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Agrarianism and Hudson Valley Agriculture

When today's Hudson Valley growers are lionized in the pages of foodie magazines or the travel section of the New York Times, they are depicted as practicing a dying trade and preserving open space for the cultural and environmental good. Many of the region's farmers see themselves as part of a hardscrabble agricultural tradition (my own hometown in the region celebrates an annual "Hardscrabble Day"), and certainly their precarious economic position relative to owners of factory farms supports this perspective. Many of their ancestors came from very humble backgrounds, and some struggled against the oppressive tenant system of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Though they may own hundreds of acres of land and hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of farm equipment, their ability to stay afloat from year to year is never assured. Yet advocates of open space preservation see farmers' valiant fight to "hold on" as a defense against the developer's bulldozer.

At the same time, these farmers are enjoying the revival of interest in Hudson Valley agriculture by living up to the idealism of boutique farms, heritage fruit, pick-your-own venues, and branded products. Farmers' markets have proliferated all over the region, and numerous restaurants tout local products on their menus. "Violet Hill sunny side up egg with Berried Treasures ramps and Yuno Farm's dandelions" was a featured item on the 2009 Earth Day menu at New York City's upscale Casa Mono. Restaurants such as Manhattan's Blue Hill-with a menu described as "seasonal American celebrating the bounty of the Hudson Valley"-design their offerings around the best local produce. Another ardent supporter of "hometown" ingredients, Rhinebeck's Gigi Trattoria in Dutchess County, boasts supplier relationships with forty local producers. These top-end promotions are evidence of a regional food culture in the making.

"Food culture" is presumed to be distinct from an "industrial food system." In this regard, the expectation is that the food be artisanal in nature and therefore associated with the labor economy of the expanded family, or the cooperative enterprise whose participant members hold some equity. Consumers of this culture are led to believe that their interaction with a small farmer is more akin to securing carrots and beets from a neighbor's flourishing garden than to the commercial exchange that takes place in a supermarket selling factory farm produce.

The regional marketing that promotes today's small farmers is replete with the echoes of more than two hundred years of agrarian idealism, a rich belief system that historically has sidelined the long-suffering but indispensable farmhands. Yet while it is common to hear today's farmers lament the difficulty of securing a consistent annual profit and finding suitable workers, the historical record shows there is nothing new about either of these complaints. Since their initiation into agricultural commodity markets in the early nineteenth century, the region's farmers have consistently transformed their growing practices in an effort to try to secure a profitable niche. Concomitantly, they have faced the challenge of securing a stable work force as changes in the nature of farming go hand in hand with changes in the labor market and growers' labor needs. Between the end of the era of self-reliance in the mid-1800s (when farmers depended on family labor or bartered community labor, and little monetary exchange took place) and World War II, the region's farmers, as a whole, did not enjoy anything resembling a stable agricultural economy or work force. This chapter shows how contemporary Hudson Valley food culture leans on the agrarian ideal and offers a snapshot of the history of farm laborers in the region, from the early decades of farmers entering into market systems to the current economic landscape of Hudson Valley agriculture.

Hudson Valley Food Culture

There is no doubt that Hudson Valley farming qualifies as an exemplum of the artisanal, local growing ethos that has fueled the local food movement and new forms of agrarianism. Whether Hudson Valley food culture can be distilled into a brand-name dish, method, or product remains to be seen. Perhaps "local" is the best way to define the region's food culture, with its niche products, direct marketing, and accompanying promotional apparatus. "At its heart, a genuine food culture is an affinity between people and the land that feeds them," and it comprises "a set of rituals, recipes, ethics, and buying habits." This is Barbara Kingsolver's stab at defining the term and the ideal to which her family subscribed in their "year of food life." A supermarket diet of multinational products and produce of unknown provenance is the very antithesis of what is imagined to be an authentic food culture, which involves knowledge about how foods are acquired, prepared, preserved, and consumed.

Such a sense of place is best represented by farm products, and Hudson Valley food culture is distinguished by its reliance on high-quality, fresh produce and meats, artisanal goods such as specialty cheeses, and boutique beverages like small-batch ales, hard ciders, wine, and other alcoholic drinks. One hallmark of local food here is heirloom and heritage fruits and vegetables, which have made a comeback in recent years, particularly since more discerning urban consumers have tired of commercially popular produce such as the Red Delicious apple, which has a perfect shape, robust color, and sweet taste, but whose overproduction has diminished its flavor. One of the region's current strengths is niche marketing of specialty fruit. A selection of these is offered at locations like Adams Fairacre Farms grocers (with three locations in the Hudson Valley), one of the first local grocery chains to aggressively promote regional produce. As autumn rolls around, shoppers will find clearly marked bins with detailed descriptions of the qualities of more than twenty varieties of local apples. Bordering the produce aisles are jars of local foodstuffs: honey, jams, chutneys, salsas, marinades, and pickles. On the other side are arranged local milk, eggs, yogurt, and cider, while regional cheeses are to be found alongside gourmet selections in another part of the store. Although only a small percentage of the store's overall stock originates nearby, the range of products is a showcase of Hudson Valley agriculture-fulfilling the traditional function of the county fair-and the proportion of regional products is increasing annually. Adams grew out of an early-twentieth-century farm stand and exemplifies the type of regional economy that has allowed some of the valley's growers to thrive in the face of cheaper international products. In fact, in recent years large chain supermarkets, including Walmart, have begun to feature local produce in an effort to compete.

The niche marketing of regional produce has been updated to accommodate new institutions and relations of consumption. Perhaps the most significant change in Hudson Valley agriculture at the end of the twentieth century was the development of opportunities for small producers to sell directly to consumers-a necessary strategy for promoting local food. The most visible institution, of course, is the farmers' market. Its progenitor, the Union Square Greenmarket in downtown Manhattan, was established in 1976 and quickly became the largest retail market in the state, featuring the stalls of as many as 140 regional producers a week. In the past decade the number of farmers' markets in the state has more than doubled, increasing from 235 in 2000 to 521 in 2012, with New York City's five boroughs accounting for 138 of those. One of the newer models of local farming is the CSA (community supported agriculture), an alternative farming economy in which individuals receive farm products in return for an advanced investment or ongoing subscription, thereby providing the farmer with upfront funds needed to run the operation. With CSAs, individual members are small shareholders shouldering a risk in return for a portion of the yield. Not only have new farms established CSAs from the outset, but some longtime farmers have also added CSA subscriptions alongside their traditional retail and wholesale practices.

