Editorial: Giving thanks for local farmers and their workers

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 November 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Bob Brown, center left, and his brother Eric Brown are pictured with some of their workers from Jamaica. Bob’s son Bobby is in back behind Eric. The Brown family has run Orchard Dale Fruit Farm in Carlton since 1804. This photo was taken in the fall 2011 for article about farm labor for the American Agriculturist magazine.

Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, and many people will enjoy turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, salad, apple pie and more. If you like food, it will a glorious day.

None of it would be possible without the hard work of farmers and their workers. For some farms it’s a daily year-long effort. In fact, on Thanksgiving, farmers will still be milking cows, feeding them and cleaning barns. They may even deliver a calf.

The fruit farms also are a year-long commitment. After the apples are harvested in October-November, there is lots of work in the warehouse over the winter. The trees also need to trimmed, and that job often will get done standing in the snow during the dead of winter.

In the spring the trees start blooming and farmers need to protect the buds and emerging apples until harvest season.

Ken Nice of Knowlesville checks his fruit trees in bloom in May 2014. The fruit trees, with their colorful blossoms, are a stunning sight in the spring.

The vegetable farmers need to plan during the off-season. They need to order their seeds, line up workers for the next year, and determine which crops and which varieties will be grown in different fields. They want to stagger the harvest and not have everything be ready at once. (You can’t harvest it all at the same time.)

Agriculture is a difficult industry with wild swings in prices, an unforgiving Mother Nature and so much uncertainty with the labor force. It’s capital intensive and increasingly technical. You have to keep up with the times, and be willing to invest – or else you may not stay in business.

Orleans Hub is grateful to be an in agricultural community. We are one of the most diverse farming counties with fruit, vegetable, dairy, and grain farms of all sizes. We have organic farms and Amish and Mennonite families also working the soil.

The Elba Muck stretches into Barre and Clarendon in Orleans County, as well as Elba and Byron in Genesee County. Immigrants started clearing a swamp to create the muck in 1915. The muck, now in its 100th year, remains some of the area’s most valuable and productive farmland. This photo was taken last month.

Agriculture is big business around here. The 2012 Agricultural Census counted $150.3 million in farm revenue in Orleans County, which ranks 13th out of the 62 counties. Wyoming County is the top county at $318.5 million. Our neighbor, Genesee County, is fourth at $237.0 million.

The farms have been critical to other economic development projects in the community. H.H. Dobbins did a big $5 million expansion in Lyndonville this year, adding a 26,240-square-foot controlled atmosphere storage building.

Intergrow has expanded several times since opening a hydroponic greenhouse in Gaines about a decade ago. Western New York Energy spent $90 million building an ethanol plant in 2006-’07 and the company just spent $2 million on a new 800,000-bushel grain bin.

Lake Ontario Fruit opened a new controlled-atmosphere storage site last year in Gaines on Ridge Road. The company has made other upgrades to its packing lines.

Workers at Lake Ontario Fruit fill bags and boxes with SweeTango apples in this photo from September 2014. Lake Ontario Fruit packs all the SweeTangos in New York that are grown west of Rochester.

Pride Pak is building a new $15 million fruit and vegetable processing facility in Medina. It wouldn’t be here without the local farms nearby.

Two new yogurt plants have also recently opened in Batavia and they wouldn’t be here without so many dairies in the region supplying milk.

Many of the farms have upgraded grain storage facilities, equipment, housing for workers and also have donated to community projects, including the new library in Albion, the new residence at Hospice, and the Education Center at the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Agriculture, dating back to the pioneers in the early 1800s, have brought many hard-working families to the community.

The muck gave a chance for many Italian and Polish immigrants to own land and build a life in Orleans and Genesee counties.

The farms continue to draw immigrants, and many of them, such as the Rosario family, have opened businesses in the community. The Rosarios own the Monte Alban grocery store and the Mariachi de Oro Mexican Grill in Medina.

On Thursday, when giving thanks, don’t forget the farmers and their many contributions to the community.