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.
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.”)
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.
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.
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
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.