It's difficult to go a day without having the sturgeon in your panorama.
John F. Sendelbach's "Old Diamondsides," was recently unveiled by Dr. Tim Ryan and estuary education coordinator Stephen Stanne of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. With over 1,700 forks, knives, and spoons, the piece is composed of the largest cutlery set you will ever find in one place. Sendelbach was thinking about more than a showy piece to place in the spotlight when he assembled this. What I don't understand is why many of us walk in and out of CIA's swinging doors without being informed of what it means to be in the Hudson Valley.
I've been here for over three years now. Being a culinary arts student, I was required to memorize back in fish class where sturgeon is indigenous to. One test, and I could have walked out of here with an associate degree, knowing very little about the Hudson River. Being an active person, I took weekend adventures to orchards, vineyards, farmer's markets and other local events. But what about the Hudson River? What's so great about it beyond its murkish waters that come out of our taps which students refer to as "Chateau Hudson?" What about the History of this valley--how did the "breadbasket" evolve into what it is today?
For my final semester here, I decided to develop my own independent study, researching and writing about the Food, Wine, and Agriculture of the Hudson Valley. The first book I just finished reading: The Hudson: A History by Tom Lewis. It frustrates me that we have a beautifully crafted sturgeon statue shining, yet we receive nearly no education on the bigger picture of what it represents. We are perched right on one of the most influential bodies of water in history, smack in the middle of the breadbasket of New York. Being a researcher of the Hudson, I feel it is my duty to inform you of some bullet points about the river and its surrounding area.
Some facts about The Hudson Valley (because it's not just about apples and sturgeon):
- The Hudson is the home to a plethora of other fish beyond the sturgeon, such as large-mouth bass, perch, striped bass, shad, eels, tom cod and bluefish. In the 1640s, settlers recorded whales occupying the river as well, swimming as far as up to Troy.
- It houses over 80,000 beavers that provided early Europeans with a fur industry to support settlement
- The Hudson River originally had grape vines thriving off its steep banks for wine production.
- Explorers of the early 1600s noted that the river edge provided rich soils for the Native Americans to grow maize. Once harvested, they would mix it with meat or fish and serve it as a meal.
- Other trees and crops bountifully grown on the Hudson were chestnut trees and sugar maples.
- Beyond the fur industry was the lumber industry. Hundreds of trees were deforested and transported from the river's current downstream for construction.
- The bark of hemp trees in the valley provide a special oil used in the tanning process of leather-making. It gives a coating to protect the leather.
- The Hudson Valley is noted for harvesting some of the tastiest summer grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, oats and buckwheat. Some of the highest rated flours in the nation come from the valley.
- The Hudson Riverbanks contain rich clay essential for the brick-making industry. This industry further developed society around the river.
- The grounds along the Hudson River was the setting for countless wars that shaped our nation, such as the Peach War and the brutal and bloody Battle of Saratoga.
- The Hudson served as the platform for monumental figures (the Roosevelts), great victories (the day the British leave and US gains control of the river), and developments (the railroad system and steam boat).
- The Hudson's ice harvesting industry provided jobs for farmers in the winter. Hundreds of workers chopped up the river to put bread on their tables. The ice was shipped down its frigid waters to be stored in ice houses until the warmer seasons, when foods would need to be kept cold.
- The Hudson is a river of inspiration for writers, poets, artists, and architects. Some of these artists were unknown (more unsolved mysteries of the Hudson), while others became famous in their craft: Washington Irving, Mark Twain, W.H. Bartlett, Asher B. Durand, Thomas Cole, Andrew Jackson Downing, Frederic Edwin Church, and Paul Goodman.
- Despite all of this, the Hudson River has battled deforestation, pollution of physical contaminants, and toxic chemicals (PCBs, and raw sewage). Habitats have been destroyed (including the sturgeon's). At the same time, dozens of organizations such as Scenic Hudson, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Hudson Riverkeeper, and the National Resources Defense Council have helped to improve the river over the years. There's still a long way to go though.
These are only a few facts about the Hudson. It just blows my mind that there is not one course running on campus that encompasses educating us on what it means to live in the Hudson Valley, what it means to to attend culinary school on the Hudson River, what it means to be the future leaders of this industry.
My hope is that by the time you finish this article, you'll look straight into the hand-blown glass eyes (carefully created with the finesse and intricacy of Jeremy Sinkus) of the sturgeon, and feel as though you understand why it's here.