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Monday, December 30, 2013 at 9:37 am

Possible electrical fire reported at residence in Elba

post by Howard B. Owens in elba, fire

A possible electrical fire is reported at 4346 Drake Street Road, the lower apartment, Elba.

Smoke is coming from the washer or the dryer.

Elba and Town of Batavia fire dispatched.

UPDATE 8:39 p.m.: Fire is out. Town of Batavia can go back in service, per Elba chief.

UPDATE 8:53 a.m.: Elba back in service.

Friday, December 27, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Mortellaro brothers savor life as onion farmers in Elba

post by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, elba, Genesee County Farms

This is the sixth in our series on Genesee County's farms and farmers. For previous stories, click here. (Obviously, I started this story in late fall and am only now publishing it.)

Onions. It seems simple, right? Plant a seed and a few months later pull up a bulb and soak in the pungent aroma of one America's most essential foods.

Try making a stew or a salad without an onion. Edible? Maybe. Good? Hardly.

But which onion? 

The cook considers white, red, yellow or perhaps green.

The farmer considers Bradley, Walla Walla, Candy, Sterling, Yankee, Sedona, Redwing and Crocket, among hundreds of other varieties.

A rose by any other name may smell just as sweet, but for the onion farmer, the name on the seed bag he plants in the spring has a lot to do with yield he can expect in the fall.

The seed, the weather, the soil depth, the week of planting, the plot location, length of storage and what's going on in onion markets all over the world are the layers an onion farmer peels away each season hoping to rediscover that savory recipe called profits.

"There are dozens and dozens of varieties," said Matt Mortellaro, co-owner with his brother Paul, of G. Mortellaro & Sons, and Elba-based onion farm. "It's hard to know each year which varieties are working well. Every piece of ground is a little different and every season is a little different. You can have varieties growing hundreds of yards apart and get different results. The rain falls more in one location. It floods a little more. There's the wind and the soil. You can have so many different conditions, which is why we grow so many different varieties."

Paul and Matt were born into this, growing onions on the muck.

Paul helped out on the family farm from a young age. Matt being younger was spared by more modern farm equipment the hours of grueling seed and sprout planting and weed pulling under the blistering sun on the black muck.

"Mainly, I remember riding around in the truck with my dad," Matt said.

Matt studied natural resources, conservation and biology at Cornell before deciding to concentrate on ag production and plant biology.

Paul set out as a young man to be an engineer, earning a degree with the University at Buffalo and he worked in that field for a few years before feeling the tug of the family farm.

"It was strange," Paul said. "The engineering wasn't bad, but it really wasn't the lifestyle I was used to. You go to work and you're done at the end of the day. I feel like I'm a farmer twenty-four-seven."

As a farm owner, you get up early to check the weather. You take calls from customers needing to pick up a load of onions at 11 p.m.  You make repairs, check crop reports and answer e-mails long after the guy with an office job has hopped in his car, made the long drive home and is tuning into Sports Center.

"That's typical for employees and I can't say I blame them," Paul said. "Without the ownership interest, they just disappear and there is no way to retrieve them. I guess I don't need that. I don't need to feel like my responsibilities end at five o'clock."

Paul and Matt's grandfather started the family in the onion farming business in 1935 with eight acres of muckland. 

Gerlando Mortellaro didn't speak English and worked other jobs to make ends meet. By the time he handed the farm off to his two sons -- Paul and Matt's father and uncle -- the family owned 110 acres of muckland.

The farm is 260 acres today, and while other family farms in the area have diversified and added crops on the uplands, the Mortellaros stick with with what they know -- onions grown in the dark, decaying organic matter that made Elba famous.

"I think I would like growing anything, but onions is what I know," Paul said. "I've been exposed to onions for 41 years. It's kind of in my blood now. I don't know what else to do."

Paul said he kind of imagines if he was plunked down in a strange country, it wouldn't be long before he started growing onions again.  When he meets strangers, he said, it's hard not to assume they're onion farmers, too.

