Henry Morganthau was always interested in agriculture but when FDR picked his head of the Department of Agriculture he picked a farmer from Iowa and later gave Henry the post of Secretary of the Treasury, perhaps the most important job during the economic depression.
These are Robert Morgenthau’s words about his father’s efforts to become Secretary of Agriculture. Robert Morganthau is 96 and still going strong. The whole interview is available on http://oldnewyorkstories.com
“And then father made a big mistake, actually it turned out to be lucky. But he brought the publisher of a farm newspaper in Iowa in to meet FDR when FDR was thinking of running for president. And he was the publisher of a paper called Wallace’s Farmer. His name was Henry Wallace. They were competitors to become Secretary of Agriculture, that was my father’s ambition. But the Protestant from Iowa had a leg up on a Jew from New York.”
Henry Morgenthau Jr. started Fishkill Farms in 1914, after studying agriculture at Cornell University. In addition to a fruit orchard, the farm was originally a dairy, chicken and vegetable farm. Over time, apples became the main focus, and by the 1950s, the farm was selling tens of thousands of bushels a year to local markets.
While he continued to run the farm with long-time manager William Morris, Henry led a life rich in public service. He was appointed Chairman of the Agricultural Advisory Commission in 1928 and the state’s Conservation Commissioner in 1930. His work paved the way for the Federal Civilian Conservation Corps, an organization that sent many young, urban men out into the country to save forests and farmland.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then Governor of New York, lived in nearby Hyde Park and was friends with Henry. When FDR became president, he appointed Henry Chairman of the Farm Credit Administration, which saved many family farms from foreclosure. And, in 1934, Henry became Secretary of the Treasury, a position he held throughout the rest of the Roosevelt Presidency.
FDR visited Fishkill Farms frequently. On June 20, 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill came with him. Henry’s son Robert, then a 22-year-old Navy Ensign home on leave from his Destroyer, served the President and Prime Minister mint juleps in the garden as they discussed the course they would take in the war. (Early film footage of that visit can be viewed upon request at our farm store.)
When Henry passed away in the 1960’s, the core of the farm operation, its barns and 270 acres of orchard, were passed on to Robert. After his service in World War II, Robert began a career in public service while continuing to operate the farm. He eventually became US Attorney in New York State under President Kennedy, and later, Manhattan’s longstanding District Attorney, the job he is best known for and has held for 35 years.
Over the years, Robert guided the orchard away from a wholesale operation toward a diversified farm. With manager Ray Morris, the farm began opening its doors to the public and allowing customers to pick their own fruit. They planted peaches, plums, cherries, pears, and berries to extend the pick-your-own season.
However, when Ray retired in 1996, Robert had no choice but to lease the orchard out to other growers. In 2008, eager to see the farm remain productive and vital for years to come, Robert and his son Josh decided to take the operation back into the family again. Josh is overseeing the farm’s revival and continued diversification while initiating its transition to organic practices.
In the tradition of the farm’s founder, Robert and Josh are dedicated to preserving the land as an active and productive farm, while continuing to improve their growing practices for years to come. They welcome your support in helping make these goals a reality.