The culture of parochial purchasing extends well beyond the farmers' market since an increasing number of restaurants, as documented by their menus, have determined it to be a market necessity to offer local products. The region's food identity is anchored by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), a prestigious culinary college in lower Dutchess County that has trained many of the area's chefs (its courses include Food, Wine and (Agri)culture; Leadership and Ethics; and Ecology of Food). One graduate, Waldy Malouf, former chef at Manhattan's Rainbow Room, which he transformed during the 1990s, has been an important promoter of Hudson Valley food. The New York Times included Malouf's 1995 The Hudson River Valley Cookbook in its roundup of top cookbooks of the year, and it was also nominated for the prestigious Julia Child Cookbook Award, further institutionalizing public awareness of the region's offerings. An early innovator of American nouvelle cuisine was John Novi, whose Depuy Canal House, which opened in High Falls, Ulster County, in 1969, featured local food and earned a four-star rating in 1970 from Craig Claiborne, the New York Times' erstwhile dean of restaurant criticism. More recently, Laura Pensiero, owner of the aforementioned Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, published Hudson Valley Mediterranean (2009), a paean to the region's local foods.

Prestigious restaurants are part of the promotional apparatus that helped give birth to a regional food culture in the Hudson Valley. Not only did chefs showcase local farms and regional cuisine, but they also contributed ideas and techniques to the common repository of local food culture. One chef in particular who has shaped ideas about the region's local food is Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Manhattan's Blue Hill restaurant and proprietor of Blue Hill at Stone Barns at Westchester County's Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, which includes a working farm, restaurant, and education center. Like Alice Waters's Chez Panisse Foundation, Stone Barns Center hosts a speaker series, conferences, a farmers' market, a curriculum for school gardens, and a plethora of programs for kids, such as summer day camp, story hours, cooking classes, and hands-on farm experiences. Other nonprofits that advocate for local agriculture include Putnam County's Glynwood Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming, which also operates a farm and fosters dialogue through events, publications, and local programs to promote sustainable farms and rural communities. The Valley Table, a Hudson Valley quarterly magazine dedicated to food and farms, is an important publication for taking the pulse of the region's food movement. In addition to publishing produce and restaurant profiles, some of them by local food activists and politicians, the magazine includes articles that promote the available range of farm products, from award-winning wines to artisanal cheeses and alcohol distilled from local fruit. In 2009, a new glossy, Edible Hudson Valley, began quarterly publication as part of a national network that now boasts eighty regional "community-based, local-foods publications" under the Edible Communities rubric.

Finally, something must be said for the history and landscape that have shaped the region and legitimized its rural character. World-famous for the achievements of Hudson River School painters such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church, it was one of the first American regions to establish tourism by taking advantage of the combination of natural beauty, relative proximity to New York City, and ease of transportation. The combination of lush scenery, military history (West Point, home to the U.S. Military Academy on the west bank of the Hudson, for instance, was occupied by the Continental Army in the late eighteenth century), and arts contributed to the establishment of a high-profile cultural identity for the region, which included bona fide historical sites such as Native American settlements, Revolutionary War battlegrounds, and aristocratic riverside estates. Employing the architectural and design talents of Alexander Jackson Davis and Andrew Jackson Downing, the owners of such estates, located mostly along the "aristocratic" east bank of the river, helped create the pastoral rural vernacular that defines the region as a whole. Today, it is agritourism that draws visitors to the Hudson Valley; the food movement campaigns at the turn of the twenty-first century delivered a windfall of publicity and investment in the region's agricultural sector.

A variety of definitions of "local food" are in circulation. Some refer solely to geographic proximity (as in the one-hundred-mile diet), others to a type of distribution network like the farmers' market. To the degree to which "local food" implies a food culture, this includes not only fresh, seasonal, diverse products, but also the active promotion of biodiversity and local sustainable economies. In and of themselves, these are important and valid reasons for why consumers might prefer to eat local. But characterizations of "local foods" do not stop there. For example, the Whole Foods website describes how local foods "preserve character: Small local farms are a valuable component of a community's character, helping maintain agricultural heritage, preserve land use diversity and moderate development." A more florid commentator on the Eat Local Challenge blog took it further yet: "Buying locally grown food is fodder for a wonderful story. Whether it's the farmer who brings local apples to market or the baker who makes local bread, knowing part of the story about your food is such a powerful part of enjoying a meal." These more abstract associations-the stories told, the pride in a sense of place, and the high estimate of community and heritage-are components that feed into the heady romance of local food production.

Underpinning the romance is an automatic equation of geographic proximity with goodness, a phenomenon termed the "local trap" by scholars who argue that scale-whether local or global-is always socially constructed and nonuniform. The conflation of localness and wholesomeness is strongly echoed in the writing of food movement leaders like environmentalist Bill McKibben, novelist Barbara Kingsolver, and ethnobiologist and nutrition ecologist Gary Nabhan, all of whom have drawn up manifestos from their locavore, neoagrarian adventures to reinforce these beliefs. In addition, a generation of scholars have expounded on the positive aspects of local food systems, which include economic and social benefits, the promotion of justice and community through face-to-face interactions with food producers, and the capacity of alternative agrisystems to promote civic engagement and enhance democracy. The most recent lineage for this revival dates to the "natural foods" revolution of the 1960s, fostered in communities in Vermont and Northern California, institutionalized in food co-ops, and rooted in E.F. Schumacher's "small is beautiful" philosophy of human-scale technologies.

The Agrarian Ideal

Although this book is primarily a contemporary survey of agriculture and agricultural labor issues in the Hudson Valley, I want to emphasize how much history and ideology have shaped the way that we think about these topics. The contemporary subjects of my research have their own individual stories, which are explored in the chapters that follow, but the constraints they face resonate with powerful legacies from the record of agricultural history.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of agrarianism not only as a formative component of national ideology, but also as a determinant in the political economy of food. Whether consciously or not, it has been adopted by all types of farmers (organic, local, very small, corporate) and is deeply embedded in the public mind. The values attached to American agrarian life are associated with high moral virtue, economic self-sufficiency, and individual freedom. U.S. agrarianism posits small-scale family farming as the basis for a model society, as articulated in Jefferson's influential vision of a nation of freeholders occupying the middle landscape between cities and wilderness. Jefferson's model was fueled by the ideal that "those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God."Other canonical writings, such as gentleman farmer J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur's Letter from an American Farmer, helped establish agrarian self-reliance as a distinctively American trait. (Crèvecoeur originally farmed in the Hudson Valley before moving south to the Carolinas.)

