The campers next to us were singing cheerily about crucifixion. About The Crucifixion, I gathered. Something about a large cross they’d erected on their campsite with a live dwarf-like man affixed to it gave me this impression. When a few friends invited me to go camping recently, I jumped at the opportunity to do something I’d never really do. “You? Camping?” my sister said when I announced my weekend plans. Her reaction was as if I’d said I was changing my name to Cletus and moving to Appalachia.
When the campers next to our site broke out the drum kit and plugged in the electric guitars for a Christian rock concert, I knew that my sister (and most people) were right. Camping isn’t for me. But I did have access to a car. And what does one do with a car in Westchester County? According to a set of food-loving friends, the answer is to visit the Blue Hill at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.Whenever I leave New York City I usually end up flying over an ocean or two. I rarely explore what’s just outside the city. But here I was driving up to Blue Hill, a restaurant that recently won the James Beard Award for restaurant of the year. Sadly, I wouldn’t be eating there but just exploring the complex, a vast farm.
The parking lot was full and families and paramours were gawking at chickens and pigs and strolling through the herb garden. I have to admit: I wasn’t exactly sure why people would come here. Besides eating at one of the most lauded restaurants in the country, what’s the appeal?
I watched lazy pigs sleep, curious but shy turkeys gobble. I snatched small tomatoes from the vine and popped them in my mouth. They were some of the best tasting tomatoes I’d ever had. I went to the café and ate a tuna fish sandwich and it was superlative in its freshness and deliciousness. I was starting to see the appeal of this place.
But it wasn’t until I randomly encountered Farmer Jack (that’s how he introduced himself) that my answer was revealed. We began talking about what he does there at the farm and how they farm in a way that makes it all totally self sustainable and that they’re goal is to have zero “inputs,” as he called it; nothing from the outside that they bring in. “We don’t even want to use any fossil fuels,” he said.
And then without me having to ask, he said: “The reason why people should visit this complex is not just to eat at one of the best restaurant’s in the country but to see how real produce is grown and taken care of. We’re so detached from it. And we end up buying the 99-cent head of broccoli and have no idea why that’s bad and what it does (and doesn’t do) to our environment and food systems. Coming here,” he added, “you can reconnect with how your food is grown.”
It all made sense. He was preaching to the converted. If people didn’t leave here feeling different about produce or feeling like they got something out if it, I know of a good campsite they could spend the weekend at.
[Photo by David Farley]