 "I have actually said it a couple of times, kind of as a joke, 'tell me about your onion operations,' " Paul said.

Matt is just as focused on growing onions on the muck.

"I don't have experience commercially growing other things on mineral soil, so it's hard to compare," Matt said. "I know the frustrations of growing on the muck, but I don't know if that's different from growing different things on other soil types."

Both Paul and Matt have been able to find enough time away from onion farming to get married and raise families.

Paul is married to Tricia and they have two daughters -- Rosalie, 19, an engineering student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Grace, 17, a student at Notre Dame High School.

Matt is married to Stephanie and they have two boys, Mateo, 13, and Tiago, 10.

With the variety of onions the Mortellaros might choose to grow in any one season, there is one trait they all share -- they're what's known as long-day onions.

There are short-day onions and long-day onions. The two types use different triggers for when to form a bulb. For the short-day onion, it's just a matter of time, how many days since the seed was planted. Long-day onions know when the longest day of the summer has arrived and that's its signal to form a bulb.

Long-day onions not only grow better in our region, they make for better storage onions.

The Mortellaros sell onions all year long, even when temperatures outside dip into the teens and no plow can possibly till any soil.

In a good growing season, those 260 acres of muckland have filled the Mortellaros 50,000-square-foot storage facility on Transit Road with enough pungency to last into spring.

When customers need onions, or the price is right, Paul and Matt -- under the brand name Crybaby Onions -- almost always have onions to sell.

"With storage onions, we don't have to discount it to get rid of it," Paul said. "Out West, they sell onions for three weeks and then they're onto melons or something else. Here, you can just wait. If you don't like the price, you can wait. When you get a price you like, you go. That is a much better way to maintain steady customers. That's the beauty of storage, whether it's onions, potatoes or cabbage. You can sell it all in one week, but that's usually a disadvantage."

Storage adds to the pungency of an onion and Paul likes a pungent onion -- hence the Crybaby brand, but Paul warned the home cook not to think that storing a store-bought onion will improve its quality.

By the time an onion reaches the produce section of a supermarket, it's been through cold storage and a warming period, which is the onion's signal to sprout (an onion in its first year produces a bulb; in it's second year, it goes to seed). 

"The onion only knows it's ready to go," Paul said. "There's no turning back. It's really hard to buy an onion that hasn't been through the cold and warm cycle, so my advice is to eat an onion fast. Sprouted onions are actually very good, but you can always buy more."

With onions such a staple of America's diet, Paul and Matt always want to grow the best quality onion possible at the highest profit margin possible, even if Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate.

"Growing onions is somewhat of an art and somewhat of a science," Matt said. "Certain onions are ready for harvest in 95 days, others in 120. Depending on where you're planting, some need more time. Certain varities do better in different ground and some are marginal. Certain varieties produce more tonnage, but the bulb is not that great, and others don't have as high a yield, but have big, beautiful bulbs. So there's a lot of thought that goes into deciding what to plant in a particular piece of ground."

Onion farming, like the onion itself, may look simple from the outside, but then, just start peeling away the layers. The Mortellaros do it, day in and day out, 365 days a year.

Friday, December 27, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Farm truck on fire on Old Oak Orchard Road, Elba

post by Howard B. Owens in elba, fire

The cab of a truck hauling onions on Old Oak Orchard Road is reportedly on fire and stopped just south of Ridge Road, Elba.

Elba fire is responding.

UPDATE 4:08 p.m.: A chief is on scene. The fire is out.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013 at 10:16 am

Two-car accident reported at Oak Orchard and North Byron, Elba

post by Howard B. Owens in accident, elba

A two-car accident is reported at Oak Orchard and North Byron roads.

Traffic is being shut down on Route 98.

Initially, the accident was reported as minor injury, but the Mercy EMS response has been canceled by the chief on scene.

Elba fire is responding.

Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Car accident with minor injury at Oak Orchard and Lockport roads, Elba

post by Billie Owens in accident, elba

A two-car accident with minor injuries is reported at Oak Orchard and Lockport roads. It is not blocking traffic. Elba Fire Department and Mercy medics are responding.

UPDATE 11:42 a.m.: One person is complaining of back pain and another is declining medical treatment. Oak Orchard Road will be shut down at the intersection to accommodate responders.

Friday, December 13, 2013 at 12:59 am

The Notre Dame boys basketball team wins big at home

Notre Dame 83, Elba 39

Tim McCulley scored 25 points and had 10 rebounds to lead the Fighting Irish to their second win of the season.

The Elba Lancers opened up the scoring in the first quarter when John Hochmuth put up three points, but they quickly found themselves behind later in the second quarter.

The Lancers were not able to stop Tim McCulley as he scored 21 points on 18 shots in the first half. Notre Dame held a 37-15 lead at halftime.

In the third quarter Notre Dame went on a scoring streak. Scoring 29 points to Elba's 10. By the fourth quarter the game was out of reach.

Notre Dame's Josh Johnson and Elba's John Hochmuth each had 15 points.

Notre Dame's next game will be at home next Wednesday against Lyndonville.

Elba is 1-3 on the season.

Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 9:49 am

Two-car accident in Elba

post by Alecia Kaus in elba, mva

There is a two-car accident on Bank Street Road and Batavia Elba Townline Road with one person having a possible head injury.

Elba Fire Department and a Mercy Medic are responding.

Two patients are complaining of lower back pain in one vehicle.

The accident is not blocking.

UPDATE 8:55 a.m.: A second ambulance has been requested to the scene non-emergency.

UPDATE 9:18 a.m.: Two people have been transported to UMMC and Elba fire is back in service.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

Torreys keep farming all in the family

post by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, business, elba, Genesee County Farms, Torrey Farms

This is the fifth in our series on Genesee County's farms and farmers. For previous stories, click here. (Obviously, I started this story in late fall and am only now publishing it. I've got one other story that I started at the same time as this and hope to finish in the next week).

When you farm 11,000 acres -- growing cucumbers, green beans, zucchini, yellow squash, cabbage, pumpkins, winter squash, onions, potatoes, carrots and tending milk cows -- you always have something to sell.

Whether you always have a buyer is another matter.

Each work day -- spring, summer, fall and winter -- Maureen Torrey arrives at the main office of Torrey Farms in Elba at 8 a.m. to start marketing the products grown on the farmland owned by her and her brothers John and Mark.

She talks to potential buyers not just in the Northeast, but as far away as Texas and California, trying to get the best price, and sometimes just trying to set a reasonable price, to move perishables before they spoil.

Torrey is a graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in journalism. She was a Cornell Extension agent for awhile then worked in merchandising for Chiquita for four years. The merchandising job gave her a taste of how she could contribute to the family farm.

"I realized I really liked the wheeling and dealing," Torrey said. "The markets are different every day. It's all by your gut. You're looking at weather patterns and what's available and what your gut is telling you. You look at whether to raise the market or lower the market and look at who's short around the country."

The roots of Torrey Farms goes back to the founding of the nation. In 1626, the Torrey family left England and settled in Connecticut. But the rocky soil of The Nutmeg State wasn't great cropland, so as pioneers moved West, so did the Torreys, looking for better farmland.

John Torrey arrived in Bethany in 1803, and while there are still Torreys farming in the Bethany area, Torrey Farms as we know it today began in 1948 when Elbert Torrey, the grandfather of Maureen, John and Mark, purchased the 375-acre Higley Farm in Elba.

Don't let the size of today's Torrey Farms fool you -- it's as much a family farm as the one with 100 acres and 40 cows. Besides the three offspring of Charles Torrey running operations today, Mark's children also work in management roles on the farm.

