Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture : Pocantico Hills, NY Farm Tour

After spending two days at the Kilpatrick Family Farm in Middle Granville, NY this past April, I was able to head south to Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. For most young farmers—especially those of the “organic,” “locavore,” and “sustainable” persuasion—a trip to Stone Barns Center is kind of like a trip to Disneyworld is for a child, filled with inspiring wonder and magic, a place you dream about not only visiting but also experiencing.

Stone Barns Center is a walking exhibit of how the entire farm-to-table concept can work in real life. Situated in the Hudson Valley just north of New York City, the center farms six acres of vegetables plus over 22,000 square feet of four-season greenhouse space. A number of animals also contribute to Stone Barns’ ecosystem, with cattle, pigs, sheep, bees and chickens all represented. Everything grown and raised at Stone Barns Center is used in their very own restaurant and cafe or sold at local markets. It truly is a triumphant demonstration in how a farm focused on growing and using local, can be a successful business enterprise.

But above all, Stone Barns Center is about education and their success at drawing families and individuals out of their city dwellings to experience the “great outdoors” was obvious the day I visited. In a very honest, down-to-earth way, Stone Barns Center is not unlike many of the farm education “centers” available to families across the country. I was reminded of how Cosley Zoo in my hometown of Wheaton, IL provides the same educational opportunities to Chicago suburban families through programs like “Morning Chores” where kids can see what its like to care for and feed farm animals. Just 26 miles from me and in downtown Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo’s Farm-in-the-Zoo exhibit allows kids to “experience hands-on lessons on the origins of food.” Take an entirely different demographic in the farm-state of Ohio, and there is Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs where families can spend a day feeding goats, petting baby calves and learning how milk turns into ice cream. All of these are examples of the ongoing efforts to educate the public about agriculture, each catering to their unique, local audience.


Stone Barns Center has over 22,000 square feet of greenhouse space that allow for four-season growing. The greenhouses use minimal heating, even in the coldest of winter months.


No pesticides, herbicides or chemical additives are introduced to the soil at Stone Barns Center. Instead, the farmers rely on compost created created from Stone Barns’ natural agriculture waste products and other natural elements like grass clippings and leaves.

Over 200 varieties of produce are grown year-round at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. Click here to read about Claytonia, a plant often eaten raw in salads.


The greenhouse roof can be raised and lowered to make maximum use of the the sun and wind.


Stella, a Great Pyrenees, keeps guard over the sheep.


You won’t see any traditional “red barns” at Stone Barns Center. Instead, these modern hoop buildings house the various types livestock.

The actual “stone” at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture where both the restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and the cafe are located as well as the administrative offices and classroom/event space.

Planting Onions at Green Earth Institute

green earth institute planting onion seeds

Yesterday I headed over to the Green Earth Institute, located at the McDonald Farm in Naperville, IL, to help plant onion seeds. The work is pretty simple: take a tray divided into 72 dirt-filled cells, pour a handful of seeds into a folded index card, use an untwisted paper clip to carefully separate eight tiny little seeds and gently shuffle the eight seeds into in single cell of dirt. Repeat 72 times until every cell has seeds.

I specifically worked on planting Parade onion seeds. With a germination rate of 80%, the eight seeds planted per tray will likely yield bunches of 6 scallions, which will all grow and be harvested together—not unlike the bunches of scallions you pick out at the grocery store.

I found hand-planting seeds to be a heart-warming activity, especially in the dead of winter that is mid-February in Chicago. The task is simultaneously tedious yet calming, repetitive yet meditative. Anyone who knows their numbers one through eight can participate, which means even young children can contribute to this early-season chore, while the purposeful nature of the work makes it an engaging task for “more mature” volunteers, too.

I always enjoy volunteering at the Green Earth Institute, not only because the work you do is gratifying, but also because the other volunteers you meet are genuine and gracious. I leave filling inspired and encouraged by the conversations I share with fellow volunteers. Easily ranging from simple get-to-know-you questions like “Do you have any pets?” to topics of more depth like the importance of Norway’s seed bank, the conversations shared over a tray of seeds yesterday reminded me (again) that farming is not just about loving and enjoying the land; it’s about loving and enjoying people, too.

green earth institute volunteer at csa naperville farmgreen earth institute csa farm naperville onion plantingonion seeds in jar ready for planting naperville il farm csavolunteers plant onions at green earth institute conservation center naperville ilgreen earth institute learn about gardens and farmssteve tiwald at green earth institute onion planting naperville ilonion seeds in package ready for planting naperville il csagreen earth institute onion plants ready to grow csa napervillesteve tiwald green earth institute sarah parisi farm photography illinoisonion seeds in trays ready to grow naperville csavolunteer at local csa farm in naperville ilsoil growing onions naperville il csa farm green earth institute

All  images © 2013 Sarah Parisi. Please do not use without permission.

