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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

Day One at Kilpatrick Family Farm

kilpatrick_family_farm_panoramic_view_of_land_middle_grandville_ny by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

Two weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to “audition” for a season-long internship position at Kilpatrick Family Farm in Middle Granville, NY. My audition consisted of two full-days of work at the farm, beginning bright and early on a Tuesday morning and finishing at 4 on Wednesday. I’m amazed at what I could learn just a short time; here is a brief recap of the varying tasks I completed the first day and some of what I learned from each task.

DAY 1
7-10 AM: Untangle, sort and bundle row covers.
If you are ever out in a field, you may notice black plastic lining each row. This black plastic is put down when seeding the field. Where each seed is placed, a hole in the black plastic is punched to allow the seed space to grow. Importantly, the plastic is black as to attract the suns rays.

The farmer can then decide to cover rows with row cover, a spun-bonded (non-woven) polypropylene fabric-like material. The material is extremely light weight and mostly transparent, very much like toilet paper. The row covers help protect young seeds from winds while still allowing light to pass through.

Late last fall—just before the first freeze of the year—the Kilpatricks planted a few rows of hardy green vegetables that can weather the winter (think kale). Each row was covered and left, untouched, through the cold winter months. My first task at the farm was to help gather the row covers no longer needed. The covers which had not been ripped from winter winds were rolled and saved for later use (some we laid out on different rows that same day). Damaged row covers were gathered and bundled for recycling.

10-10:30 AM: Spread straw around rhubarb plants.
Spreading straw between growing plants helps protect weeds from taking root and makes ongoing cultivation all that much easier as the season progresses. 

equipment_shed_kilpatrick_family_farm_photography_new_york by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

10:30-12:30 AM: Wash bins.
When you go to a farmers’ market, you’ll most likely notice all of the bins…bins of turnips, bins of onions, bins of garlic, bins of pretty much anything and everything available for sale that week. If you are a member of a CSA (Community Sustainable Agriculture), you may also be familiar with stacks of brightly colored bins filled with veggies. It’s a seemingly obvious thing, but every week, these bins must be washed, dried and prepped for use at the upcoming market.

I’m sure every farm/farmer has a system for this weekly task. I’m also pretty sure that on warm days in the summer, farm crew members compete for a spot at the washing table as it’s not a question of if you will get wet, but just how wet.

tool_shed_family_farm_middle_grandville_new_york_vermont_photography by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

2-3 PM: Sort onions for market.
In winter and early spring vegetable farmers like the Kilpatricks stock their market stands each week with vegetables they’ve stored throughout the winter in modern-day root cellars. Because vegetables stored over the course of several months are subject to spoilage and bruising, each onion is placed into one of three categories:

  • Firsts: Perfect, or near perfect vegetables. These are set aside for individual sale at farmers’ markets
  • Seconds: Bruised, blemished or otherwise “not-quite-pretty” vegetables that are still suitable for use but are less likely to sell. These vegetables are collected into and sold as “soup bundles” at the markets or sold wholesale to nearby restaurants.
  • Thirds: Just plain rotten. Nothing pretty about these guys. Sent to the compost bin and added to soil as natural organic material.

kilpatrick_family_vegetable_farm_saratoga_new_york_market by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

3-4 PM: Pull up last year’s pepper plants in preparation for this year’s planting.
Peppers are annual plants—meaning their life-cycle is just one year. The plants left-over from last year, now dead, needed to be pulled and discarded in the compost pile.

4-5:30 PM: Sort last season’s garlic in preparation to make garlic powder.
The Kilpatrick’s garage was filled with bins of garlic leftover from last year’s harvest. My job: to sort through the bulbs, discard the “mushy” ones (to be composted) and separate the cloves of the non-mushy bulbs which will be grounded into and sold as garlic powder.
hoop_house_barnyard_chicken_coops_farm_photography_new_york by sarah parisi for this beautiful life
inside_animal_hoop_house_backyard_chickens_cow_farm_photography by sarah parisi for this beautiful life
hoop_house_kilpatrick_family_farm_night_photography_farm by sarah parisi for this beautiful life