The hamlet of Margaretville up in the Catskills has long been centered around a nucleus of small businesses and farms. First settled in 1763 by four Dutch families, Margaretville had a post office, hotels, small stores and an agricultural industry established by the 1840s. The cauliflower industry came to town after farmer William F. VanBenschoten planted the vegetable on a mountaintop overlooking the village in 1891.
Cauliflower throve in the region, and neighboring farms followed suit. The heyday of cauliflower, which lasted from the turn of the last century through the 1940s, supported a lot of people in the area, and it was such an important part of this local economy that the newspaper printed crop predictions and cauliflower prices on the front page. But with increased competition from growers in California and on Long Island, the Catskill-region cauliflower industry declined by the 1950s.
But its heritage lives on today in the annual Cauliflower Festival slated for Saturday, September 26 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Village of Margaretville Pavilion on Bridge Street behind the supermarket. The event is put on by the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce.
The celebration of farming, cooking and culture in the Catskill Mountains starts off with a longstanding tradition: the Tractor Parade. It begins at 11:30 a.m. Local farmers drive their favorite tractors along Main Street into the fairgrounds, circling the festival for all to see. Visitors can chat with the farmers afterward to learn about the tractors, which range from newer models to tried-and-true workhorses. There’s a photo op, too, for kids to sit in the cabs to have their picture taken.
There will be plenty of vendors, food, music and fun suitable for the entire family. The Pure Catskills Tent will have local cheeses, maple syrup and honey to sample, and for the kids there will be a petting zoo and pony rides along with hands-on crafts and entertainment. Hay baling demonstrations are planned, and some local weavers and fiber artisans will be present to offer fiber fanatics their type of fun. And look for the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown (Margaretville is a hamlet within that town), which always offers exhibits and special activities in its History Tent.
Then, of course, there’s the cauliflower: bushels of it to purchase, cookbooks with recipes to inspire and all the reasons in the world to oust that usurper broccoli and bring in the more elegant crown of snowy goodness – that vegetable that Mark Twain has famously referred to as “cabbage with a college education.”
Cauliflower Festival, Saturday, September 26, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Village of Margaretville Pavilion, Bridge Street, Margaretville; (845) 586-3300, www.cauliflowerfestival.com.Groundswell, Saturday, September 19, 1-5 p.m., $20/$30, Olana State Historic Site, 5720 Route 9G, Hudson; www.olana.org.