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Orange County, New York's Black Dirt

In case you didn't know, located in the southern part of Orange County, NY is a black dirt region. In the 1800's the Polish and German immigrants located in this region drained an ancient glacial lake. This draining left an extremely fertile soil.

The following is parts of an article that was written by Anisse Gross and published by Edible Hudson Valley (

Standing out here, you might not know you were just 90 minutes from Manhattan. Nestled in the heart of New York’s Orange County, the “Black Dirt Region” holds roughly 26,000 acres of the most fertile soil in the country. This miracle soil, black as night, is what remains of a glacial lake that melted 12,000 years ago. It’s illegal to sell and coveted by the farmers who understand its gifts.


Initially called “The Drowned Lands,” the swampy bog left by the melted lake wasn’t utilized by the first wave of British and Dutch immigrants, because they were unaware that a gold mine of mineral-rich black dirt lay beneath. In her book about the region, Pride and Produce, Cheetah Haysom writes that around 1880, Polish and Volga German immigrants arrived and “recognized the swamp bed as chernozem, the dark, humus-rich soil of their own home country.” They drained the valley through a system of hand-dug ditches, revealing the black soil, transforming it into the fertile farming region it is today.

Picture a bed of crushed Oreos. Jet black in color yet light in texture, the soil’s wow-factor is not just its arresting color, but its composition. Affectionately termed “muck,” it is between 30% and 90% organic matter; typical soil is less than 10%. Farmer Tony Bracco says that unlike most soil that needs constant irrigation and fertilizing, this black dirt is like a giant heap of compost: high in nitrogen and sulfur, and absorbent.


The soil’s high sulfur content helped make one crop king of the region: the onion. The sulfur helps produce the spicy yellow onions the region is known for. It also creates a high level of pyruvic acid, which is the reason you bawl your eyes out doing kitchen prep.

Black Dirt onions have the same amount of sugar as their sweet counterparts of the Granex variety—Vidalia, for example—but less water, resulting in a sturdier texture and stronger onion flavor, making them better for cooking and caramelizing.

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