Before tracts of single-family homes sprouted up on Long Island in the post-war years, potato farms were the most ubiquitous thing you would run into when driving out from New York City.
Once, the mighty potato was king of Long Island farming (there was even an annual crowning of a Long Island Potato Queen) the crop has dwindled. Land values skyrocketed and developers came in and gobbled it all up to feed the demand for suburban housing in the 1960s and 1970s.
Click here to see our series of great historical photos from Long Island potato farms.
Farming in general on Long Island still survives and potato farmers have found a way to press on, creating a niche market for themselves in locally-made craft spirits. Below we list some crazy and informative facts about Long Island potato farming.
- In the 1910s, Polish and Irish farmers came out from New York City to Long Island to grow potatoes
- The North and South Forks of Long Island were great for potato growing because of the sandy soil, climate and being close to New York City meant a huge marketplace to sell their crops
- 1937 newspaper article said that during the Long Island Potato Festival that year, “visitors will be given a sample bag of potatoes taken from the potato mountain In the center of the Fair Grounds.”
- Every year, a Long Island Potato Queen would be crowned; a beauty competition for the daughters of Long Island potato farmers
Photo: Courtesy of Ed Wesnofske.
- Potato farming reached its apex after World War II
- At that time Irish Cobbler and Green Mountain potatoes were the most commonly grown variety
- By the late 1940s there were over 70,000 acres of potato farms and 1,000 farmers on Long Island
- At the time, up to 80% of all farming on Long Island was dedicated to potatoes
- In 1968 there were 12,450 acres of potato farm
- In 1984 it was estimated that there were 14,800 acres of potato farms
- In 1996, there were about 8,600 acres
- Potatoes are still grown on Long Island and estimates range from 1,000 to 3,000 acres dedicated to potato farming
Photo: North Fork Potato Chips Facebook Page.
- In 1982, The New York Times reported on another Potato Festival in Yaphank saying activities would include “performances of folk-music odes to the potato” and “'Spud Sports'' events
- The professional organization, The Potato Association of America, held its 50th anniversary meeting in Riverhead in July 1963
- Potato harvest are usually from September through December
- Potatoes used to be picked and packed by hand, today it’s nearly entirely mechanical with weighing, bagging, sealing bags, baling and moving done by machines
- Long Island used to be one of the United State’s top five potato-producing areas
- A 2012 art exhibit at the Islip Art Museum was solely dedicated to potato inspired and themed art
Photo: Richs2182 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
- Lately, potato farmers have turned to other business opportunities to support their products, including locally-produced craft food and drinks
- Local distillery, Long Island Spirits makes their LiV Vodka from Long Island potatoes, along with their LiV Espresso Vodka, Deepwells Gin, Pine Barrens Barrel Reserve Gin and our Sorbetta family of Liqueurs
- Sagaponack Farm Distillery, another East-end based distillery, grows potatoes for its Sagaponack Vodka on its own farm
- North Fork Potato Chips is a Cutchogue-based, family-owned business that grows potatoes on their own farm. Some of these spuds are ultimately used to make their own chips while others are shipped to market