They're agrarian images of days gone by, from the late 1800s to the 1970s.

A horse-drawn wagon loaded with a mountain of freshly harvested hay crosses an open field under puffy white clouds. A beauty queen, wearing a crown and white gloves, smiles as she stretches her arms over a pile of apples. An elderly farmer in overalls cradles a plump white chicken and poses for his portrait.

The vintage black-and-white photographs are among more than 7,000 from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture's vast collection in the state archives in Trenton.

After 20 years of work to index and describe each image, more than 2,000 can now be viewed through the archives' searchable online site at http://www.state.nj.us/state/darm/links/agphotos.html. Copies can be ordered online for $25.

The collection richly illustrates farm life in New Jersey - from growing, harvesting, and selling produce, to animal husbandry and employing various agricultural techniques and machinery.

There are pictures of dairy princesses, blueberry queens, and 4-H Club members and shots of family farms, produce stands, and tomato inspectors at a Camden cannery.

The online archive will be launched officially by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher at a June 15 ceremony at the Howell Living History Farm in Hopewell Township, Mercer County. The farm is an educational facility open to the public.

"It reminds us why we're called the Garden State," said Joseph Klett, chief of the state archives. "You really see the full range of agricultural industry.

"The [state] Department of Agriculture was in the business of promoting New Jersey's farming and wanted to document everything the farmers were doing."

Photos - which appeared in newsletters, annual reports, and other publications - captured life the way it was. Four glum-looking farmers gather around signs announcing the public auction of livestock, machinery, and household goods in the 1920s. Workers bail hay, cows graze, children play with sheep.

For historians, pictures of the farm tools, machinery, and buildings are especially illuminating.

The Living History Farm had been looking at the images in order to re-create the look of a farm from 1890 to 1910, Klett said.

"If they want to know what a pitchfork looked like in 1905, then this [photo collection] is where they'll find it," he said.

"Other agricultural museums and living history farms also are starting to look at the collection, whether they're in Michigan or California," Klett said. "This isn't just for the people in New Jersey."

The archive photos "are an extraordinary record," said James Turk, director of cultural affairs and tourism information services in Salem County and a member of the state Historical Records Advisory Board. "Agriculture remains an important industry in Salem County and the photos allow us to see it then and now."

Some of the images are similar to those captured today by Lynne Richmond, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture.

"For some people, it's nostalgia," she said of the collection. "They'll look at them and know somebody or some place" in the pictures.

Jack Davis spotted a familiar face from Mercer County. A researcher and member of the board of trustees of the Hopewell Valley Historical Society, he saw an image from 1949 of a beloved local veterinarian who died this year at 100. The vet was tending to a sick cow.

"It was a great item for an article in the [society's] newsletter," Davis said. "The photos in the archives are wonderful.

"They bring back a more innocent era."

Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.