Agriculture and the Abundance of the Hurley Flats
The Farm Hub stretches southward from the city of Kingston, New York through the towns of Ulster, Hurley and Marbletown across the vast fertile land known as the “Hurley Flats.” Bordered by the rising foothills of the Catskills to the west, and the Esopus Creek to the east, this dramatic landscape was formed thousands of years ago by a receding glacier. Mineral rich deposits created the exceptional top soil that is some of the best agricultural land in New York State.
By the time Henry Hudson wrote about the Valley that bears his name, calling it “the finest land for cultivation I have ever set foot upon,” these fertile flatlands along the Esopus Creek had been under agricultural production for hundreds of years. Indeed, the Algonquin Lenape tribes had long utilized the rich soils and abundant creek waters to produce food. In addition to fishing, hunting and foraging, the Lenape grew the three sisters: corn, beans and squash, while regenerating flora and clearing areas for cultivation through the burning of forest and brush.
Colonial Dutch and English settlers were, of course, drawn to the Rondout and Esopus Valleys for their significant farming potential. The village of Hurley, or “Nieuw Dorp,” was established by the Dutch in 1662, and over the course of 150 years, alongside the towns of Marbletown and Rochester, became a thriving agricultural center, known at its peak as the “bread basket of the Colony.” As the Dutch developed the production and processing of grains, flour was transported in large quantities along the Kings Road (Route 209 and historic native American trail) and shipped down the Hudson River to New York City and beyond.
In the nineteenth century, the opening of the Erie Canal proved devastating for the region’s wheat growing economy as farm products from the Midwest entered local markets. Many farmers turned to dairy, and the production of cheese and butter flourished when rail lines were active in the first half of the twentieth century. These years also saw the expansion of corn and hay production. Today the Hurley Flats are predominantly planted in corn, vegetables, and hay.
Dramatic changes in the natural environment, societal shifts, and evolving economics have, throughout history, forced agriculture to change and adapt. Farming in the Hudson Valley has proven no exception. Nonetheless, much has endured: the beauty of the land and sky, the waterways, and the soil’s potential to provide an abundance of healthy food. Here along the Lower Esopus, these fine attributes are not only keeping strong family farms producing, they also hold the promise of discovery; of new ways to adapt, to care for nature’s resources, and to feed future generations.
*Header photo: David Johnson – “A Study at Hurley” (1858) Hudson River School
- History of the Gill Farm, by John Gill
- Order a copy of “A Brief History of Farming in the Rondout Valley” by Susan Krawitz and Fabia Wargin by emailing Deborah Dewan at the Rondout Valley Growers Association (RVGA). This publication is offered for sale as a fundraiser the RVGA.
- View the Hurley Flats in the album: HV Farm Hub Farmscape