Back in the late 19th century, at the height of this country’s wave of European immigration, a young family from Padula, Italy, made its way to Poughkeepsie. They were called Adamuccio; the provenance was, until recently, unclear. What is clear, though, is that the family eventually changed its name to Adams. The boy, Ralph, was born in 1891, and he worked the fields with his father, a vegetable farmer like many of his Italian immigrant brethren.
In 1919, Ralph and his wife, Mary, herself an immigrant of Irish descent, born in 1890, borrowed $500 to purchase 50 acres of their own to farm. Located on Pleasant Valley Road — now called Route 44, the Dutchess Turnpike — they named it Fairacre Farm.
How would Ralph feel, seeing their humble farm 100 years later, now the thriving enterprise known as Adams Fairacre Farms? “He would be shocked to see the evolution of the business to what it is today,” says his grandson Patrick Adams, who now runs the company as CEO, with his brother Steve, the COO. The times and the region have changed dramatically over the past century, of course, and in many ways Adams Farms has mirrored those changes. Think of it as a living museum of the area’s agricultural and business history.
By the late 1920s, the farm was producing enough to sell its vegetables to grocers at a central market in Poughkeepsie’s Clinton Square. In 1932, Ralph and Mary started a roadside stand, selling to neighbors and travelers out of the barn that stood along a dirt road. Now armed with a staff of four — their children Diana, Dorothy, Ralph, and Donald — they increased their production to the point that, in the ’40s, they could build a farm stand on the property bearing the name Adams’ Market. They also acquired more land in Salt Point that included apple trees, prompting the first use of the plural Fairacre Farms.
The ’50s brought big changes to the Valley, and to the farm. The Adamses acquired their first greenhouse, which allowed the farm to plant seeds in winter for spring transplanting in the fields. It also led to a new line of business: the plants themselves. “One day, we put extra tomato plants in pots — and sold out in hours,” said Mark Adams, in a talk he gave about the farm’s history. “My dad [Ralph Jr.] said, ‘We got $3 a pot for a tomato plant, and we don’t get $3 worth of tomatoes off a plant. Go out in the field and dig them back up.’”
Left: In 1927, the family started selling produce at a market in Poughkeepsie’s Clinton Square. / Right: A bird’s eye view of the Poughkeepsie store in the ’60s.
Many of those shoppers were newcomers, brought to the area by IBM. “We had the produce and starter plants, the people at IBM had money and free time, it was perfect for us,” Mark said. “We grew up alongside IBM, and it was really beneficial for us.”
Until now the retail business was secondary to the farming, so the store closed after the fall harvest. In 1956 they stayed open year-round, selling produce from other local farmers and peddlers. Then, in 1957, the senior Ralph Adams passed away unexpectedly. The next year, his sons Ralph and Donald took over the business. They also expanded it, building a small store and offering local milk and eggs in addition to produce.
In the coming years, the next Adams generation moved into the family business. Mark Adams and his wife, Sue, started Mark Adams Greenhouses in 1978, to offer bedding plants and poinsettias to be sold in the store. A second store was built on Route 9W in Kingston, in 1981. By now, the retail business was so successful, the family no longer had time to farm themselves, and sold few, if any, of their own fruits and vegetables. “The stuff we could grow was like 1 percent of what we could sell,” Mark Adams said. “Also, the soil wore out, and deer became a huge problem.” Deer, once rare, became so plentiful they ate an entire field of green bean blossoms one year. “My father couldn’t believe it,” Mark said.
Donald Adams with sons Steve (left) and Patrick, who now serve as COO and CEO of the company
In 1998, their third store was built in Newburgh, offering a salad bar, prepared foods, a Sweet Shop, gift shop, and a gourmet grocery department. Since then, the Poughkeepsie and Kingston stores were renovated; a fourth store opened on Route 9 in Wappinger, featuring the company’s first hot food bars; and its newest addition, a bakery, opened at the Poughkeepsie location in 2018. After all, reaching 100 years is no reason to stop moving forward. “We try to keep our stores current, and we are always on the lookout for a new location,” Pat Adams says.
All of which would certainly befuddle Ralph Adamuccio. But if that’s not the story of America, what is?