Black Dirt region of Orange County: beautiful and bountiful

Photographs by Bob Rozycki.


Driving down Pulaski Highway is something everyone needs to do to reset his moral compass. It’s not the highway that does it, but the view. It’s a sea of some of the blackest earth many of us will ever see in our lifetimes.

For a true Zen moment, park your car on the side of the road, sit on a guardrail and just gaze out at the scene.

Take in the green tops of onions, the region’s mainstay, along with lettuce greens, carrots, leeks, you-name-it, poking up through the nutrient-rich ground.

It’s a sea of serenity.

Pine Island is the heart of the Black Dirt region in Orange County.

It’s like that fertile crescent we read about in geography books in grammar school.

The ultraplush soil was once the bottom of a glacial lake. Over the years, farmers have dug up the skeletal remains of a mastodon or two as well as elk, moose and other prehistoric items.

The Black Dirt region’s bounty can be found from farmers’ markets in New York City to throughout the Hudson Valley. For the past five years, the Pine Island Chamber of Commerce has featured the produce at its annual Black Dirt Feast. Proceeds from the event have gone to food pantries as well as a scholarship that is awarded to a town of Warwick graduating senior who will be pursuing college studies in agriculture, hospitality or culinary arts.

This year’s Aug. 4 feast, which will include award-winning chefs preparing meals using the farms’ produce, is already sold out. However, you can contact the chamber at 845-258-7008 to be placed on a waiting list.

The one signature event that you’ll be crying for is the annual onion eating contest. It will be held Sept. 6 at the Polish Legion of American Veterans pavilion near the intersection of Pulaski Highway and Pine Island Turnpike. It’s part of the annual onion festival and the winner will receive a check for $100 from the Orange County Vegetable Growers Association and a plaque from the county Farm Bureau. Maybe some tissues should be included to dab away those tears.

If you’re interested in a good cry, call Janet Zimmerman at the same number as above.

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