The agrarian ideal, also referred to as agrarianism, romantic agrarianism, and the agrarian myth, encompasses three main beliefs: farmers are economically independent and self-sufficient; farming is intrinsically a natural and moral activity; and farming is the fundamental industry of society. These three tenets feed into each other. For example, discussions about farmers' self-reliance are often seeded with ideas about their being virtuous even though there is no inherent connection between them. In addition, the belief in the wholesomeness, reliability, honesty, and hard manual work of farmers, as well as the role they play in defending agricultural traditions, feed into the nobility bestowed on their self-reliance. This self-directed toil is not only basic to society at large, but it is also perceived to be the lifeblood of a republican democracy. Indeed, the freehold farmer has historically been cast as the ideal citizen who has embraced his moral duty to society and the common good.

The moral ideal of agrarianism in the United States was largely spread by farm leaders in agricultural journals and other outlets. Agrarianism offered what Richard Hofstadter called a "standard vocabulary to rural editors and politicians" so that it could be as easily preached on campaign trails as in local newspapers. The virtues of farming were commonly touted by both government and private farm organizations. Despite the fact that agrarianism rests upon the model of the subsistence family farm, as opposed to the modern, commercial farms that developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it became the prevailing ideology of agriculture as a whole, even as the highly mechanized agribusiness moved further and further away from the original ideal. Today, perhaps only the ideal farmer proposed by Wendell Berry fits with the foundational ethos of agrarianism-a subsistence grower who does not rely on external labor and is more interested in sustainability than profit. Agrarianism allowed agriculture to hold a privileged place in U.S. society at large, but more importantly it continues to guarantee government attention to those whose livelihood and profits are bound up in cultivating the soil.

When the nineteenth century ushered in new markets and agricultural practices that rapidly shifted the focus from subsistence to profit, the self-sufficient farmer who relied on community mutual aid became a businessman and a land speculator. Farmers struggled to uphold the practical prerequisites of the agrarian codes, but the ideology proved very serviceable to the industry as a whole, particularly in the name of agricultural exceptionalism: farming was a "unique" industry because it fed the nation. The utilitarian value of agrarianism survived the twentieth century and harmonized well with the energy of the environmental movement. From the gentleman farmer on his exurban acres to the urban farmers of downtown Detroit, the agrarian fantasy is alive and well.

Agrarianism has served various and often contradictory ends. The ideal has even pitted farmers of different types against each other by offering a flexible rhetoric to anyone laying claim to it. In this way, it has served landowners both large and small, subsistence farmers, antisprawl environmentalists, utopian communalists, and even farmworkers themselves. For example, while some would-be agrarians have promoted progress and efficiency in order to defend commercial farming, others have focused on the use of agriculture to serve environmental and communitarian goals. Although it would seem that those with a direct line of descent from the yeoman farmer would hold the most legitimate claim to agrarianism, a claim foregrounded by the antiforeclosure Farm Aid campaigns of the 1980s, those who have benefited most from the ideology are large, profit-centered agricultural producers.

Agricultural exceptionalism has driven public attitudes and policy decisions about farming for more than two hundred years. Historian David Danbom argues that one reason agrarianism is so compelling is that it helps to recapture lost innocence. The public elaboration of agrarian beliefs has been prolific and pervasive; agricultural economist Don Paarlberg has claimed that these beliefs don't need to be learned by those growing up in the country, but instead they are merely absorbed. This exact experience is described by conservationist and food writer Wendell Berry, who describes being an agrarian from an early age, although he did not learn the term until he was in college. Agrarianism still resonates today, and food writers trade on the romance of agrarian ideals. Their florid descriptions of farmers' markets, glowing profiles of local purveyors, and anecdotes of happy farm animals put a gloss on the public image of the food movement.

Farmers have called upon the singularity of agriculture as well as the cultural cachet of agrarianism to influence policy in favor of their interests. It is widely understood that agriculture merits a range of support from government because it provides vital sustenance to the U.S. population. No other industry, farmers and their organizations often contend, faces the same demands or deserves similar treatment, particularly in regard to safeguarding its cheap labor supply. A belief in agricultural exceptionalism helped to cement the agreement that excluded farmworkers from New Deal labor protections, such as the collective bargaining protections of the National Labor Relations Act (1935) and the minimum wage and overtime laws of the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938).

Unlike in other industries, and due to government support for the agriculture industry, the increased costs of doing business in farming are not all passed on directly to the consumer. Most farms lose money, and the U.S. government compensates for these losses through heavy subsidies, providing between one-quarter and one-half of farms' net income. Large and corporate farms benefit the most from agricultural subsidies, particularly under Farm Bill and emergency relief provisions. Farms that receive the least in government payments are those growing fruits and vegetables. Government payments, however, are only one piece of the subsidy process. There is an intrinsic relationship between the success of this regional food culture and the veritable erasure of farm labor concerns; arguably the largest agricultural subsidy in the region comes not from government, but from farmworkers themselves. According to a 1994 U.S. Department of Labor Report, it is farmworkers who subsidize farms "with their own and their families' indigence," through structures that "transfer costs to workers" and leave them impoverished. The cumulative impact of the wage discount-maintained so low by government policy-is vital for keeping the industry afloat.

