The Famous Black Dirt Onions of Pine Island NY
The black earth in Orange County, NY grows some of the best onions in the world. A. Gurda Produce is located on a Black Dirt Farm, Pine Island NY.
Through an odd twist of geological fate, some of North America’s most fertile soil lies an hour’s drive from Manhattan pavement, in the 22 square miles of Orange County, N.Y., known as the “Black Dirt” region.
The vast majority of onions grown in the Black Dirt are nevertheless those yellow onions, about the size of a baseball with a coppery paper skin, the kind sold in East Coast grocery stores in two- three- and five-pound mesh bags. They’re virtually anonymous in the marketplace; you’ll know they were grown in the Black Dirt town of Pine Island only if you read the fine print, or see the jet-black soil that occasionally still clings to their roots.
These “workhorse onions”, which are available from the beginning of harvest in August through February or March and are great for cooking. They may not have a catchy trademark or a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, but they speak loud and clear on the plate, for one simple reason: the dirt!
“With other soils, you’re lucky if you have 10 percent organic matter,” said Maire Ullrich, an Orange County agricultural extension agent. “In the Black Dirt, we have 30 to 50 percent and sometimes up to 90 percent organic matter. It’s basically a giant bowl of compost.”