed by blue mountains is undeniably special. But for all its charm and loveliness I am not immune to the hard way of life here. These are small farmers who, like small farmers everywhere, often struggle to make a living. The hard life extends further to the migrant workers – who actually inhabit some of the shacks we photographed. For them, 80-hour weeks are common and there is no overtime pay because New York State labor laws do not apply to farm workers, as in California (assuming the worker in question is legal). Which is not to vilify the small farm owners necessarily; they are confined by the price they can get for their product and with such small profit margins they cannot afford to pay their workers more. However, with recognition that these inequities stem from fundamental problems with our food system, I felt it necessary to at least acknowledge that some of the shacks I find “picturesque” or “quaint” are actually workers’ homes. The realities of farm work here have been ingrained in me since riding with my mother as a child to bring donations to the outreach centers.
Still, with that in mind I hope you can enjoy the photos of the place as much as I loved being there.