21 Sep 2009
Orange County runs the gamut from suburban to exurban to downright rural. From west to east, the county spans from the Delaware River (Port Jervis) to the Hudson (West Point).
Back 30+ years ago when I had knees and enjoyed hiking, I first discovered the Black Dirt region of the county during a long road walk on the Appalachian Trail through the outskirts of Unionville.
Onions. Fields full of onions.
Lately, while scouting out photographic opportunities, I rediscovered this area while meandering on the back roads between Warwick and Port Jervis. County Road 1 passes through the epicenter of the Black Dirt Region (and there are roadsigns to let you know, in case there was any doubt).
The black dirt in this region is extraordinarily fertile. The Walkill River used to overflow its banks, and the region was also home of a lake, which no longer exists. The black dirt is what remains of the lake bed. Think of the Nile River transplanted to New York.
The area really came into its own 100 years ago, reclaimed by Polish immigrants. The Polish heritage remains with the people, street names, and local restaurant cuisine.
While there also are dairy farms in the area, most of the land seems to be devoted to cultivating onions. As the accompanying photos show, the earth is black, and the onions are big.
My last visit coincided with the end of summer 2009, the morning after the first frost. The clouds in some of the photos are really mist rising from the soil, dissipating as the day warmed up (going from about 40 to about 75 degrees during the morning).
As a city boy, I rarely think about where onions (or most produce) come from. And I don't consider myself suited to the rural life. But the unexpected colors, patterns, smells, the feel of the earth underfoot and in the hand, makes for a unique experience. It is doubly unanticipated, since this region is less than two hours from midtown Manhattan.