Southern Dutchess News
“Don’t buy too much stuff from New Jersey.”
That was my dad’s advice when I asked him for a Father-to-Son Father’s Day quote. We were visiting in the store he and his brother Donald founded in 1960, just two years after their own father passed away.
Ralph Adams was born in Poughkeepsie in 1923, on a farm called Fair Acres on the Pleasant Valley Road, at the top of Brickyard Hill. Back in those days, a lot of local farmers, including my grandfather, worked during the off-season in the brickyard where the Arlington Fire Department now stands. Many of those farmers were Italian immigrants, growing tomatoes for the canning factory that eventually became the IBM main plant.
Our ancestors hailed from Calabria, and we were definitely not related to any oldline Bostonians.
As I was growing up on the family farm, my dad taught me by example – if you got off work at 5 p.m., that counted as a “day off.” In the early days, everything we sold at the store was grown on the farm: apples, peaches, cherries, sweet corn, tomatoes, raspberries, you name it. Back then you couldn’t buy fresh vegetables unless they were locally grown – maybe you still can’t. We would harvest a couple hundred bushels of corn every day.
The “crew” was an assortment of school kids, transients and jacks of all trades. Over the years, I swear about 50 people named “Ruger” worked on the farm. My father complained that all the good help left to work for IBM. Ironically, with the 1,000 good people Adams now employs, we might have more people than IBM in the Hudson Valley.
My father graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Pomology (the science of growing fruit). He was in the same class as a lot of local farmers who made a good living right after the Second World War – Ed Fitchett, Bill Plass, Warren Wigsten, Bog Greig. Dad never talked about his service in the war, as a navigator on a B-24 flying missions over Italy. He also never told me he was a track star at Arlington High. I found out when I broke his record in the mile (4:30).
In 1969 I borrowed my Dad’s Ford Torino station wagon to drive some friends to the Woodstock Festival, promising to be home to pick corn at 6 a.m. Sunday morning. I made it back in time, leaving just as Jimi Hendrix was taking the stage.
One July Sunday in 1973, I told my girlfriend Sue to meet me in the cornfield at 10 a.m. We would be done with the early morning harvest, and I was sure my dad would give me the rest of the day off once he met my pretty new friend. Sue drove down in her new VW bug, and I introduced her to dad.
“Nice to meet you,” he said. “Here’s a pair of clippers. Get to work.”
He wasn’t kidding. And she still married me.
Now about that New Jersey advice. We hated to run out of fresh produce. But as the store got busier, sometimes we’d have to buy some stuff from New Jersey to keep up with demand. Following in my father’s footsteps, Sue and I grow all the garden plants sold at Adams Fairacre Farms. This spring season has been the best ever for gardening – thank you, loyal readers – and we’re running out of flower and vegetable plants.
I hope I don’t have to buy too much stuff from New Jersey. Happy Father’s Day, dad.
Mark Adams is president of Dutchess Putnam Westchester Farm Bureau and New York State Representative for the nursery/greenhouse industry to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
On Thursday, November 7, 2012, the Dutchess County Historical Society (DCHS) awarded Ralph and Doris Adams the Dutchess Award.
According to the DCHS Press Release:
Ralph and Doris Adams have devoted their lives and careers to the growth of Adams Fairacre Farms, a regional produce business that has grown into a complex of businesses employing hundreds of people over the decades and serving many thousands of residents of the region. In addition, throughout their lives, they have been quiet benefactors of local not-for-profits serving education and history.
The below is a write up by Ralph & Doris’s son, Mark Adams, as appeared in the Northern Dutchess News:
Ralph and Doris Adams are the proud recipients of this year’s prestigious Dutchess Award, presented by the Dutchess County Historical Society. Since they are my parents, I figured it might be appropriate to honor them with a few historical recollections, ones that you haven’t read in the dozens of articles that have been written about Adams Fairacre Farms over the years.
“Today Daddy took the roadstand down. A new one is already built.”