Insofar as the "family farm" is the core signifier of agrarianism today, it evokes a household unit of production with perhaps a few hands to assist at harvest time or perform odd jobs. Technically speaking, however, the term is much more elastic in definition. The designation accepted by Congress excludes only nonfamily corporations, although another congressional definition limits family farms to those without a hired manager and with fewer than 1.5 hired workers annually. Alternatively, the USDA Economic Research Service bases its classification on ownership and management structure. It defines family farms as those legally held by a single family with control over the way farm profits are spent. At the same time, it excludes nonfamily corporations or cooperatives, as well as estates, trusts, and farms run by hired managers. Under this rubric, 98 percent of U.S. agricultural operations are categorized as family farms. According to census data, 84 percent of New York's farms are individually or family owned, but in its promotional material, the New York Farm Bureau asserts that 99 percent of the state's farms are "family owned" and refers frequently to its "member families." This statistic likely includes all farms-including partnerships, family-held corporations, and trusts-except for nonfamily-held corporations, following the lead of Congress.

Using definitions based on ownership and management as opposed to income, number of workers hired, or inclusion of subsidiary businesses means that New York's largest farms can plausibly be marketed-both by the growers and by agricultural organizations-as family farms. For example, Torrey Farm, one of the state's largest at more than ten thousand acres, employs several hundred workers, and, according to Dun Bradstreet, its annual sales exceed $21 million. Because it is owned by one family, however, it is as much a New York family farm as a twenty-acre arugula plot with no hired hands. More to the point, the "struggling family farmer" defense that is typically mounted against labor reforms masks the reality of the agricultural labor market in New York since only one-quarter of New York's farms actually hire workers. In other words, three-quarters of the state's farms rely only on household labor, but they are categorized alongside Torrey Farm as family establishments. This is one of the ways that agrarianism in name only facilitates profits for the largest agribusinesses in the state and throughout the country. The romance will not wither away as long as it proves serviceable to an industry that profits from the venerated position of agriculture in our society to the detriment of small-scale farms.

While agrarianism might have its most potent symbol in the family farm, the organic movement was also fed by its ideals. The communitarian and owner-operated nature of early organic farms fit neatly with the wholesomeness and farmer independence promoted by agrarianism. Guthman argues that the new agrarianism was anchored by the organic movement, which combined environmental concerns, social justice, and family-scale farming, although, as she herself points out, the social justice concerns did not include attention to hired hands. Guthman debunks the notion that organic farmers operate according to motivations different from those of conventional farmers. It is commonly assumed that their operations are distinct from the industrial food system or that organic farms serve the social good while conventional farmers are only interested in profit. Organic produce is marketed successfully as a value-added product, and such a process relies to some extent on scarcity, for if too many other products have that same quality, the valorization of organic produce is not successful. Yet the USDA organic standards were co-opted by industrial agriculture to ensure they fit with the needs of big agriculture, which could then capture a market share. In response, die-hard organic farmers called for a new strategy to promote their farm products, arguing that scale was a vital component; according to their logic, the "small-scale family farm" became "a proxy for social justice." To some extent this strategy promoted a shift in attention from organics to local food, since the latter's direct-to-consumer marketing model is much more difficult for industrial agriculture to adopt.

Agrarianism also helped perpetuate the notion that labor was treated better on organic farms, if for no other reason than that labor concerns were initially not addressed by food writers or scholars. Other commentators have shown how images of pastoral beauty hid the migrant laborers who helped to create it and who live on "the other side" of the sculpted landscapes. Indeed, the perception that the agrarian realm was a modern-day Eden relied entirely on the invisibility of migrant workers. Whatever attention was placed upon workers offered them up as "noble savages" who had modest needs and did not mind living on the rural periphery in humble living conditions.

New York's Hudson Valley in particular is home to exactly the sort of farms upon which the nation's early republican ideals were founded, giving growers and industry lobbyists all the more reason to use the mystique of agrarianism to serve their interests in the public sphere and at the state legislature. Consider the following quote extracted from the "Grassroots" newsletter of the New York Farm Bureau, the foremost interest group serving farmers in the state: "The most important thing that comes from our farms is the quality of citizenship that grows there. I see it in the responsible, 'can do' attitude in these kids. So many of them seem mature beyond their years. ... Farming imposes a code of conduct on a person. It is called responsibility. It is called self-reliance. ... This reservoir of responsible citizenship is, to me, as precious and valuable as the land, itself. Maybe more so." Rhetoric like this is carefully crafted not only to nurture public perceptions about agrarianism, but also to win a place in the speeches of the lawmakers who are targeted by the New York Farm Bureau. As for farmworkers, the organization highlights labor as a top policy priority, while success in securing workers and promoting a legal work force is cast as a survive-or-die option. According to the organization's website, laws such as overtime protections for farmworkers would cause farms to "become something less bucolic." The reader is supposed to make the connection that unless farmers' labor priorities are attended to, the state will lose its picturesque farms and all that accompanies them. In other words, legislation friendly to farmworkers would destroy farms.

Today the Hudson Valley signifies a respite from the ills of corporate agriculture in much the same way that California in the nineteenth century offered a potent dream of pastoralism that drew waves of opportunity-seeking immigrants. Both regions have drawn on agrarianism to promote and market their farm products. Today it is local food that gets linked to "community capitalism," a kinder, gentler approach to business that incorporates civic engagement. Kingsolver goes even further in suggesting that "'locally grown' is a denomination whose meaning in incorruptible."

Hudson Valley Farmworker History

Browsing through the regional section of any Hudson Valley town library shows that the histories of New York and Hudson Valley farming have received substantial attention by a range of writers, from popular commentators to researchers and policy analysts. Within these volumes, however, comparatively little attention has been given to the agricultural work force, except to record data such as wages, labor shortages, or the volume of workers. In part this is due to the dearth of archival material. Farmers leave records of their activities, while hired field hands do not. Moreover, research conducted on the state's farmworkers is dominated by labor market analysis and is often disconnected from the larger context of agricultural trends. Important recent studies address the implications of the ethnic shift from black to Latino farmworkers in the late twentieth century, focusing on the integration of new immigrants into local communities and farm management practices tailored specifically to them. However, these studies fail to discuss the shift in its fuller historical context. The history of the relationship between the development of Hudson Valley agriculture and its work force is important for understanding the racialization of farmworkers and how they developed as a distinct class from farmers and why farmers expect a ready and cheap supply of workers. History also explains that the region's farmers have experienced significant instability in their ability to secure workers and to make a profit, and for almost two hundred years they have creatively responded to varied constraints by changing their practices.

