Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stone Barns and Blue Hill Cafe

Last weekend, while driving home from a family wedding in New York's Hudson Valley, we decided to take a short detour to Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. It was a bit of a struggle to get there, battling heavy rains and low visibility on the Taconic State Parkway, but as we pulled up to the farm, the rain magically stopped and we even saw a hint of blue skies.

Stone Barns is a non-profit farm, an education center, and home to
Blue Hill Restaurant and Cafe (the farm's biggest customer). Through public programs, the education center seeks to increase awareness of sustainable agriculture and to teach us where our food actually comes from.

We arrived in time to sign up for a
livestock tour ($10 per adult), an hour-long walking tour through the pastures and barns, allowing you to get up close with the farm's animals. As we were waiting for our tour to begin, we watched the young participants from the morning's egg gathering program skip happily on by, their guide holding an enormous basket of freshly collected brown eggs.

Our livestock tour began with a visit to the laying hens. Did you know that you can tell what color their eggs will be from looking at their earlobes? This breed of chicken lays brown eggs:

A group of naughty hens had escaped the fenced-in area (now that's what you call 'free range') and uncharacteristically followed us for part of our tour:

A flock of teenage
Bourbon Red turkeys (known for their juicy rich-tasting meat and their fondness for roosting in trees):

A proud
Broad-Breasted White turkey:

A 600 lb
Berkshire pig rooting around in the woods:

Grazing lambs:

We also saw geese, rams, wild turkeys, and some beehives.

According to Stone Barn's philosophy, their animals live humane lives on the farm. And though I'm not an expert in animal psychology, all the animals we met that day seemed genuinely happy, healthy, and good-natured.

From the egg mobiles to the oxygenated compost pile (which didn't smell bad at all), Stone Barns was everything I'd imagined after reading about the symbiosis of pasture-based farming in
The Omnivore's Dilemma (specifically the chapters on Polyface Farm). It was pretty amazing, actually.

After our tour we stopped at the farmer's market at the Dooryard Garden:

And checked out the 2 old silos:

Cleverly converted on the inside to a lounge and coat room:

We also snuck upstairs to for a peak at the
Hayloft (an old haybarn converted to a gorgeous catering hall).

And as we were walking through the silo lobby, we unexpectedly ran into
Chef Dan Barber (turning me into a stuttering starstruck fool, of course). Unphased by my ridiculous behavior, Chef Barber graciously invited us into the kitchen to take a photo with him:

As this was an impromptu visit, we tried not to lament too much about the fact that we were dressed far too casually in our t-shirts and shorts to dine in the main restaurant (never mind that we didn't have a reservation either), and instead enjoyed a light lunch at the
Blue Hill Cafe:

Vegetarian quiche:

A sampling of salads (heirloom tomato, green bean, and couscous):

Open-faced tomato and goat cheese sandwich:

The food was simply prepared but delicious, featuring quality ingredients from the farm. We especially loved the different varieties of sweet heirloom tomatoes.

After lunch, we walked through their impressive half-acre greenhouse:

The hi-tech roof automatically opens to cool the greenhouse when it reaches a certain temperature:

We plan on taking the greenhouse tour on our next visit, especially after spotting several seedlings we'd never heard of before:

All in all, a fabulous afternoon at Stone Barns. We're already planning a trip back to dine in the main restaurant (and next time, we'll be dressed to the nines). Highly recommended for foodies, families, and anyone interested in learning more about sustainable agriculture.

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hills, NY 10591
(914) 366-6200

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hills, NY 10591
(914) 366-9600



Justin said...

how awesome. i've met dan and he's so nice, so i'm not surprised by your story. and someone actually gave me a gift certificate to the restaurant (gasp!) so i'm looking forward to going soon

Phyllis said...

Justin: So when are we going? LOL

Jenn said...

That's really neat. I'm glad the weather cleared up a little for you to enjoy what the farm had to offer. I would to visit one time.

Heavenly Housewife said...

That place looks positively idyllic. I am fascinated by the whole ear lobe/ coloured egg thing. LOL, i didn't even know hens had earlobes... silly me!
Here in the UK we can buy blue eggs in some supermarkets, and they are on the small side but they have the most beautiful bright yellow yolks, so I buy them when I can. I wonder what kind of ears those hens have :)
Does your shirt in the picture have a little hen on it? :)
I once wanted Mr P to buy me one of these:
If you can believe it, he said no :( (maybe cause i'm scared of touching animals LOL).
*kisses* HH

Phyllis said...

Jenn: It was a great day, we really lucked out. It actually started pouring again once we left the farm! I hope you get to visit one day :)

Heavenly Housewife: That Eglu chicken coop is hilarious! Sounds like a great investment, I've only been lucky enough to try fresh eggs from a backyard coop once and they were spectacular! And LOL only you would notice that little hen sticker on my t-shirt. We had to wear it to designate that we were participating in the livestock tour. Of course Kris just let me wear it on my shirt for the rest of the day without telling me! As for the earlobe thing, I think it's just a general rule, chickens with white spots tend to lay white colored eggs and chickens with reddish brown spots will lay brown eggs. But I'd love to see the chickens that lay those beautiful blue eggs!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I love that place. How great that the weather cleared up for you. You should go back in the fall. It's gorgeous there when the leaves change. Get your reservation now though - there's a many-month's wait to get into the restaurant. great photos.

Anonymous said...

What a fun experience! This place is definitely on our must visit list!

Phyllis said...

Linda: I can just imagine how beautiful it would be in the fall. Going to make my reservation now!

5 Star Foodie: It's a wonderful place, I hope you can visit one day :)

Carolyn Jung said...

What a beautiful property. One of these days, I hope to make it out that way to see it, too. Your lunch looks fabulous, especially those glorious tomatoes.

Phyllis said...

Carolyn: I think just knowing that those beautiful tomatoes were grown footsteps away from the cafe made them taste amazing!

foodhoe said...

what a gorgeous spot! I think that natural rocks look better when they are rinsed off like that. That farm tour looks fun, I can't get over how much like a castle it appears... and that looks like a lovely light lunch.

Phyllis said...

foodhoe: Yes, it does look a bit like a castle. Perhaps it comes across so regal because it was originally built by the Rockefellers!

sophia said...

Okay, I found you through Proj Food Blog, and had to come over when I saw that you love Sarawak laksa...bc I miss that stuff like crazy.

I LOVED this post, by the way. I love how detailed your recap is. I feel like I'm there with you!

Phyllis said...

Sophia: Yes, I miss Sarawak Laksa like crazy! Thanks for coming over to check out my blog :D

Suomi said...

Glad to see this blog,,,The place was amazing and the farm is very rich with wonderful seedlings and plants..thank you for posting this pictures here..

Passionate Eater said...

After your great and educational experience, I am definitely interested in touring nearby farms. And I bet Chef Dan Barber was starstruck himself, after meeting Phyllis from Me Hungry!

tori said...

I'm kicking myself we didn't make it up there when we were last in NYC- we had dinner at Stone Barns in the city and it was gorgeous- but I think a visit to the source is definitely in order. Thank you for the additional motivation!

Anonymous said...

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