Contributed photo

Looking Back 2/8

In the 1930s and 1940s, the cash crop that reigned supreme in the Catskills was the cauliflower. The cool evenings and warm days provided ideal conditions for the growing of the vegetable cousin of broccoli. With nearby New York City providing a lucrative market, dozens of local farms began growing cauliflower. In 1941, over 48,000 crates of cauliflower were auctioned in Margaretville alone, destined for the city. The crop was labor intensive: growing seedlings, transplanting to the fields (in many cases by hand) and tying the leaves around the forming heads to prevent the produce from turning green.

While cauliflower generally provided good money, market fluctuations drove prices up and down. In 1943, prices for a crate of premium Catskill cauliflower went as high as $5, but by the end of the same year, crates were going for 40 cents. Faced with a glut, some dealers would dump their surplus cauliflower in the East River rather than exacerbate the falling prices.

As quickly as the cauliflower boom came, it faded away. By the end of the 1940s a parasitic disease called “club root” infected the soil, and competition from larger farms upstate and on Long Island took over the market. However, for two decades, cauliflower was “The Pride of the Catskills.”

For more about cauliflower and the farms of our area, the Basket Historical Society (BHS) will present “Farming in the Basket” on Thursday, February 8, at 6 p.m. at the Long Eddy Hotel. Seating is limited. If interested, email baskethistsociety@gmail.com.

 

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