Please note, this is only the farm portion of Blue Hill. The dinner portion of this trip to Westchester is coming up. Originally taken place on Friday, November 5th, 2010.
I’ve been thinking for the past two weeks prior to my birthday, where the heck do I want to celebrate it? I’ve eaten my fair share of places in New York City for fine dining. I do not want Italian (though I do like that cuisine). I do not want Asian (I had my fair share of Asian food). After much pondering and tweeted out loud about this issue, I stuck with Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Why? After remembering reading a lot of positive reviews about it for the past several years, talking to several people who I respect their opinions on food, and meeting Chef Dan Barber at several food events this past late summer, I thought it’s about time to eat there.
Booking relatively last minute for a restaurant of this caliber, I was happy enough to have an early dinner reservation on a Friday night. I asked a friend of mine to join me to go Ponatico Hills and start with an afternoon tour at the farm, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture with our lovely tour guide and Marketing and Communications Manager, Mara.
We started the tour walking through the large, brick courtyard told us that this entire estate was previously owned by the David Rockefeller and his daughter, Peggy. We then proceeded through the Silo Lobby and took us to the interesting room (photograph above left) where it’s a dark, tall, narrow tower that looks interesting and the plus is that it’s lined with comfy leather banquettes to sit and lounge.
Eventually, we walk out to the vegetable fields, after passing through the back door of the kitchen where the cooks were actively preparing for tonight’s service. Of course, it is now autumn so we did encounter some crops that are past its prime. Though the farm is still growing crops like Brussels sprouts (both the green and the rarely seen purple varieties), radishes, and fennel bursting around everywhere.
Then we headed over to where the livestock were all the adorable farm animals roamed within their own section of the farm. We encountered the gaggle of Embden and African geese eating and squawking. The quiet lamb that graze the grass and wander around within their fenced area in relative peace and some of the curious, like the one I photographed, look at curious people like me.
When we went off down the road where all the egg-laying chickens were, Mara explained that this chicken coop is a mobile; the chickens follow the sheep. In other words, where the sheep graze in a certain area for a X amount of time, the sheep are moved to a different site, while the chicken replace that former spot so they can feed on the bugs and droppings of the sheep. One very funny thing to note with chickens are, they are not afraid of humans. They walk up to us, peck around our feet, giving us the impression that we are food or at least feeding them. I heard from a farm volunteer that some peck your legs but after a few minutes those birds realize you don’t have anything, they’ll move on to the next moving object and bolt over there.
Heading over to the Greenhouse and Terraced Gardens, we were first introduced to the drying room where Mara showed us the Eight Row Flint Corn that would be dried completely, shave off the kernels, and ground into polenta where Blue Hill restaurant would be using in their dishes. Walking over a few feet, we entered the propagation room in the greenhouse where little seedlings sprout and grow. Off into the main portion of the greenhouse, we encountered rainbow swiss chard, red komatsuna, many herbs, and even a fresh ginger plant where you can smell the warm, spicy aroma just a foot away.
Heading back toward the Visitor’s Center, Mara wanted to show us the turkeys. They have two varieties, the Bourbon Reds and the traditional Broad Breasted turkey. The ones that we encountered were the Bourbons and they somehow managed to knock over the fence, attempt to flee whilst sounding like schoolchildren who were in recess gobbling in glee. A small rafter of turkeys did fly up the valley and stayed around the wall that leads to the public parking lot. Mara shooed them back to their area instead of migrating beyond where they’re supposed to be.
Almost toward the end of our tour, we walked far into the farm’s forested area to see the Berkshire pigs. These large beasts were living the good life, as it seems. The sow (female pig) was feeling the need to burrow herself in dirt while the boars were eating happily and scratching themselves up against a tree. It’s cute and serene.
Strolling back to the Visitor’s Center to wrap up this tour, we encountered a lot of beautiful foliage turning to amber, gold, and vibrant reds. Gorgeous.
We ended the tour back at the Farmers’ Market, right outside the Visitor’s Center. I have not seen vegetables more pristine and beautiful as these were and I was in awe. They’re not the same as the Greenmarkets in New York City since the vegetables and eggs sold here are just harvested several yards away rather than something that’s been transported several hundred miles into an urban city.
Since the Farmers’ Market was right on the terrace where they have a miniature version of the entire farm, where you would see the flowers, herbs, and some vegetables planted on the fields, they were about to plant garlic. They take massive garlic cloves (practically the size of elephant garlic, if you ever seen one) and plant them for the winter.
This ends the farm and agriculture portion of the Blue Hill excursion. Dinner post will be coming up soon. For more photos of this tour at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, please see the slideshow below.
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Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture
630 Bedford Road
Tarrytown, NY 10591
Map; website (for tours, educational classes, and cooking sessions)
Opens year round, Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture Farmers’ Market