Field Notes : Dairy Cows


The dairy cows are by far the most important animal at Primrose Farm (it is a dairy farm, after all). So while talk of backyards chicken is plentiful, the idea of having a dairy cow, or two, in the yard hasn’t quite caught on with such popularity…yet. Here are some things I’ve learned about these curious animals these past few months:

  • Important Terms: Bucket Calf: a calf fed milk from a bucket; Bull: an uncastrated male cow; Calf: a cow under one year old; Calving: the act of giving birth to a calf; Cow: a female bovine animal; Dogie: a motherless or neglected calf; Freshen: to give birth and start producing milk; Heifer: a young female; Open: not pregnant; Springer: a cow about to give birth; Steer: a castrated male; Weanling: a recently weaned calf; Yearling: a calf about one year old
  • The dairy cows at Primrose Farm are Jersey cows—the smallest of the dairy breeds weighing in at 800-1,200 pounds. Jerseys are known for being able to produce more milk per pound of body weight than any other breed.
  • Cows are herd animals and will organize themselves in a hierarchy of dominance and subordinate.


  • A dairy farm is dependent on cows always being in some stage of pregnant, as only cows who have recently given birth can produce milk. A cow will generally lactate for 6-10 months after giving birth.
  • Artificial Insemination (AI) is a common method to impregnate cows at dairy farms where the presence of bulls does not always contribute to production. Three cows gave birth this Spring at Primrose Farm, all from AI.
  • Calves are born with their tongue hanging out. To watch a video of Crunch give birth to her heifer at Primrose Farm, click here. (Note: this video may be considered graphic.)
  • Like all mammals, the mother cow will eat the afterbirth (i.e. the placenta) after giving birth.
  • A newborn calf weighs only 25 pounds, give or take.
  • Calves born to dairy cows don’t drink from their mother’s udder, as the mother is accustomed to producing more milk than the baby actually needs. Instead, the farmer will save some of the milk from the dairy cows to feed to a calf individually. I had the opportunity to feed the calves at Primrose, after which they started to nuzzle and push me incessantly. Turns out, this is a natural inclination for young calves and it’s called “punching.” By punching their mother’s udder in the same manner, they help stimulate the production of milk.

If you would like to keep tabs with a real dairy farmer and hear about his day-to-day tasks of tending to a 600-head herd, I recommend following @FarmerHeins on Twitter. There was also a great article in about calving in the recent issue of Small Farmer’s Journal.

Field Notes : Backyard Chickens


Backyard chickens have become quite the vernacular topic amongst hipsters and agri-minded urbanites. Here are a few things I’ve learned about chickens these past few months.

  • Important Terms: Bantam: a miniature chicken; Boiler: a chicken 6-9 months old; Broiler: a 2-3 pound young chicken; Chick: a baby chick; Clutch: a batch of eggs that hatch together; Cockeral: a rooster less than one year old; Flock: a group of chickens; Hen: a female chicken; Nest Egg: a fake egg placed in the nest to encourage laying; Pullet: a female chicken under one year old; Roaster: a chicken weighing 4-6 pounds; Rooster: a male chicken
  • Contrary to common belief, it is not necessary to keep a rooster in order to get eggs from chickens. Much like a woman menstruates on a monthly basis no matter if a man is around or not, so too a chicken will produce eggs with or without male company. In fact, keeping a rooster can sometimes do more harm than good in egg production due to the stress roosters often cause the hens. Hens under stress produce fewer eggs and anything from too many roosters to cold weather can increase a hen’s stress level.
  • While it’s not necessary to have a rooster in your chicken coop to get eggs, oftentimes you’ll end up with an unwanted rooster (or two) due to the difficulty of telling the sex of a chick. If you end up with with too many roosters, egg production can decrease.
  • Breeds of chickens are divided into three categories: egg-laying breeds, meat breeds and dual-purpose breeds. It’s important to research breeds before selecting chickens for your backyard coop. The chickens at Primrose Farm (and in the image above) are Columbian Wyandotte, first exhibited at the Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago.
  • The chickens at Primrose Farm in St. Charles eat a mixture that is 3 parts corn, 1 part whole wheat, 1 part commercial chicken feed, and 1 scoop of oyster shells. The oyster shells provide the hen with much needed calcium to produce eggs with strong shells.
  • Did you know that you can tell how old an egg is by how much it floats in a bowl of water? The shell of an egg is porous, meaning it has a million tiny holes on its surface. The older the egg, the more air that has entered the eggshell. A farm fresh egg will sink directly to the bottom of the bowl.
  • You can also tell the age of an egg by how much the egg yolk rises in the pan. A fresh egg yolk stands straight up whereas an older egg yolk will flatten.