Far out, where the roads turn from pavement to gravel and the sky turns from gray to blue, there are fields of rubies. Red, sweet, delicious rubies, ready for picking. Ready for eating. Ready for savoring. Be in wonder of the bounty. Be in wonder of the beauty.
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.
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.
All images © 2013 Sarah Parisi. Please do not use without permission.
A few weeks ago I took a day “off” to attend a photography workshop. It was billed as a “day of inspiration” and I looked forward to refueling my think tank after a busy season of wedding work.
But originality has a short shelf-life. It only takes the next guy to build on your idea for the “original” idea to be left as old and forgotten. In today’s social-media world, this creating and building upon can happen in 15 minute cycles. If the value of our work comes merely from it’s level of originality, than our work suffers from a short shelf-life as well.
I’m now reminded of how the goal of This Beautiful Life is anything but original. The core task—learning how to grow, preserve, and cook and share food—is a task that has been central to man’s existence since our beginning. While new technology has certainly changed the way we farm (sometimes for the best, many times for the worse), farming is never about being original. It’s about submitting to the history of the earth and its ability to produce harvest after harvest after harvest. Farming is about letting go of our need to be original—to do things in a way never before done—and agreeing to work in tandem with nature’s course. And most of all, farming forces us to recognize that no matter how much we “do”, how much “originates” from our labor, it is ultimately God who creates.
What’s more, I like knowing that God does not validate me by my ability to come up with next big idea but rather, He is the crazy idea. His Truth is the origin from which all originality results.
And with Him, my value never expires.