Jed is charge of grain crops, Travis, daily labor, Lucus, harvest and planting, Shannon, marketing and sales, Molly, human resources and Jordon in accounting and marketing.

"We're very much a hands-on operation," said Maureen, whose three daughters are all in college. Jill is at Cornell, Julie is at Florida State and former Elba Onion Queen Jamie is a freshman at the University of Arkansas.

The farm employs 80 workers throughout the four seasons and brings in as many as 220 workers for the spring through the early fall.

Most employees, as is the case in agriculture throughout the United States, are migrants and immigrants.

After the weather -- if not before -- ensuring the farm has enough labor to plant and harvest is the biggest difficulty Torrey Farms faces. Both John and Maureen agree on that point.

"More than 70 percent of all the food in this country is planted and grown by immigrants," Maureen said. "That's pretty significant. Without them, we'd be pretty hungry."

Yet, there's an endless supply of politicians in Washington -- and it's been this way since the 1980s --  seemingly intent on trying to make it as difficult as possible for farms to get the labor they need to feed Americans.

"Our biggest challenge is the labor, the immigration issue," John said. "You're always going to have the variables of the weather, but the last several years, what we're most uneasy about is immigration."

Fighting against hard-headed politicians in Washington has put Maureen Torrey on a national stage. She's testified before Congress and worked with both labor and agricultural groups trying to bring about sensible immigration reform.

It hasn't been easy.

"We're trying to get some people in Congress to stand up and be fair and do what needs to be done for the country," Maureen said. "They need to make strong decisions and stop worrying about elections. They hear from some advocacy groups, from people who are well organized and use social media and send tons of letters, but they need to look at the meat of the issue and see what it means for the country and who is doing the work and how it's getting done.

"We've always got to educate a new batch of congressmen," Maureen added.

Like just about any farmer you talk to, the Torreys have tried hiring native-born workers, but it never works out. After six hours, maybe two days, the domestic workers leave or don't come back.

The work is hard and dirty, and there are too many handouts from the government to it make worthwhile for citizens stoop and bend in farm fields.

Misinformation spread about immigrants sucking money from that same social services system is what drives border crack downs and makes it harder for farmers to bring in crops, Maureen said. People come here from Mexico to work, Torrey said, not collect welfare.

And often their wages get poured back into the local economy.

"They talk about (immigrants in) the schools, but this farm land and our housing all generate school taxes," Maureen said. "They're also the best shoppers for our retailers. Three weeks ago, 42 brand-new TVs went back on the bus to Mexico. Talk to the store owners in Albion. They love these guys. It makes their business for them."

Monday, December 9, 2013 at 11:36 am

Law and Order: Alleged drunken driver accused of hitting two parked cars at Batavia Downs

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Bethany, crime, elba, Le Roy

Pamela Morrow, 53, of Linwood Road, Le Roy, is charged with DWI, driving with a BAC of .08 or greater and leaving the scene of a property damage accident. At 8:35 p.m., Sunday, Sheriff's Dispatch received reports of an erratic driver heading west on Route 5 through the City of Batavia. The car reportedly moved right several times and struck curbing. A witness reported the car turning left on Park Road about the time Sgt. Ron Meides was leaving the Sheriff's Office complex, though Meides did not see the vehicle. The car proceeded to the Batavia Downs parking lot where Meides located the car a short time later. Two witnesses told Meides that they had seen the car strike two parked vehicles before parking. Meides located Morrow inside Batavia Downs and brought her back to the car.

Frank Lynn Morrison, 32, of Bridge Road, Elba, is charged with sexual abuse, 2nd, and endangering the welfare of a child. Morrison is accused of subjecting a female child under age 14 to sexual contact. Morrison was jailed on $15,000 bail.

Lorraine Ellen Pillo, 48, of Summit Street, Batavia, is charged with petit larceny. Pillo is accused of shoplifting from Walmart.

