Last winter I was listening to the NPR podcast, Planet Money and my ears perked up when they mentioned Pine Island, NY, a small village just a few miles from my daughter’s home in Warwick, NY. We’d been to a local winery there, and driven though on our way to places beyond, but it never struck me as anything special. But apparently Pine Island has some of the richest soil to find anywhere; so rich, in fact that it’s known as the Black Dirt Region. The dirt is the result of the deposits made by glacial lakes over 12,000 years ago. After a very slow thaw the bogs collected rich minerals that feed the soil and produce rich and intensely black dirt that’s especially suitable for growing the ubiquitous onion.
Being from Washington I associate onions with Walla Walla, but apparently the Walla Walla can’t hold a candle to Pine Island onions. The Planet Money team reported that back in 1955 an onion farmer, Vincent Kosuga, in Pine Island, cornered the market by buying futures in onions – betting on a drop in price. He then purchased all the onions he could from anywhere in the country and stashed them in warehouses. Next he literally dumped the onions in the Chicago trade center, creating a glut of onions causing the price to drop through the floor. Vince raked in over 8 million in 1955 dollars.
A lot of onion farmers lost a lot of money. Congress stepped in to pass a law that prohibits purchasing onion futures, protecting onion farmers from then till now. So onion farming is now still strong In Pine island. They just had their annual Onion Festival complete with an onion eating contest – a timed event to see which contestant can chomp their way through a raw onion the fastest.
I didn’t make it to the onion festival in Pine Island, but I did find a plethora of onions at the farmer’s market in the neighboring village of Warwick. The market was bursting with fresh onions - also corn, tomatoes, peaches and so much more. And since Warwick and Pine Island are about an hour’s drive from Woodstock, NY, our market visit was enhanced by Woodstock revival tunes played by a local band.