For four generations a Trapani has been farming in Marlborough. Ben Trapani, at 71, is the current ‘elder’ statesman of the family. He laughs when he says his 3 year old grandson “little Scotty,” who is the fifth generation, may very well follow in his well-worn footsteps.
Ben said the founding of the Trapani farm dates back to his grandfather, also Benjamin, who came to the U.S by boat from Italy in 1916 and settled in the Bronx.
“It was two brothers and two brothers-in-law who came together through Ellis Island and stayed in the city until 1923,” he said. “The came up here and bought four parcels, each at 15 acres, 60 acres combined.” He said when the four arrived they were all single, but were married in the Bronx before they all moved to Marlborough. He recalled that his grandfather and his uncle married two sisters.
Ben believes the four men heard about Marlborough by word of mouth, “and they all stayed here and worked their little farms.”
As time went by the Trapani’s bought more acreage and planted additional varieties of fruit.
“It was not just apples, it was everything, grapes, peaches, plums, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, currents, tomatoes, all small stone fruits,” he said. “They would pack it by hand in wooden crates at their small barns and go down to the Milton station and ship it out from there by boat to New York.” He said later it all went by train.
Trapani said apples are the majority of the fruit that he produces, followed by peaches, plums and nectarines. Each year he makes sure to set aside two acres for raspberries, saying with a smile, “They’re my pets, they are my favorites. Don’t go messing with my raspberries.”
Trapani said in the 1950s local farmers also sold their produce at an auction in Milton that was run by Paul Quimby. He said people who had farm stands would come from “all over and bid on the stuff” from as far away as Ellenville. He said, “it was a really big thing at that time,” and today he brings his produce to 7 or 8 Mid Hudson Valley farm markets on a weekly basis.
Trapani said his farm has now grown to about 130 acres and he also rents another 30 acres. He estimates that he produces 65,000 bushels a year but expects that number will rise when some of his newly planted trees reach maturity. A bushel is equivalent to 4 pecks or 2,150.42 cubic inches.
Trapani also taught Physical Education in the Marlboro School district for 35 years while farming 100 acres of land by himself.
“I did it along with my teaching job because I loved it and if I could pay my bills for the year and have a couple of dollars to start off, I was happy,” he said.
Last fall Trapani finished a new 60 ft x 80 ft addition to his existing 60 ft x 100 ft building to allow more room to process his produce. He said his son Scott received a degree in Agronomy [science of soil management and crop production] from SUNY Cobleskill and is continuing on in the family business.
Trapani pinpoints Scott’s interest in all things agricultural, “from when he first started playing in the sandbox.”
Scott Trapani said they grow about 20 varieties of apples but their best sellers are gala, fuji, honey crisp and red delicious. He finds it rewarding, “to raise a product and seeing the outcome and people enjoying it.”
Scott said it is very difficult to produce organic apples because of the level of moisture in the Hudson Valley, as opposed to the drier areas of the country, like California and Washington State.
“Those are all desert regions where they [farmers] control the moisture; they’re not putting moisture on the skin of the apple so they’re not getting rot, any kind of funguses or apple scabs,” he said.
Ben said after his father retired he went out to Washington State to see for himself what was happening in his industry in that part of the country.
“They had a little rain shower one night and he was talking to a farmer and said, boy what a beautiful rain shower and they wanted to shoot him. They said we don’t want rain because everything they do was trickled on the ground so the water doesn’t get into the trees, get into the leaves and make scab spores that go onto the apple.”
Ben said it is important to know that farmers live and die at the hand of mother nature; recalling a quick freeze that happened a few years ago on Valentine’s Day that wiped out the stone fruit crop for a season.
There are two coolers on the farm, each with the capacity to store 14,000 bushels, that are kept at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and most of the time are filled with picked apples. He said by removing about 95% of the oxygen in those rooms they are able to put the apples to “sleep,” which gives them the ability to provide apples year round.
“If you went into that room before you aired it out there have been farmers who have died for lack of oxygen,” he said.
Scott explained that because organizing and packing apples by hand is so labor intensive they purchased an apple sorter last year, pointing out that they only process one type of apple at a time.
“They are dumped into the wash tank that takes out leaves and twigs and also removes rotten apples. You don’t want that on the line because it makes stuff sticky and it becomes a mess,” he said. “Then they go through a brush system that slowly cleans them off.”
The apples then pass under an enclosed covered section where they are heated to 120 degrees for no more than two minutes while a vegetable wax is sprayed on them. The machine brushes the apples one more time before they move into cups that continue along lanes on a conveyor. The machine gently tips the apples out by weight into one of seven drop spots along the line, toward a turntable where the apples are then packed by hand into sturdy cardboard boxes that are labeled by type and number count. Smaller sized apples are called “school sized,” aimed for young children and others are larger, classified as adult sized.
“The lower the number on the box the bigger the apple, the higher the number, like 140, the smaller the apple,” Ben said, adding that each box, no matter the variety, must weigh between 42 to 45 pounds according to government regulations.
When asked what a box of apples sells for, Scott quickly responds, “not enough,” but said a 140 count sells for about $13 per box back to him. Ben chimed in, saying the selling price is determined by supply and demand and the quantity of that apple that is available country-wide. Scott said they are very affected by the apples coming out of Michigan and Washington State. In addition, he said that apples shipped from Peru and Chile also play a role in the North American market because their harvest is during our winter when he is digging into his reserve supply.
It appears that the Trapani family farm will continue on well into this century, producing a wide variety of fruit for the marketplace. Ben Trapani said he and his the family take great pride in producing delicious apples, pears, currents and more for the public. Farming is the life that he loves and is pleased to see another generation carrying on the tradition.