TENS OF THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO, a glacier ripped through present-day Orange County and subsequently melted, leaving an ancient glacial lake — and one of the most fertile regions in the U.S. — behind. Over time, the body of water transformed into a bog, named “The Drowned Lands” by British and Dutch immigrants in the early 1800s. Then in the 1880s, farmers drained the valley and unearthed an agricultural gold mine.
Today, the land is called the Black Dirt region, and it encompasses southern Orange County communities including Pine Island, Warwick, Goshen, and Chester. Outside of the Florida Everglades, this region has the largest concentration of so-called “muck soil” in the country. The pitch-black soil is high in sulfur, nitrogen, and organic matter, resulting in a prosperous yield of produce and herbs. Pine Island’s Black Dirt farms are best known for their onions — the area hosts an annual onion festival (including an onion-eating contest) and crowned an Onion Queen up until the 1990s. If your local farmers’ market sells onions grown in black dirt, buy them — the damp, rich soil gives the onions a brighter flavor and a longer shelf life.