What Fruitful Things the Land Brought

The cash crops that brought revenue to Plattsburgh back in the day

Story by Nicole Weber
Photos by Ryan Ward

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Farmer's Markets offer a variety of locally grown goods.

Pray’s Farm has been in business for 69 years. Blair Pray, general partner and co-owner of Pray’s farm and market, says his grandfather operated the farm when it opened in 1942. Suceeding him were Blair's father and his uncle; now Blair has kept it in the family by being one of the partners who oversees the operation of the farm. “Back then, life was much simpler,” Pray says.

“You did a day’s work and the best job to produce fruits and food for the public,” Pray says.

Anastasia Pratt, Clinton County Historian, says agriculture was a major industry for the town of Plattsburgh. Corn, potatoes, and other starch factories were a big source of revenue. Maple syrup and milk were also big sellers.

Previous city historian Jim Bailey says the majority of flour produced in Clinton County was ground in the 3-story W.W. Hartwell mill on Bridge Street, now home to the Plattsburgh Motor Service.

Though cash crops are known for being food products, other products that are sold and produce a lot of revenue can also be considered cash crops.

Besides cash crops, Pratt says logging was also a big contributor to the town’s revenue. “It was sold north to Canada, south to Albany, and to other surrounding towns,” she says. Potash was another resource that produced a lot of wealth. Potash is made by burning wood and can be turned into soaps, metals, and various other products.

“There was no agriculture within the city unless you count
marketing agriculture products.”

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Fruits and vegetables can be found at Farmer's Markets in and around Plattsburgh.

Up until the late 1800s, agriculture was the main source of revenue for the town and its outlying areas. Gerald Bates, Plattsburgh historian, agrees with Pratt. “There was a lot of lumbering going on and some mining. Agriculture was the biggest thing. “(Agriculture) really didn’t increase after the War of 1812,” he says.

Unlike the town of Plattsburgh, the city of Plattsburgh, which developed in 1916, did not have any agricultural production. “There was no agriculture within the city unless you count marketing agriculture products,” Bailey says.

As the city was formed to better supply the population of Plattsburgh and its surrounding towns, it is not surprising that the city turned into a big marketing industry. “The city was the major market for agriculture products grown in all of the 14 towns,” Bailey says.

After the late 1800s, manufacturing production increased in the town of Plattsburgh. “There was a woman’s shirt factory,” Pratt says. There were iron mines south and west of Plattsburgh. Logging was a business that continued, as well as agriculture, but both on a much smaller scale, Pratt says.

Farming still produces a fair amount of revenue to the area, and the North Country is still known for selling certain agricultural products.

“Over the course of time, things have gotten more complicated.”

Simon Conroy, owner of Conroy’s Organics and Conroy’s farm says, “(The North Country) is definitely known for dairy products, apples, and maple syrup.” Conroy's supplies to Plattsburgh farmers' market and also provide baked goods and beef to several restaurants and the North Country Food Co-op in Plattsburgh.

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Agriculture has been a major source of income for the North Country.

“In general, Clinton County is pretty productive with farm land,” Conroy says, referring to the business in modern times.      
In modern times, agriculture and farming is still a big industry in Plattsburgh and the North Country, but has greatly declined from the 1800s to early 1900s. “Over the course of time, things have gotten more complicated,” Pray says.

“Freshness is always the way to go.”

One reason for the decline in the farming industry is a shift toward modernization and an increase in other businesses. Another reason is the rules and regulations added onto farmers’ responsibilities. “[There are] so many rules and regulations you have to comply with. Even at small stance farms,” Pray says.

Pray also says a lot of big-name, monopoly-owned supermarkets have taken over, but he wants people to know that purchasing from local farms is the way to go. “A lot [of what is sold at Pray’s] is harvested the same day that it goes on sale. Freshness is always the way to go.”

Which cash crop did your hometown have?

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