That’s from my diary on June 22, 1959. I was 9 years old. Ever since my “daddy’s” father started farming on Dutchess Turnpike in 1919, the fruits and vegetables had been sold out of a barn close to the highway, in front of what is now the Pastry Garden. After Ralph Sr. died in 1957, Ralph and his brother Donald decided to build a new store just to the west and a little farther back from the road. My dad said, “Do you think anybody will see it way back there?” That new 1959 store is the center of the present-day Adams in Poughkeepsie.
The new store sold only what was grown on the farm, and that was a lot: apples, peaches, strawberries, pumpkins, beets, peas, beans, watermelons, squash, even field-grown cut flowers. Then one day a man stopped by in a truck that said “Coomb’s Maple Products.” He was from Vermont and wanted to sell boxes of maple sugar leaves and little maple sugar figurines. My dad said, “No, we only sell what we grow.” But my brother John and I were in the store at the time and begged for the candy. Now Adams sells all kinds of stuff we don’t grow.
At peak production in the mid-1970s, we would harvest 300 bushels of sweet corn on a Sunday morning, starting at 6 a.m. so we could be back to the stand by 8. On the occasions when I drove the first load of corn back on an old 1962 Ford rack-body truck, people would crowd around as I unloaded the baskets. You couldn’t get fresh-picked corn anywhere else back then. In fact, it’s still hard to find.
We stopped growing fruit in 1960. My father might have been misquoted, but I heard it was because of the minimum wage law. Vegetable production wound down in the mid-1990s. A lot of reasons have been proposed for the decline in vegetable farming in the Hudson Valley, but I lived it first-hand, so here’s my explanation. It’s not because of taxes, or a labor shortage, or a lack of good land. The main reason was that high-quality products were coming from other parts of the country or the world at low prices. Also, the deer.
I remember when you would run for your camera if you saw a deer. One summer, we had a beautiful field of green beans growing on a piece of land we rented from E. Stuart Hubbard on Overocker Road. Deer came along and ate all the flowers off the tops of the bean plants. It was the first time my dad had ever heard of deer eating a vegetable crop. That was about 1975.
The family was always struggling with the decision to upgrade our technology, because in our hearts, we wanted to stay as a farm market. The insurance company made us pave the parking lot. My dad would say, “If people are coming to a farm market, why would they wear high heels?” Every decision–cash registers, shopping carts, even a time clock–was agonizing.
When IBM got big, and of course that was a big boon to our economy, my dad would wring his hands and say, “Anybody we hire that’s good will go to IBM.” Now with 1,000 employees, Adams might have more people than IBM. I know quite a few of our best people who took early retirement from IBM to work for Adams. Of course, it’s the people who shop at Adams that makes us what we are today.
What about Doris? She is the hidden talent behind my Dad. A folksinger who helped Pete Seeger build the sloop, vocalist at the Camarata Chorale, my Spanish teacher in junior high school, a social worker for many years at St. Francis Hospital, tennis champion, mother to four children, including my sisters Mary and Annie; and she once dated the late noted physicist Richard Feynmann.
Ralph and Doris are going strong at 90 and 87. When I dropped in to take their picture last Sunday, my Mom asked me to introduce her at the award presentation… My Dad asked to borrow a seed catalog so he could order some pumpkin seed for next year.
Other award winners at this event were:
- James H. Merrell, PH.D. who was awarded the Helen Wilkinson Reynolds Award for his scholarly research on the Poughkeepsie region.
- Saint Francis Hospital won the Business of Historic Distinction Award for serving our community since 1914.
Adams Fences was recently featured in the Home & Garden supplement of the Southern Dutchess News.
“When the time came for a new fence, David knew exactly where to go – to the same trusted firm that installed the previous fence – Adams Fences.”
“‘It certainly looks like natural wood, but there is no maintenance,’ David said. ‘I’ve even had friends and neighbors tell me ‘what a great-looking wood fence’ I have.'”
“Adams Fences offers a tremendous variety of fences, all backed by the ‘Adams’ name.”
-Click here to read full article. (PDF – 285 KB)