Hudson Valley agriculture, along with Northeast agriculture on the whole, developed along lines quite distinct from those in other parts of the country. Urban centralization and early industrialization in the Hudson Valley constrained the growth of large-scale industrial farming. In contrast, the southern colonies, Northwest Territories, lands of the Louisiana Purchase, and even the irrigated West all offered better conditions for settlement on huge tracts of land. In addition, Hudson Valley farmers faced rocky and hilly terrain, a short growing season, and unpredictable weather. Later, intense competition, the cost of hiring labor, and the pressures of suburbanization would further challenge the region's growers. With its great estates, the Hudson Valley was dominated by a manorial economy through the mid-nineteenth century; a handful of families owned expansive areas of land and rented small landholdings to farmers. As a result, a neofeudal landholding system developed in contradistinction to the industrial plantation system that pervaded the Eastern Seaboard of the Americas from northern Brazil to the Chesapeake.

The small size of farms and meager existence of leaseholders meant that few non-family members provided labor. For extra labor during the harvest, farmers usually turned to neighbors, especially since scarce contract workers were perceived to be too expensive, difficult to discipline, and morally untrustworthy. Nonmonetized neighborly cooperation, which was carefully tracked, fostered local solidarity, fueled pride in self-reliance, and boosted the practices and ideology of community mutual aid. Thus was the communitarian side of the agrarian ethic lived and affirmed. Local artisans, who did not have farms or who had very small holdings, also relied on social connections to supplement their work with day-labor agricultural pursuits.

The 1820s saw the region's farmers drawn into agricultural markets as they gradually turned to hired labor to accommodate the transition to cash crops. Early industrialization brought textile and other factories to the region, which stimulated agricultural production in response to an increasing volume of industrial workers who required a local food supply. Although factory production reshaped the landscape by creating urban centers populated by the new working class (Fishkill, Poughkeepsie, Hudson, Kingston, Newburgh), the anchor of the Hudson Valley economy was still agriculture, in contrast to the ascendancy of manufacturing in the New England states. When the Erie Canal, opened in 1825, brought fierce competition from Midwest wheat farms, the region's farmers shifted their primary production from wheat and meat to dairy, sheep (for wool), beef, and poultry. By the mid-nineteenth century, Hudson Valley farms were also cultivating orchards, largely for cider. One writer described the "bewildering variety of individual and local adjustments" made by the region's farmers in the period between 1790 and 1860.

One backdrop to this volatile but resilient era was the persistence of the manor system. The Anti-Rent War of the 1830s and {apos}40s, involving ten thousand tenant families at its peak in 1845, led to the dismantling of the manorial land economy. Freeholders who earned their way out of the bonds of tenancy tended to stay on their small tracts of land, thus preserving the pattern of small holdings in the region. German and Dutch surnames from this period can be found in the roll call of today's farmers. More potent yet is the persisting survivalist legacy of the hardscrabble profile embodied by the iconography of the small farmer under threat of foreclosure.

Self-reliance was reinforced by the necessity of maintaining local ties in communities with few outsiders. In 1845, for example, 93 percent of Dutchess County residents were locally born, but that was before the railroad reached Poughkeepsie from New York City at the end of the decade and began to change the demographic profile of small rural towns. The trains facilitated the arrival of Irish, English, Scottish, and German immigrants as well as African Americans in search of farm work. Prejudice against blacks and stereotypes about the European immigrants generated community hostility and served to cast farmhands as a different class from farmers. More significantly, the farmworker as a job category was racialized.

Hired hands were much more common by the mid-nineteenth century, although farmers were still very sensitive to labor costs. To avoid wage inflation through competition, some growers established a common pay rate for laborers who were not family members. Workers were also offered to neighbors for a fee, a sign of waning community reciprocity. Local youth were a significant source of labor and often served as very low-paid apprentices, occasionally receiving only room and board, as many hoped to start their own farms by climbing the agricultural ladder. Census data for several Hudson Valley towns from 1850 show that 20 to 37 percent of farmers hired unrelated workers. According to the same records, one-third to one-half of midcentury families in Dutchess County were landless farmworkers.

By midcentury the industrial revolution was in full swing, radically changing the nature of work and employment. Kingston, on the west side of the Hudson River, was the center of Fulton's steamboat production, and Poughkeepsie, on the east side, had mills in full operation as an important manufacturing center. In the eighteenth century, all but 10 percent of Dutchess County residents were engaged in agriculture, but by 1850, one-quarter of the county's residents worked outside of farming. The resulting changes in agricultural markets and production altered farmers' needs for, and relationship to, workers. Farms became more efficient with the introduction of new scientific methods such as crop rotation and commercial fertilizers, in addition to the use of modern equipment like cultivators, seeders, threshers, and reapers. As a result, fewer workers were required outside harvest times, a situation that persists today due to the fact that fruits and vegetables are largely handpicked. The increasing demand for seasonal harvest labor altered the job category of farmworkers since it would become increasingly difficult for so many harvest farmhands to piece together year-round work. At the same time, low-skill jobs on the railroad and in construction lured workers away from agriculture with the promise of higher wages.

New farming technology and improved transportation-barges and railroad-made the mid-nineteenth century a golden age for Hudson Valley growers, but with the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869, agriculture was once again transformed. Wheat from the Midwest bonanza farms flooded the Northeast market and vanquished the region's grain commodities once and for all. Hudson Valley farmers had to turn to fruit and dairy. Notwithstanding the perceived financial and social costs of hiring workers, labor needs increased since cultivating fruit was labor-intensive and animals required year-round attention. By contrast, wheat had been a low-maintenance crop. Even so, the seasonal nature of fruit and vegetable production required a good deal of labor flexibility. With few, and largely seasonal, positions to offer, farmers lamented the end of community reliance, and with little market experience, they struggled to make ends meet. Any outlay of cash was a risk that threatened to push the farm into the red.

