Slow Winemaking at Stoutridge Winery

In addition to studying slow food, we studied slow wine.

After we and the chickens had been hunkering down in the house for Hurricane Sandy, we enjoyed getting out of the house to go to Stoutridge Vineyard in Marlboro, NY for a tour and wine tasting.  We were greeted by the owner Steve Osborn, who became interested in wines and winemaking while studying biochemistry at Cornell.  There, he discovered that he could remember the flavor of a wine perfectly, which has been useful not only for his wines but also for his paintings which are the wine’s flavors.  In 2001, he and his wife bought the 14 acre property and began making wine five years later.  At ninety miles an hour, he described to us how his winery is different from all other winemakers’ in North America.

Steve explaining how he makes wine. Look, his paintings on the wall!

Beginning in the tasting room, Steve gave us a general overview of typical winemaking in America and how his philosophy differs from the norm.  Most wineries in the United States produce their wine with the intention to ship it and make it available to the greatest number of people.  That’s why we can easily buy California wines in the Hudson Valley.  But, as Steve explained, the wine goes through several processes such as fining and filtering by which all of the proteins and pectins (and polyphenyls in reds) are removed, as is the sediment.  The proteins and pectins are removed from processed wine because when it is heated during transport, they cause the wine to have less flavor. Thus, because Steve leaves these in his wines, the logistics required to transport his wine make it impractical for his wine to travel long distances.  Moreover, when restauranteurs have asked him to let them sell Stoutridge wine, he has told them not only that they have to buy it at full price but also warns them that if they keep it in a warm place (as many do), it will be undrinkable.

Stoutridge’s wines are never fined, filtered, or pumped.  He uses gravity, lifts and rails to move the wine and tanks.  But, as part of his philosophy, he only uses solar energy and furthermore, he usually makes enough energy to sell some back to the power company.  Finally, he doesn’t add any sulfites to his wine, which normally help preserve processed wine.  Sulfites stop the fermentation process of the wine but also prevent bacteria from entering the wine.  His wine, with the proteins and pectins and without the sulfites, can (and should) age many times longer than wines which are designed to be consumed after a few years, as is the case with most processed wines.

Grape Press

We had the opportunity to taste the difference between processed wine and Stoutridge’s “slow” wine.  Steve chose three types of wine for us to compare: Seyval Blanc, a “house red”, and a Merlot.  Immediately, we noticed the freshness of Stoutridge’s wines, as well as how they retained carbonation!  He explained that this is because they aren’t pumped and filtered, which removes it from processed wine, as we soon saw.  With the house red, the flavor of the processed wine was much less intense than that of Stoutridge’s.  The Merlot surprised us all by not being a heavy wine but rather having a full flavor.  Coincidentally, both of the Merlots we tasted came from the same grapes on Long Island so the tasting of those was as close as it could be to compare the flavor of the different processes.  We finished with a 2006 wince called Quimby’s Rosé, which was the first wine that Steve made at Stoutridge.  The grapes used are concord grapes (yes, as in the one used for grape jelly) from Howard Quimby whose father supplied grapes to the winery in the early twentieth century.  It tasted completely different from what we had sampled previously and many of us wished we could have taken some home, especially since it is the only winery in North America that sells unprocessed wine!

Wine tasting!

Aside from happy taste buds, what we took away from Stoutridge was a better understanding of the wine industry and why it operates that way, as well as an appreciation for a different way of making wine.  Also, the terroir associated with processed wine is completely different from that of a local, unprocessed wine (as in Quimby’s Rosé).  Finally, we saw an agricultural model which was based not on the idea of perpetual growth, but on pursuing a philosophy (and profitably).

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Glynwood Higher Education Food Systems Conference Weekend

Green acres is the place for me.
Farm livin’ is the life for me.
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

Goodbye Poughkeepsie life, green acres we are there!

Despite the dreary start to the weekend (a grey and muddy Friday morning and afternoon), the Coop, accompanied by our super Prof team, journeyed to lovely Cold Springs, NY to visit Glynwood Institute for the weekend. The Institute’s mission is “to help communities in the Northeast save farming” by working with, understanding, and empowering communities, farmers, and landowners. Furthermore, Glynwood’s vision focuses on shifting the U.S. food supply to a regional system based on environmentally sustainable agriculture- thereby revitalizing farm and farm communities while providing access to fresh healthy food to consumers.

After our respective half-days at field work, we quickly tore off our rain and mud-soiled farmwear, packed last minute essentials (or some packed entirely at that moment!), and put our rainboots BACK on for the watery ride. We diverged from the Town Houses in two cars (Emma riding in style with Jojo, Nikki, and Alicia in her car while Mary Ann Emily, Yael, and I took off in a VC Security van). Mary Ann’s car made a pit stop at Poughkeepsie Day School to pick up our little Maddie in her yellow raincoat, waiting patiently in the schoolyard amidst children and yellow buses (just kidding, she does not still attend middle school, she had just finished field work!)

