Holly Ricci-Canham’s nearly 300-page effort includes 150 interviews, 400 photos
ALBION – Holly Ricci-Canham has a new book out that is a tribute to the “mom and pop” farms that were once commonplace in Orleans County.
The farms were part of a close-knit community with neighborhood schools and churches.
Ricci-Canham grew up on a “mom and pop” farm in Kenyonville run by her parents, Pete and “Mike” Ricci. They would relocate the fruit and vegetable farm to West Avenue in Albion. Her upbringing on the farm made her want to tell the stories of local farms.
“You see the gigantic farming tractors now, which is so different from the farming I grew up with,” she said.
Ricci-Canham, 63, interviewed more than 150 people and included more than 400 photographs for her nearly 300-page book, “Mom & Pop Farming in Orleans County, New York – The past brought to life.”
The book covers farm operations throughout county with sections about muck farmers, dairies, fruit and vegetable farms, canning companies, migrant labor camps, “ladies accounts,” technology changes as well as country schools, “kids play” and fairs and celebrations.
Many people she interviewed had strong memories of attending one-room schoolhouses and learning to drive – sometimes at age 5. They shared some hard times on the farm, and how neighbors often pitched in to help them get through it.
“Farm people are a deep, kind, loving people,” Ricci-Canham said. “They have an unconditional love of helping each other.”
Ricci-Canham’s son Andrew, vice president of student success for McLellan Community College in Waco, Texas, served as editor of the book.
John Long, a long-time farmer on Zig Zag Road in Albion, also helped edit the book and connected Ricci-Canham to many of the farm families. (Long and his wife Loretta are pictured on the front of the book with their sons, Jeff and Doug, in a photo from 1969.)
Ricci-Canham has the book in chapters, including one on dairy farmers. Rudy Kludt was among those interviewed for the section on dairy: “My Mother did a lot of work on the farm,” he says in the book. “She could milk a cow faster than anybody could milk a cow! She did all of the milking – Dad was out on the farm … we made butter. She sold eggs for groceries – sometimes traded for groceries. Today you can’t do anything like that.”
Rudy Kludt would also recall when the farm acquired its first combine in 1936. His father didn’t like the Allis Chalmers and switched to an International two years later.
The book shares memories from farmers of labor-saving equipment, from tree shakers to self-propelled harvesters.
Bill Lattin, the retired Orleans County historian, wrote the forward of the book, and praised Ricci-Canham for an “invaluable” book of local history.
“These are first-hand accounts relating to a lifestyle which has all but vanished,” Lattin writes.
Fifty years ago, few farms topped more than 100 acres. Now many farms in Orleans County work thousands of acres.
“In this book, farmers tell the history of farming in their own words,” Matthew Ballard, current county historian, writes in a forward. “Little is left for interpretation by the author, providing an informative and precise examination of our agricultural heritage.”
Ricci-Canham delayed the publication of the book by several months so she could include a chapter about labor camps. She interviewed people who lived at the former Coloney Camp in Carlton. (Any from the camp attended a popular night club, The Brick Wall, where a young Chubby Checker performed. The Brick Wall is where the current Olde Dogge Inn is located.)
The camp also didn’t have running water for the residents and was often rodent infested.
Howard Ward, a vice president at Rochester Institute of Technology, grew up in the camp. He would earn a doctorate in education. He said there was a strong community at the camp, with people helping each other.
“I never minded farm work,” he told Ricci-Canham in the book. “I picked cherries, all kinds of fruits. I didn’t like picking cucumbers. The fields were 5 miles by 5 miles and the plants were prickly. They used DDT back then and your hands would be green! I say it was because of cukes that I went to college!”
For the sections on fairs, celebrations & entertainment, Ricci-Canham writes about the world largest apple pie created in 1929 by Charlie Howard (before he started a Santa Claus School). In 1977, the 4-H Fair set a new record for the world’s largest apple pie. In 1931, the fair was the site of the world’s largest cake, which stood 14 feet high.
In 1859, tragedy struck during a celebration in Albion. Hundreds of people gathered to watch a tight-rope walker cross the canal. The Main Street bridge collapsed, killing 14 people.
The book includes a section on the canning factories. Ricci-Canham remembers growing up with the scent of ketchup at Hunts in Albion and the chicken soup at Liptons.
“The area smelled so good back then,” she said.
Canham will sign copies of the book on Sunday from 3 to 7 p.m. at Hoag Library in Albion. She had about 450 printed, but already is working on a second printing for January.
Ricci-Canham is a founder of Orleans County Genealogical Society. She co-wrote “Carlton and Point Breeze” with Avis Townsend in 2006, a book that is a photographic history of the community. Ricci-Canham also wrote “Legendary Locals of Orleans County” in 2012, highlighting prominent residents who excelled in civic affairs, business, agriculture, sports, politics and the arts.
The book on the farm families proved to be “the most humbling and most fulfilling experience of my life, short of having children,” Ricci-Canham writes in the conclusion.