Although farm labor wages peaked during the Civil War, the ability to demand high wages due to a reduced labor market was short-lived, and wages did not return to that level until the early 1900s. Following the war local labor returned, and the volume of immigrants hoping to settle in the valley rose. One local author mentioned the surplus of farm boys seeking apprenticeships in the 1880s, likely for room, board, and very low pay, and at the same time he repeated the common refrain of how farm wages had been driven up by better-paid local urban employment. By the turn of the century, excess labor, probably due to the severe depressions of 1870s and 1890s, had reduced wages in every sector. The apprenticeship experience fed the ambitions of youth who hoped to establish their own small farms, yet by the late nineteenth century the shrinking volume of available land for sale restricted this option, particularly in the lower Hudson Valley due to the pressure of early suburban development. Employers fueled their own agrarian dreams by hiring cheap labor, while the farmworkers rationalized their low-wage "training" in the name of their futures, a dream of upward mobility that is still very much alive among immigrant farmworkers today.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the agricultural ladder was broken. Farmhands lost the opportunities available to previous generations, and seasonal work became normative and permanent. Economic and class disparities between farmers and their laborers widened. Earlier generations of workers had been housed in farmers' homes, married farmers' daughters, and had become fixtures of small rural communities. That changed with the advent of the businessmen-farmers who, no longer sympathetic to the plight of farmhands, began to identify workers' interests as hostile to their own and associated workers with both discipline problems and high costs. Farm journals reinforced the new employer attitude as they encouraged managerialism and frequently addressed the "farm labor problem" in their pages. The agrarian legacy helped to naturalize the stratification, differentiating between the local and foreign work force, to the detriment of the latter.

The end of the nineteenth century saw the development of fruit and vegetable truck farming and the establishment of labor camps to house seasonal workers. While rail lines and waterways offered access to many markets, trucks opened up new towns for delivery, and farmers did not have to accompany their goods, as the truckers acted as middlemen. Hudson Valley producers were diversifying their crops, shifting to orchards, berries, and vegetables, and some turned to specialty crops; grapes, for example, would become the largest Hudson Valley crop through the 1920s. Farmers individually negotiated to sell their fruits and vegetables to trucker-wholesalers for resale in urban markets. Consequently, competition between farm families resulted in a further diminution of community mutual aid. Truck farming increased the need for seasonal workers, which waves of European immigrants would provide, and Ellis Island is, after all, but downriver from the heart of the Hudson Valley. Farmers hired first-generation immigrant workers, including many Italians, from nearby urban centers, a pattern that lasted for several decades. Italians found a niche as labor contractors, many later establishing their own farms.In addition, unemployed mine workers from Pennsylvania were an early migrant stream of interstate workers to come to New York. They were joined by traditional transients, or "hoboes," who followed the rail lines that were now well established.

When migrant workers first began to work on New York farms, it was common for them to find housing with growers and community members, a pattern of the mid-nineteenth century that changed as labor camps developed. The state's first migrant camp was probably built between 1910 and 1915 for central New York bean and pea pickers. These labor camps altered the relationship between workers and farmers by sealing their spatial polarization. As in an inner-city ghetto, farmworkers were relegated to a segregated location, further distancing farmhands from local communities and providing them a different standard of living than their employers. More than anything, the labor camp firmly demarcated the farmworker job category from the status held by employers and other locals.

During the early twentieth century, the economy of truck farming and a continuing labor surplus allowed for the relative success of many Hudson Valley farms. Increased immigration to New York City meant increased demand for food. From 1910 until 1919, farmers in New York received good prices for their products, particularly as World War I raised the price of farm products. Local fruit growers had a competitive advantage for some years before refrigerated railcars (standardized around 1905) allowed for the transportation of sensitive fruits from larger out-of-state farms. Outside metropolitan areas, truck routes remained the favored link to markets for several decades as refrigerated tractor trailers did not prevail in all regions until midcentury. With technology advances however, California fruit began to arrive on the New York City market with only a twelve-day transit, and Hudson Valley growers again had to rethink their business plans and adapt to a transformed market.

New challenges from Western competition were compounded by the flight of local workers and family members to urban locations. Moreover, with the onset of the First World War, able-bodied farm men left as soldiers, European immigration was curtailed, and migration from the South was very limited. In response, the government began to play a role as labor recruiter. Federal programs helped supply foreign workers to New York's farms, mostly from the West Indies, but also from Canada. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor organized one million male youth into the United States Boys' Working Reserve, who staffed mostly northeastern farms. Aggressive recruitment of local labor also helped agriculture, including work-or-fight laws that were essentially labor drafts, enforcing work or jail for those not in the armed services. In addition to taking advantage of government programs, farmers began actively to recruit southern workers themselves.

From 1920 to 1940, New York experienced an agricultural depression, causing the price of farmland to decline drastically. During World War I mechanization slowly expanded and farmers began to use tractors, thus reducing the demand for labor. The use of southern migrants increased, as did hiring immigrant labor from urban centers. Southern blacks, both single males and families, arrived in the Great Migration of the 1920s. By the end of the 1920s, out-of-state migrant workers had become an integral component of New York agriculture. The Great Depression further enhanced the farm labor supply as a result of urban unemployment, and, due to reduced work opportunities elsewhere, many locals stayed on to work the land. I interviewed one farmer born in the mid-1920s who recalled how desperate many were for work during this period. The ferry across the river had its first crossing at 6 a.m., but that would put workers on the farm too late to secure the best berry rows for picking. To arrive early enough, he explained, "These guys and gals would come over in a rowboat to pick strawberries. ... Sometimes there was more people than would fit in the boats they had, and so some would swim over and hang on the boats, even on a cold morning." Yet, when the worst of the Depression ended and hiring started up in the cities, it once again proved difficult to attract urban workers to the farms.

World War II was a turning point in Hudson Valley agriculture. The war stimulated the state's agriculture sector, and 1940-49 saw a new round of investment in agricultural technologies. The government also began to ramp up its recruitment of farmworkers to meet the demand for supplementary labor. The Farm Manpower Service, established by a resolution of the New York State War Council in 1943, supplied 375,000 domestic and foreign seasonal laborers for New York's fruit and vegetable farms from 1943 through 1945. Much of this recruitment aimed at helping the war effort by securing local food systems. The vast majority (89 percent) of the supplemental labor force was local, and most of the others were African Americans from the South. A great diversity of workers, including soldiers and sailors, conscientious objectors, and patients from mental health institutions, provided relief during World War II. Other sources of labor included immigrants on vacations from the city who longed for the rural settings of their home countries. Aside from local labor, foreign workers, predominantly from Jamaica and the Bahamas, Canada, and Mexico, worked on New York farms during the Second World War. The war also prompted the formalization of programs for guest workers from the West Indies and Puerto Rico, programs that continue today. Additionally, the U.S. War Department supplied more than ten thousand German and Italian prisoners of war who worked farms while being housed in New York's prison camps. Labor was not in short supply as long as the state acted as padrone and workers saw their efforts as a patriotic duty.

