I live about 45 minutes north of NYC and about two hours south of Albany, NY. My town is at the edge of suburbia and right before the “boonies”, depending on who you talk to. The good thing is, I can drive to a numerous number of farms within an hour. And not surprisingly, there are farmers markets in practically every town and you can be assured that the products are fresh and driven on Saturday mornings within two hours before getting to the markets.
Regardless how easy it is to get to farms, it’s still a treat to visit them. Here are some of my favorites.
I live within a ten minute drive to Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture where Michelle Obama visited a few weeks ago with some wives from the UN Assembly, to promote healthy eating and organic farming. The center has a restaurant called Blue Hill at Stone Barns where it’s almost impossible to get a reservation and its Manhattan restaurant by the same name is also where Obamas had their famous date after Mr. Obama became the President. We love their organic apple pies, fresh eggs, organic vegetables, and grassfed-pasture-raised meats.
Last weekend was our first apple picking weekend at the Weed Orchards – about an hour drive north. We picked Fuji and Golden Delicious and I baked my famous Apple Hill Cake after we came home. And I gave out some apples to neighbors, friends, and family. Picking apples is fun but sharing them is more fun. I think. What are we going to do with all of them anyway?
I visited a new farm called Hemlock Hill Farm yesterday, thanks to my friend Lorraine, a scratch cook/foodie, cooking blogger, and an amazing copywriter, who needed to stock up on grassfed meats for her family. Hemlock Hill Farm is on a 120 acre of land, surrounded by hemlock trees, hence the name. The farm has been in the family for three generations since 1939. Ironically, in order to get to the farm, I passed many new Mc Mansion developments along the way. It was like finding a “diamond in the rough”, amidst the new housing developments surrounding the farm.
Animals at Hemlock Hill Farm are naturally raised on the pasture, free roaming. Black Angus Cows graze grass on the pasture most of the year and for three cold months, they are fed sprouted brewer’s grain from a local brewery. Why? They state that the meats taste better with a little bit of grain, not as gamey, and when they can not graze due to the weather, it’s a good substitute for food. Pigs are strictly fed grain. Lambs graze grass, weather permitting. In colder weather, they are fed brewer’s grain also. The chickens, geese, and ducks are pasture raised, free roaming, and are fed natural grain as well. None of the animals are fed with hormones or antibiotics and only the cows are sent to a slaughterhouse but other animals are slaughtered at the farm.
Coincidentally, Lorraine’s article on “Nose to Tail Eating” (photo is graphic on the first page) is featured in this month’s Valley Table. She writes frankly about the recent phenomenon among chefs, including Dan barber (of Blue Hill Restaurant), who are going back to the roots of serving everything – I mean, everything – from nose to tail and everything in between. It’s an honest detail of what chefs are doing regarding sustainable cooking and how nothing is wasted when an animal is used for food. Graphic but fascinating.
Spending time with an old friend is such a treat in itself but at a local farm, on a gorgeous crisp Autumn day and a leisurely lunch afterwards? Can’t beat that. We’ve known each other since our kids were in 6th grade. We cheered our kids at fencing meets. We worked together on Teacher Appreciation Luncheon for two years when she wanted me to help her come up with eco-friendly gifts for 100+ teachers and staff. We decided on reusable utensil pouches – utensils included – and reusable stainless water bottles and they were a hit! She blogs about her annual ritual of trekking up to upstate NY to buy grass-fed meats for her carnivorous family although she’s a vegetarian and how important it is to compost even in a small apartment. She even wrote about 10 earth-friendly kitchen tips 0n her scratch cooking blog.
So it’s no accident that our long overdue lunch would take place after foraging for our provisions at a local farm.
After we packed our cars with what we were able to pack in our insulated totes, we headed over to The Perennial Chef in Bedford Hills for lunch. Chef Michael, Leslie (his sister), and Francoise manage this gem of a gourmet take-out/cafe – it’s almost a shame that they do not have another name for an establishment like this instead of calling it a “take-out” place.
At first, I wasn’t sure how Lorraine would like the food since she is a chef herself who cooks from scratch and a believer of slow food movement. But we were delighted with the choices we made – with Leslie’s recommendation – for our delicious lunch.
I had “Vegetarian Manicotti” which was exquisite. It was filled with all sorts of roasted vegetables with a little bit of cheese, not overpowering the flavor of medley of eggplant, zucchini, red onion and roasted peppers…I think. I was too busy eating that I didn’t dissect the food to see what I was stuffing my mouth with. I also had “French Lentil Salad” that was just so alive in texture – not mushy or too hard. It was so flavorful with bits of onion. Leslie recommended “Vegetable Gratin” and roasted vegetables – broccoli and cauliflower- for Lorraine. We shared and tasted each other’s foods and all we can do was roll eyes in disbelief how great everything was and just mumbled some words of delight and chewed every little morsel of flavor out of each ingredient. Leslie also treated us with Hazelnut Mousse and a Chocolate Cake (sorry Leslie, but I couldn’t think of the name but it was something decadent) but sadly, by the time we got to dessert, we couldn’t even finish them. But they melted in our mouths even before we slid the forks out of our lips.
It was such a grand and splendid day.
Our conversation didn’t stop. We couldn’t stop talking about food and farming. We spilled our guts about our professions – the ups and downs. She filled me on her recent trip to India as a live blogger for Global Maternal Health Conference in New Delhi. We talked about kids. We pondered about ‘life’ and what else is there? We didn’t want to leave and go back to our expected roles of moms and wives, among other extremely important invisible ones.
We promised to meet at Hemlock Hill Farm in two weeks when their next shipment of beef will arrive from the slaughterhouse. As sad as that might sound, that option is so much better than buying meats from supermarkets where they buy from CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).
And hopefully, we’ll get to the Perennial Chef again and taste what Chef Michael has cooked up for the week then.
Other Farms I’ve visited in the past:
Westchester Greenhouse, Hartsdale, NY – purveyor of local farm products mixed in with their own. A great gem of “almost like being on the farm” in the middle of the county, without driving an hour to get to.