Welcome to Downton Abbey...er Glynwood

After a car-full of fun and good conversation, we arrived around 3:30pm Friday afternoon- completely in awe as we made our way along the windy path through the beautiful grounds, full of young fall foilage just waiting to burst in autumnal colors. We made our way to the Main House to unload our bags and meet the other conference guests. But first, we could not resist a brief tour of our accommodations- a quaint country cottage-style house with rambling halls that led to darling rooms with fancy, customized door signs, antique quilted beds and fluffy white terry cloth robes. Some of us explored a bit of the land around the house while snacking on local apples- discovering cows and horses grazing in a stone-fenced lawn; gardens, forests, and a fountain straight from the pages of The Secret Garden; and taking in more of the gorgeous landscape- lush green rolling farmland dotted with rustic crimson barns and white farmhouses.

 

The Wonderful World of Glynwood!

NY's Hudson Valley or Irish Countryside?

We reluctantly tore ourselves away from the storybook scenery, venturing back inside for the 5:00 reception in the Main House Library where we mingled and chatted over cheese and root beer with students and faculty from Williams College of Williamstown MA, Smith College of Northhampton MA, and the Culinary Institute of America in our nearby Hyde Park, NY. Shortly after, we convened in the Living Room for our official welcome from our dear Glynwood hosts including President Kathleen Frith and made our formal introductions- students, professors, and staff each went around the room to say our name, school, major/class year or field of expertise, as well as any food related field work, project, experiences, and/or role in the weekend’s activities.

Why have plain water when you can have SPARKLING water?!

How many dining bucks does this cost?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our bellies grumbling from a days worth of rain-speckled field work, vehicular treks, picturesque pastures, and hors d’oeuvres it was finally time for dinner! We feasted on a local spread of roasted chicken, potatoes, salad, seitan, and a decadent apple crumble dessert! Suddenly, Virginia, Glynwood’s Director of Community Based Programs surprised us all with a hat full of strips of paper which she instructed us to dive into one by one, choosing the name of the character we would be impersonating in a mock community forum to be held Sunday afternoon.

Choosing our fates/alter-egos

Stuffed full with delicious cuisine and conversation, but piqued with curiosity, we rolled ourselves back into the Living Room to learn more about the weekend ahead.  Burt and Virginia equally convinced us that we were in for an exciting- albeit mysterious- bout of days and nights ahead. Our characters, we were told, were based off of real people in the community- farmers, council members, townspeople- that would likely be involved in a mythical discussion about the creation of a ‘local food hub.’

Food hubs are distribution centers that provide a logistical and marketing interface between farmers and regional buyers- making it easier for local and regional farmers to compete with the mainstream, consolidated food production and distribution system.

We received small yellow envelopes adorned with our characters names as well as red folders full of itineraries, speaker bios, and reading material about Glynwood and food hubs. The setting was all too reminiscent of Clue: a dark stormy night spent in the library, living room, kitchen, meeting strangers and preparing our alternate identities- I went to bed that night praying we all woke up for breakfast…

-SATURDAY-

Traversing and touring

Luckily, we all arose the next morning, bright and early, to an 8am breakfast- another one of many feasts- of egg and pepper frittata, warm oatmeal, fresh granola and yogurt, honeydew, concord grapes, tea and coffee. Fueled for the day ahead, we got ready for a personal tour ofthe Glynwood grounds where we saw all the quintessential farmyard wonders- chickens, pigs, goats, cows, horses, compost heaps, barns, hay, and vegetables.

Beehives...

Chickens...

& squashes, oh my!

We then met farm apprentices Sophie and Valerie and piled onto the back of a pickup truck to harvest our own veggies for dinner! My group followed Sophie to pick broccoli.

Sophie showing off her beloved brassicas!

Real farmers, Maddie and Maya, ride in the trunk!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our taste of farm labor, it was time for mouth labor- LUNCH. A hearty spread of sandwiches, salad, and butternut squash soup warmed our soggy bones for our next activity- a plenary session entitled, The Regional Food System: Who Makes it Work. We all hunkered down in the living room, our hands juggling notebooks, coffee, and tea but our minds anxiously awaiting the words of food system experts. We heard from:

