New York may be known best across the world for the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, but the state also boasts a agricultural history with Long Island at its center. From the earliest days of the Algonquin tribes to the arrival of European colonists and the growth of large farm operations in the 18th century, to the present day, farming has been an important part of Long Island's economy and culture. Despite the challenges posed by urbanization, Long Island remains a significant agricultural region, producing a wide variety of crops and supporting a strong farming community.
The successful agricultural history of Long Island can largely be attributed to the favorable climate that supports the healthy and nutrient dense soils of the area. Long Island is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, and Long Island Sound. Featuring a unique and diverse landscape known for its miles of sandy beaches, Pine Barrens and wetlands. But one of the most significant features of the island is its fertile soil.
The soils of Long Island are primarily composed of glacial till, which is a mixture of clay, silt, and sand left behind by the last glacier that covered the area around 20,000 years ago. This soil type is known for its high fertility and water-holding capacity, making it ideal for growing a wide variety of crops. Long Island's soil is relatively well-drained, which helps to prevent waterlogging and allows for a long growing season. This soil is also rich in organic matter and has a high nutrient content, which helps to promote healthy and abundant plant growth.
Long Island's first inhabitants, the Algonquin tribes, took advantage of its abundant fresh water supplies, healthy soils, rolling hills and dunes. and while they largely relied on hunting and gathering for survival, They also utilized the fertile grounds practicing small-scale farming, growing crops such as corn, beans, and squash.
The arrival of European colonists in the 17th century brought new agricultural practices and crops to the island, including wheat, rye, and barley, as well as livestock farming. In fact, the oldest cattle ranch in the United States, Deep Hollow, is located on the eastern end of Long Island, in Montauk. English and Dutch settlers, as well as native Montauk Indians, established the area as a cattle ranch in the mid-1600s. Deep Hollow Ranch remains a working ranch offering trail rides to this day.
By the 18th and 19th century, Long Island was known for its bountiful harvests and large farm operations. Extensive commercial farming based on the production of grains and livestock dominated the area. This shift from subsistence farming to commercial farming was most notable during the 19th century as many farms became larger and more mechanized. The latter part of the 19th century featured many technological advances as well as a rapid population growth in New York City which fueled the intensive commercial farming activity on Long Island. During this time, the advent of the Long Island Railroad as well as the automobile had a significant impact on the transportation of farmed goods and further augmented the agricultural economy of Long Island.
After World War II, large-scale residential development consumed tens of thousands of acres of farmland on Long Island. The demand for both housing and commercial development increased, which led to the rapid conversion of farmland into suburban developments. The eastward movement of population that occurred resulted in the decline and virtual extinction of farming in the western portions of Long Island. Up until the 1950’s, Long Island was home to over 100,000 acres of farmland which has since experienced a significant reduction. Between 1950 and 1992, farmland acreage decreased by over two-thirds. Today, farmland on Long Island totals around 36,000 acres.
The farming community on Long Island remains
active and strong, despite its relatively small size. Today, many of the farms on the island, including Acabonac Farms, are committed to sustainable farming practices, which help to maintain the health of the soils and the environment. This includes using cover crops to improve soil fertility, eliminating
pesticide and chemical use, and promoting biodiversity within their farms.
The history of agriculture on Long Island is a story of innovation, adaptation, and resilience. Long Island's farmers have faced a variety of changes, but they have always found ways to adapt and thrive. Today, Long Island's farmers continue to play an important role in the economy and culture, and their legacy will continue to shape the agricultural landscape for generations to come.