The decline of NY hop farming… and hop orgies?

hoppickers.jpgI came across a fascinating article from The New York Times today, one of those finds that makes you wonder “is there anything that isn’t on the Web?”  The article in question was originally published September 9, 1894, and is available as a free PDF of the original print.

HOP INDUSTRY IN THIS STATE: In Madison and Oneida Counties it is of Much Importance,” the headline blandly states.  But following the unassuming title is a treasure-trove of historic insight and titillation. 

The article begins with an overview of the signficance of hop farming in Central New York and investigates its decline over the past ten years, which the writer attributes to several factors, not the least being greed.  According to the article, in 1883-1884 there was a hop shortage (sound familiar?) due to the failing of crops in England and Australia.  Already a major source of the world’s hops, Central New York farmers drastically increased their prices and made a killing. 

However, this spurred the search for new sources of hops, and that search ended in the state of Washington, where land was fertile and plentiful, and the help was cheap. 

Is history repeating itself?  Perhaps I am trying too hard to make a connection, but it seems the hop shortage of today has spurred a similar search for new hop resources.

All very fine and interesting, you might say, but what about the orgies?  Where do they come in? 

After a summation of the economic signifance of hop farming, the article shifts to an exploration of the hop-picking culture.  This section goes into much detail and tawdry supposition.

Apparently, the big draw for seasonal hop-pickers was not just financial.  “Hop-dig” was the local slang for the post-harvest jamboree held in a baling room or a boarding hall.  All the dance and drink caught the eye of the Syracuse Rescue Mission:

“The devil has long had a monopoly of the fields.  Every year thousands of men, women, and children engage in hop picking.  The worst elements from the cities of Central New York go, besides many respectable families.  It is a sort of vacation for many, where the restraints of home life are laid aside…”

Innocent celebrations or depraved “orgies of the hop field?”  We may never know. 

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