The midcentury years saw another radical shift in agricultural practice. Even though the number of farms and amount of farmland declined significantly-largely due to suburbanization-new technologies generated higher crop yields than ever before. However, despite such advancements, the harvesting of fruits and vegetables still required manual application due to the sensitive nature of the goods, which were easily damaged. As a result, seasonal labor needs became much more concentrated during the harvest. Postwar workers were still mostly local, yet the volume of southern migrants grew by 140 percent between 1943 and 1948. Also included in the postwar New York seasonal agricultural labor force were urban workers from Slavic and Mediterranean countries, including Poland and Syria. Pennsylvanian families still migrated to New York for work, and foreign guest workers included Jamaicans, Bahamians, Puerto Ricans, and Canadians. One account of farm labor in the postwar period records "interstate" migrants from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas and distinguishes them from "Southern migrants." This categorization leads one to presume that the interstate migrants were whites and the southern migrants were African Americans, considering that several of the states listed as supplying interstate migrants are indeed southern, but not, in fact, categorized as the "Deep South," which had a higher concentration of blacks than the "Upper South." This is a distinction that reflects the racialization of "types" of workers that had increasingly become the rule of labor segmentation on the farm, in both housing and task allocation. African American migrants were often seen as ill suited for any other work, and single males were characterized as shiftless nomads, whereas the white workers, especially those with families, were understood to be economic refugees excluded from a reorganized southern agricultural system.

The Northeast saw an earlier, more extreme loss of farmland than the rest of the country, in part because of competition from the sunbelt's output of fruits and vegetables. However, this was certainly not the only factor involved, as the development of subdivisions posed a new threat to agriculture. The postwar years in the Hudson Valley saw returning soldiers eschewing farm work for better jobs as they moved into newly developed suburbs. Home buyers were drawn to the bucolic landscapes, but they were unaccustomed to the sounds and smells of farming and voiced their complaints accordingly. Agriculture in the Hudson Valley was now on the metropolitan fringe or the "suburban frontier," as one of the farmers I interviewed put it. This presented specific challenges as farmers attempted to accommodate (or antagonize) their new neighbors, creating zones of low-intensity conflict.

At the same time that a middle class of nonagricultural workers was becoming established, the Hudson Valley saw high rates of net unemployment from the 1950s to the 1970s as manufacturing moved south. The farmworkers, however, were increasingly from out of state. From the post-World War II period though the 1970s, African American migrants, predominantly from the South, were the largest group of migrant farmworkers in New York. The pattern of southern migrants' annual return to New York was established through their participation in the eastern migrant stream. The high concentration of African Americans in agriculture on the East Coast mirrored the racialization of farm work that began in the South in the pre-Civil War era. Child and youth labor were also important sources of farm labor, as workers traveling in families worked together. At midcentury, the West Indian guest worker program was extended and focused on Jamaica, providing workers along the Eastern Seaboard, including for the apple harvest in New York.

By 1960, New York was employing 27,600 interstate farmworkers who were almost exclusively African American migrants, including youth. Puerto Rican workers also staffed these farms. In the course of the next decade, however, mechanization displaced many migrant workers, and the number of New York's seasonal workers dropped by half. The volume of African American migrants further decreased due to urban migration and increased job opportunities in southern states, particularly in the service and construction sectors in Florida. Technology that extended the orange growing season further reduced the migrant stream traveling from Florida. Moreover, the children of southern workers were receiving a better education than previous generations, and as a result few followed their parents into farm work. During this same period, Caribbean workers who first arrived as guest workers began to settle in the United States. They would have been undocumented when they initially broke their contracts, and many married U.S. citizens and gained their green cards. They traveled the same migrant stream as African American workers. The 1970s saw a steady decline in the volume of Puerto Rican farmworkers, and relatively few are found today in New York, in contrast to the concentration of Puerto Rican farmworkers in New Jersey and Massachusetts (a group that deserves further study). Anecdotal evidence also suggests that local teenagers, a previously reliable source of local seasonal labor, began to opt out of farm work toward the end of the twentieth century.

After four decades of New York farms hiring predominantly black workers-African Americans, Caribbean workers who settled in the United States, and Caribbean guest workers-for seasonal labor, a shift toward Latino workers gained momentum. With fewer African American and Puerto Rican workers being hired in the 1970s, New York farmers increasingly turned to Jamaican workers, both guest workers and those settled in the United States. Haitians fleeing Jean-Claude Duvalier's oppressive policies also had a presence on New York farms in the 1980s, and there are still some Haitians working on farms there today. By the late 1980s, farmers began to rely on a newer population stream, Latino workers. Three decades prior, small numbers of Mexican and Chicano workers, most of whom were probably American citizens, traveled to New York from other parts of the United States for farm work, settling in New York City and the lower Hudson Valley. Latin American immigrants became a more significant part of the New York farm work force in the late 1970s, and their numbers have risen steadily ever since. These Latino newcomers were arriving undocumented and, increasingly, directly from Mexico and Central America.

This brief history highlights the instability of Hudson Valley agriculture. Ever since the early nineteenth century, farmers have almost constantly needed to adjust their operational practices to respond to market changes and new forms of competition. Although they have successfully restructured in order to survive and even flourish, they have been forced to do so repeatedly. An equally volatile pattern is evident in the long history of changes to labor needs and the regional labor market. Although structural factors have allowed farmers to hire cheap workers at times (during agricultural and economic depressions, when the government played a role in supplying workers, and after mechanization steps), wages have increased at other times (during wartime and due to rural flight, the lure of nonagricultural jobs, and the increased demand for harvest-only labor). Records show chronic instability and turnover in the farm work force (family labor, community help, European immigrants, African Americans, apprentices, immigrants from urban centers, interstate migrants, guest workers, government-supplied workers, and Latinos). These factors have impacted the profitability of farming from one generation to the next. During periods in which labor costs seemed to cut into profits, employers developed resentment toward their hired hands. In addition, the period of community reliance was so formative in the development of Hudson Valley agriculture, and the use of apprentices who would work their way up to be farmers was common enough, that these led to an expectation of a work force that was cheap and readily available. Such expectations would be passed down from one generation to the next. Perhaps the most prominent characteristic of the region, however, is the racialization of workers in the nineteenth century, with their identity as a distinct class becoming institutionalized by the twentieth century.

