To be interested in food and not food production is clearly absurd. – Wendell Berry
And so began a trip to visit farm after farm in Vermont.
My boyfriend and I became so excited about farm voyaging that our first stop to one actually occurred before ever exiting New York. The farm – Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills – was one that would set a precedent for the remainder of the trip. Gorgeous, gorgeous pesticide-free produce grown amidst picturesque backdrops.
Stone Barns is an 80-acre operation dedicated to creating a sustainable food system through testing and utilizing farming methods that support this. It is a learning center for farmers, children and people from all over the world, and acts as an inspirational destination to connect people to the land that grows their food.
Take a stroll around and you’ll find ingredients of all kinds. For all four seasons throughout the year.
In early fall, that means greens on greens on greens. Walking through the field above felt like walking through one of a Vitamix’s dreams. Endless green smoothies of all different leaves. Not a bad feeling.
The farm is connected with renowned restaurant Blue Hill, known for elegant and innovative, multi-course feasts inspired by seasonal produce. It’s seated guests like Barack Obama and his lovely date Michelle, and was rated by Food & Wine as one of the world’s top 10 life changing restaurants. The decor was beautiful, and while I didn’t get a chance to dine there, I can only imagine what comes out of the kitchen.
According to Luke (above), what’s comes out right now are whole-roasted, one-bite-only carrots such as the one held in his hand. New life goal: dine at Blue Hill.
Speaking of Blue Hill’s kitchen, the inside looked like a White Party, with a bunch of apron-dressed chefs square dancing among each other and the place’s counter blocks. There were handfuls of chefs moving and chopping away, preparing for the night’s dinner. I’ve never seen so many cooks in a single restaurant space.
After Stone Barns, we jetted straight to Vermont. (Well, with a detour in Plattsburgh, NY. Side note: when on a road trip, don’t get stuck without a detailed map and with relying on a GPS system when your phone battery goes dead. One of those times, you may see a boat icon pop-up around 11 o’clock at night. And then realize you’ll be staying put in a motel so you can catch the ferry the next morning. Not that that happened to me or anything…)
Aside from Burlington — Vermont’s largest city, which really doesn’t seem that large at all — the state feels like nothing but a bunch of small towns, each with their own general store, post office and church. Beyond that, there are farms. Farms and farms and farms. Not the mono-crop farms like those of PA, where I grew up. But farms with variety, roaming animals, and a bit of genuinely healthy romanticism. Free-range? It’s happening here.
After spending a couple nights in Burlington and visiting my friend Corinne (shout-out to her ski hat business, Skida!), the boy and I headed upstate to our next farm paradise – High Mowing Seeds. High Mowing cultivates 100% organic, GMO-free seeds to sell to farmers and gardeners alike, all across the country.
I remember every year when my dad would get their catalog in the mail. Like a kid in a candy shop, he would gorge on heirloom and bean and veggie seeds galore. It was fascinating to then visit High Mowing firsthand, and to chat about how the production actually all goes down. Hope you’re not too jealous, dad (ha!).
In addition to seed production, High Mowing has a “trial garden”, a 3-acre plot where they test out different seeds and growing procedures among vegetables, herbs and flowers. It’s basically a way for them to assess different varietals of produce/seeds, and to determine the standouts. This helps them decide what to add to/exclude from their seasonal seed catalog.
Paul, above, showed us around the trial garden, and let us taste a bunch of different veggie samples to compare flavors, textures, etc. My favorite was the row-long carrot tour, where we sampled about 10 different varietals.
That red one above was hands down the best carrot I’ve tasted in my life. I had no idea how much juice a carrot could hold until the moment I took my first bite. A life-changing moment, I’m telling you guys. For real though, that carrot was the bomb-diggity — yes, the bomb-diggity — and so was Paul. We asked him a million and one questions about growing, farming, harvesting seeds, running a business, living in Vermont, best Vermont breweries, and on and on and on…He didn’t wince once, and asked to write down my blog URL at the end of our session with him. What a gentleman. As were most people we encountered in Vermont – thoroughly friendly.
— Above, samples of how loaded certain High Mowing plants would get. I hope you’re not yawning at this point, but I assure you it was impressive. These guys know what they’re doing. —
We toured a couple of other farms, and had plenty of great, literal farm-to-fork experiences. While I’m sure this is partially because of our own initiative, there seemed to be one common theme streaming throughout: All organic, non-monocrop abundance.
I’m sure more traditional farms exist throughout the state. However, it seemed as though nearly everyone in Vermont had a garden, and nearly everyone was eating somewhat locally. It was inspiring. Inspiring to find that local-based eating was more of a norm, than an inauthentic, financial-driven goal. Restaurants weren’t just advertising the usage of nearby farm produce — they were surviving off of it.
And in Burlington…vegetarian restaurants were in abundance. Tempeh was on the menus of more than just those veggie restaurants. And kombucha was served on tap — at multiple places throughout the city, and grocery stores too. (I’m talking watermelon and ginger kombucha on tap. Um, hello, can we please make this happen everywhere?!) Even some of the mom and pop general stores outside of Burlington had healthy options. One of the places we stayed at up north had a small garden out front, so we ended up doing some cooking. This meant experimenting with brown rice noodles from the tiny, nearby town store. Delicious.
All in all, Vermont was one of the most beautiful states I’ve ever visited. I have an affinity for mountains, so those right there really took my heart. The food-progressive vibe was also really wonderful to observe, and presents a platform from which other farmers/restaurateurs/chefs can learn. What I’ve left with is an excitement to help carry this sustainable approach and enthusiasm to other places I occupy, i.e. my blog, and my home.
If you end up venturing to Vermont yourself, I highly recommend you check out a farm or two. And if you live in New York, Stone Barns is a must!