Marion Jermaine Spivey, 31, of Elmhurst Place, Buffalo, is charged with harassment, 2nd. Spivey is accused of punching another person in the face while at the Clarion Hotel in Batavia at 6 p.m., Nov. 30.

Kevin J. Compton, 52, of Clipnock Road, East Bethany, is charged with resisting arrest and harassment, 2nd. Compton was arrested by State Police for an alleged incident reported at 4:56 p.m., Nov. 24. No further details released.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 1:41 am

Elba Lancers take Albion to closing seconds of season opener

post by Howard B. Owens in basketball, elba, high school sports, sports

A pair of 23-point performances by Jesse Pflaumer and Brandon Naylor wasn't enough to secure victory Tuesday night for the Elba Lancers in the team's season opener against Albion.

After Elba jumped to an early double-digit lead by pulling down defensive rebounds and getting easy baskets in transition, foul trouble in the first quarter and a rash of turnovers let the Purple Eagles grab a lead it never relinquished the rest of the night.

"When switched to zone, we gave up some defensive rebounds and they (Albion) ended up cashing in on them," said Head Coach Mark Beeler.

The Lancers battled back, erasing a 10-point deficit late in the fourth quarter and when Pflaumer hit all net on a three-point jumper from the top of the key with just 26 seconds left in the game, Elba trailed by only two points, 71-69.

"That's when I really had a feeling it was going to go our way, but give Albion credit, they executed down the stretch to close it out," Beeler said.

On the in-bound pass, the Lancers fouled Albion to kill the clock and then grabbed the rebound on the missed free throw. Chad Kowalik got behind the defense and had an open path to the basket, but the pass was just a little beyond his reach and traveled out of bounds.

Albion would inbound two more times in the game, drawing fouls each time, leading to more free throws, which lead to two more points and seal the victory for the Eagles.

"I was just really happy to be in it at the end after being down 10 in the fourth," Beeler said. "The guys showed a lot of character tonight, sticking with it."

As exciting as the game was, it was also sloppy. Both teams got into foul trouble early and Albion rang up a number of fouls early in the second half (Elba slowed the pace a bit for their fouls in the third period).

The Lancers had 30 turnovers, with more than a dozen of them coming on in-bound passes, while the Eagles coughed the ball up 27 times.

"I'd like to blame it on first game jitters, but we had four scrimages so we shouldn't be that nervous," Beeler said. "Thirty is a lot. They had 27, so I'm sure (Albion's head coach) is not happy either. The third and fourth quarters were helter skelter and the intensity was amped up, and when it gets to that pace and the kids aren't used to it, turnovers are going to happen. But, yeah, you're not going to win many games with 30 turnovers."

Despite the loss, Beeler likes what he sees of his team so far and thinks with five seniors in the starting line up, a run at a sectional title is not out of the question.

"I think as these guys play and the season goes on and we eliminate some of the errors, I think we'll be right there," Beeler said "We've got good size. We've got a lot of seniors. That's going to help us down the stretch."

Beeler also has a secret weapon on the bench -- Tom Nowak, the recently retired former coach of the girls team, the coach with eight sectional titles and a state championship to his credit.

Nowak has been filling in as a part-time assistant for Beeler, whose first coaching job was working for Nowak as a girls JV coach.

"He taught me lot and continues to teach me a lot," Beeler said. "It's been great to have him in practices and definately on the bench. It's like hitting the coaching jackpot as far as getting an assistant on the bench with you."

The team responds well to Nowak's presence, Beeler said.

"When I tell the kids he's coming to practice ahead of time and as soon as I tell them he's coming in, they get excited because they know they're going to get better that day," Beeler said.

Besides the 23 points apiece for Pflaumer and Naylor, Dan Scott had 14 points. For Albion, Dez Blackmon had 20 points and Manny Thompson had 15.

Top photo: Jesse Pflaumer driving for the basket.

Albion's Alex Bison.

Brandon Naylor at the free throw line.

Head Coach Mark Beeler

Naylor

To purchase prints of photos, click here.

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