Stone Barns

Stone Barns from garden
Stone Barns from garden

No trip to Westchester County N.Y. is complete without a trip to Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.  And if two people you love work there, all the better.  Our beloved son is with the facilities crew and our daughter-in-law is a landscape apprentice.

Julie, landscape apprentice at Stone Barns and daughter-in-law
Julie, landscape apprentice at Stone Barns and daughter-in-law

Stone Barns is in Pocantico Hills, a hamlet surrounded by land owned by the Rockefellers, who originally owned 3400 acres in Westchester County.   Up a winding road, past State Park/Rockefeller property on both sides, you come up open fields and then–stone barns, built to look like barns in Normandy, France. They are made of local grey stone, solid and earthy, but the soaring silos and huge curved windows give the whole place a fairytale look, kind of like Cinderella’s castle at Disney. (Sorry, that castle was imprinted on me in childhood.) The barns were built as a dairy in the 1930s by John D. Rockefeller Jr.  (At Kykuit, the family homestead, see my previous post, http://wp.me/p3cJ8X-lG, he was called “Mr. Junior.”)

Jordan, driving the Kabota
Jordan, driving the Kabota

 

Today,  Stone Barns is a four-season working farm (there’s a 1/2 acre minimally heated greenhouse that operates year-round), with a famous farm-to-table restaurant, a cafe, a gift store, organic market, and education center.

Long story short, It’s about growing stuff without chemicals and then eating it without violence to animals, plants, people or the environment.

In July when we visited, the 6.5 acre outdoor garden was in full fruit and flower, and the wild wine berries were being picked. Chickens were laying eggs, pigs were happy in the mud, and sheep were chowing down on nice new grass. In order to keep the grass green, pastures are rotated, meaning the sheep are moved and so are their fences.

Sheep in the shade
Sheep in the shade

Ditto for the chickens. The turkeys, including a heritage breed called Bourbon Red, also roam around outside once they are large enough to fend off predators.  You can buy one for the Holidays at the Stone Barns farm market–around $6 a pound for a broad-breasted white and $10 for the heritage birds.

Turkeys don't pose well
Turkeys don’t pose well

The restaurant associated with Stone Barns is called Blue Hill, and Dan Barber is the chef.  He just wrote a book, The Third Plate, Field Notes on the Future of Food, and he has quite a following.  (Remember, this is a place that is about 25 miles north of New York City, where he also has a restaurant.) One woman on our tour confided that eating a meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns changed the way she regarded food.  Her direct quote, “It changed my life.” If that is the result of eating there, the price really isn’t too steep–but on our tour we enjoyed some nice tea and coffee and  lovely scones in the cafe. See some reviews of Blue Hill at http://www.opentable.com/blue-hill-at-stone-barns

The Hayloft, set up for event
The Hayloft, set up for event

Martha Stewart is a strong supporter of Stone Barns and their mission, and she explains the mission much better than I can. Take a look at her recent blog.  In it, she describes a recent evening event in the Stone Barns Hayloft for backers, including David Rockefeller, last remaining son of John D. (he’s 99) http://www.themarthablog.com/2014/09/an-evening-at-stone-barns.html .

And please enjoy the photographs I’ve included in my slide show, many of them taken by my beloved husband, John Swank, who especially likes flowers and insects.  I like chickens.  At Stone Barns they seemed much more content that the hellish hens I remember from childhood.  Must be the chicken- mobiles. The poem at the end by Wendel Berry, a hero of mine, is also worth a read. Just click in the middle to stop it.

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Kykuit: The Rockefellers’ Place on the Hudson

 

Kykuit on the Hudson
Kykuit on the Hudson

Nelson Rockefeller was once the governor of New York state. He never carried cash, people said, and when I met him  in the ’60s at the State Fair, I was a Girl Scout. He was eating a coney (which he did not pay for), and it made the news.  Later, when I moved to Washington, DC, in the ’70s, I worked for a congressman with the memorable name of Herman  T. Schneebeli who had been Rockefeller’s freshman roommate at Dartmouth,.  Rocky would come by, and in his low gravely unmistakable voice say that he wanted to see “Herm, that old SOB.”  I was young then and such language from a public figure probably shocked me.

Little about the Rockefeller Estate, Kykuit, shocked me until we got to the basement. Kykuit means “lookout” in old Dutch, and the estate was built by patriarch John D. Rockefeller and another of his sons, John II, called Junior. It became a Historic Trust property after Rocky died in 1979. It is located 25 miles north of New York City overlooking the Hudson at Tappan Zee. You board the bus to the gated grounds in Tarrytown.

Beautiful gardens abound
Beautiful gardens abound

The gardens are very beautiful, and view of the Hudson River is breath-taking, but the house is rather, I hesitate to use the word modest, but let’s just say it isn’t Vanderbuilt’s  Biltmore.  Rocky and his wife Happy raised their sons in this three-story house that has 40 rooms.  The whole tour is tightly controlled and you never wander alone, nor is there any discussion of past tragedies or scandals that are part of the Rockefeller heritage.

The Miro in question
The Miro in question

The house is filled with nice stuff.  Gold and mirrors and some especially graceful and beautiful Chinese figurines.  Nice furniture, and some 20th Century modern art on the walls.  In the living room, for example, there is a Miro over the sofa.  Except it’s a copy, made bigger to fit the wall space. But then the tour guide escorts you to the basement.

It smells like a basement, and there are no windows, or if there are any, they’re high up.  It’s humid and claustrophobic, but the white walls are covered with art.  There are also sculptures. And white couches that the guide tells us were used when the family entertained and wanted to take in the vibe (my words).

The basement hideaway
The basement hideaway
The Picasso Tapestries
The Picasso Tapestries

Huge tapestries, woven by one woman in France impressed me the most. Her name was Madame J. de la Baume Durrback and it took her a year to weave each.  The tapestries are all copies of paintings by Picasso, writ large and woven under his supervision. Just hanging there, in the basement! It was as if someone had a hobby (collecting modern art) and had died and no one could break up the collection or change anything.  Talk about throwback.  Remember the rec room–that secret hideaway in the basement?  Imagine a really big one with works of art that should be in museums in the basement of a 100-year-old house

When you come above ground again at Kykuit, it’s a relief. The tour ends in the light and airy stable/carriage house. What a relief to look at cars and carriages and read about how many National Parks (20) the Rockefellers donated the land for and what they have done for conservation.

Oh, and I just read online that the tapestries are going on exhibit at the San Antonio Museum of Art  December 20, 2014 thru March 8, 2015.  I’m glad they will be admired by more art lovers and will escape the rec room for awhile.

 

guernica-tapestry1
This is the tapestry of Guernica, my favorite Picasso. The painting is in Madrid

 

 

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