The Current State of Hudson Valley Agriculture

In addition to the shifts in the labor market that I have described, the late twentieth century also saw substantial changes to agriculture in the Hudson Valley. Although the 1980s brought small farms to their knees all across the country, land prices did not fall in New York because of the expanded interest in the land by real estate developers. Higher land prices meant higher taxes, and the resultant economic stress gave farmers an extra incentive to sell to developers. Although the general twentieth-century decrease in New York farmland and cropland had largely peaked by 1969, the 1970s and 1980s showed a much greater loss of farmland and cropland in southeastern New York, including the greater Hudson Valley and Long Island, than in other parts of the state. Developers' pressure on the lower Hudson Valley has been a longstanding trend due to its proximity to the city, and the dairy sector in particular has been greatly affected. One former dairy farmer put it succinctly: "from dairy to hay to horses or houses." In general, the trend at the turn of the millennium was for land still in agriculture to be used for purposes more profitable than food production. These included nurseries and the cultivation of sod and flowers instead of fruits and vegetables. In the 1970s Dutchess County had the largest number of dairy farms in the state with 275, yet by 2009 it had lost about 90 percent of these, the number reduced to 25. Some of these holdings indeed became equestrian ventures and housing developments, while others became vegetable farms. Despite the consolidation and corporatization of its farms in the late twentieth century, small holdings still predominate in the region due to geography and development patterns. Forty percent of the region's farms have fewer than fifty acres.

By 1997, the loss of farmland to developers spurred one farming organization to describe the Hudson Valley as the one of the most threatened agricultural regions in the country. Antigrowth measures are one response to the surge in land development. Such efforts provide much-needed funds to farmers by compensating them for eschewing the right to sell land for development,through the government-, private-, and nonprofit-funded Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) and Purchase of Development Rights (PDR). Farmers receive a lump sum in return. In addition to development pressure and overseas competition, today's Hudson Valley farmer faces other significant challenges, including high property taxes, unstable commodity prices, the continued loss of young people to more lucrative occupations, and the ever more volatile climate. Fluctuations in both temperature and rainfall, often attributed to climate change, have become more pronounced. Veteran farmers, with a keener memory recall of weather than most of us, characterize these extreme conditions as unprecedented.

"Agriculture is New York's number one industry." In the course of my research, I came across this phrase and others like it again and again in public relations material for the state's agricultural sector. Despite the challenges and significant changes of the twentieth century, agriculture is still very important in the state, generating revenue of about $4.5 billion a year. Yet this industry comes nowhere near the heft of the state's finance, real estate, and tourism industries. However, taking into consideration the state's historical and cultural identity, land use, and employment, the case for its prominence is legitimate. In the Northeast, next to Pennsylvania, New York is the largest farming state. While agriculture in New York is small relative to larger farming states, it is nevertheless vital to the state's economy. And, despite its comparative position, nationwide, New York is exceeded only by California in the market value of direct-to-consumer sales, which includes farm stands, farmers' markets, and CSAs. Approximately one-fourth of the state's land is used for agricultural production, with 36,352 farms averaging 197 acres. Within New York, the Hudson Valley is unique due to the small average size of its farms. Table 1 offers agricultural data to place the Hudson Valley and New York in comparative context nationally.

New York is among the top five states in the production of dairy products, apples, cabbage, grapes, cauliflower, tart cherries, pears, sweet corn, green peas, cucumbers, snap beans, and squash. Yet the state's small producers struggle to compete with corporate agriculture to supply their produce to huge supermarket chains. Large retailers such as Walmart control produce prices nationwide and keep them low to attract consumers who will purchase many other items in their stores. Walmart dominates with one-third of the grocery market, and other big-box stores are heavily investing to expand their own grocery operations.At the same time, these retailers are keeping an increasingly larger percentage of the profits from produce sales, while those of farmers are declining. Another hand in farmers' pockets is that of the middleman transporter, whose costs are increasing with the rise of fuel prices in the past decade.

Now that farming is increasingly promoted as a central cultural component of tourism, maintaining the scenic presence of barns and working farms is critical. This need is addressed by land conservation efforts on the part of townships, counties, and nonprofit organizations. Forty years ago, the region was dominated by large dairy farms and expansive grain operations. Those are largely gone now, and today agriculture tends to be less land-intensive. In addition, new technology has reduced the acreage needed for farming. For example, on one of the farms I visited, apple trees were planted only three feet apart, an economy of space that was unheard-of two decades ago. As a result, we can expect to see the continued alteration of the agricultural landscape as the land required for food production shrinks. "I've seen an increase in the number of new farms every year," observed a relatively new farmer, but he continued, "Our impact on the land is another question because we don't take up the space that dairy farms do. Whether we'll be able to preserve open space in the Hudson Valley is a long shot."

Preserving open space and safeguarding working farms require different strategies that may be at odds with one another. A recurring topic among my interviewees was the high price of land, which is both a barrier to those who want to get into farming and an enticement for existing farm owners to sell to developers. One young farmer claimed that California's Napa Valley is the only other place where agricultural land is as expensive: "The soil is good here, but whether you want to put in a farm or build a house, it still goes for the same price." For this reason, conservation easements may keep farmland intact and prevent development, but they do not make land more available to farmers. Describing the challenges of farming on the "suburban frontier," one respondent bemoaned the estate buyers from New York City who were eager to preserve their open views, and who regularly leased sections of their land to garner agricultural discounts on their property taxes. Adamant that such practices would not save the region's farming, he declared, "We are creating a larger class of tenants and sharecroppers, and that's not right. I know that's our history in this country, but it doesn't get you to the best place for the land and food and agriculture." Some of these tenants are the new generation of younger farmers driven by the zeal of the food movement. And while leasing land does not carry the stigma that it did a century ago, the conundrum for the tenant farmer is the same as it once was. Do I invest in improving the land when my claim to it is so insecure?