  • Paul Wigsten, a farmer on Wigsten Farm commented that he has seen improvements within the Hudson Valley food system over the last 20 years. In the past 5 years, he has expanded his market and relationships with wholesale retailers but admits that he cannot afford to drive to and solicit customers in the city. Heres where distributors like Red Barn Produce of New Paltz come in, with a truck to pull away his organic vegetables, leaving Paul more precious time to concentrate on and do what he does best- growing and farming. Paul also divulged that he works closely with a seed saver exchange in the Midwest to preserve heirloom varieties of tomatoes and melons. Wigsten remarked that the regional food system in the Hudson Valley is ‘alive and well’ in his perspective.
  • Allie Comet, a young farmer, is in her fourth year of farming, having worked on diversified farms in California and Maine before arriving at Glynwood. Allie spoke about the route most young farmers take from apprenticeship to management, highlighting the challenges from training (both in the field as well as practical business and marketing skills), to access to land and capital. Allie also represents a subset of farmers who are not born into an agricultural family, having grown up in Brooklyn NY. She noted that this sometimes is difficult in that its not always clear where to go for help; but on the other hand, her steady salary is definitely a unique plus. Allie finally spoke about the cultural place of agriculture, inquiring whether agriculture has become culturally important, and wondering how we position farms in our community.
  • Matthew Flusser born and raised New Yorker as well, is the Operations Manager for Farm to Table Co-Packers in New Paltz. A big advocate of buying local foods and for sustainability and lowering carbon footprint, Matthew acknowledges that everybody wants local food but can always afford to buy from multiple farms. At the same time, farmers can’t afford to leave their land and livestock. Amidst all of this, Matt and his Co-packers are running rampant, sometimes working 23 hours a day trying to maintain a consistent flow of washing, chopping, pouring, and regulating produce all the while trying to solve issues of space, organization, and waste.
  • Michael Abbate works as the Chief Operating Officer for Common Capital, Inc., a non-profit economic and community development organization that serves Western Massachusetts. Michael oversees program development, manages the organization’s Healthy Food Financing program, in addition to all other financial management and marketing functions. Abbate commented that he and his organization must take the role of developer, helping people with great ideas find the assistance they need. Michael noted that the Pioneer Valley of MA is in need of more infrastructure and has the potential to be the model for other parts of the U.S., by shaping the regional food system through social transformation.
  • Don Lewis, founder, baker, and miller at Wild Hive Farm Community Grain Project in Clinton Corners, NY began his farming life as a commercial beekeeper and went on to become a founding member of the Union Square Greenmarket. In the past 3-5 years Wild Hive Farm and the Wild Hive Community Grain Project have almost tripled in size and activity; developing a strong following among chefs, commercial bakers, and home bakers. Don plans to expand the offerings of the Wild Hive Community Grain Project and develop the Farm’s facilities as a means of teaching agriculture. Don noted that education is the most important part of transforming the food system, that we need to make people more aware of why buying ‘local’ and ‘organic’ is important. Don also commented that with the increasing demand from customers and a wealth of growers, we need to be able to rely on neighbors in the region.
  • Michael Sweeton is the Supervisor for the Town of Warwick (the largest town geographically in Orange County NY!) and a strong advocate for agriculture, having worked with the Town Board to revamp the town’s zoning code to include farm friendly provisions that support farmers, farms, and farming. Michael notes that the role of a municipal leader is to provide of course leadership, understanding of the importance of agriculture, and to promote farms! Michael also considers himself, as well as other members of municipality, a buffer between higher federal agencies and the community.

Michael was kind enough to provide us all with a wonderfully informative packet entitled, “The Road to Smart Growth and Agricultural Friendly Zoning.” Enclosed were general facts about Warwick and farming in the town (agriculture is their largest industry- generating over $35 million!); planning tools for farmland and open space preservation; and agriculture friendly options including ADD (Agricultural Advancement District).

  • Joel Russell has been a community planning consultant and land use attorney for 34 years; he has been at the forefront of the sustainability movement in planning, open space preservation, and urban design, nationally and in both New York’s Hudson Valley and Massachusetts’s Pioneer Valley. Joel, like Michael Sweeton, commented that his role as planner is to be a catalyst, trying to bridge the gap between points of view of both parties, all the while satisfying each’s interest.

Dizzy with engaging insight on all things food system-y, it was time for a break, 2:30pm- and as Virginia perfectly anticipated- the perfect time for brownies, cookies, and tea. Did I mention it was perfect?

Sugared up for some “character groups” breakout sessions, we went our separate ways  to our respective locations to pick the brains of experts. Farmers put up their feet (not really) in the living room with Paul, Allie, Jesse, Sophie, and Valerie. The Public Sector (community leaders and planners) convened in the Study with Michael Sweeton and Joel Russell. The Finance/Business Development people met with Michael Abbate and Don Lewis. Institutional Purchasing moseyed on over to the work room with Matthew Flusser and Melissa Adams. And finally. the two boisterous citizen activists schemed with Fran Volkman in the Main House sitting room. Now that we had some one-on-one time with the pros, we were able to strategize talking points and concerns our characters might wish to bring up at Sunday’s mock meeting.

With a good chunk of time until dinner, we spent our time wisely- some helped with dinner preparations, some went for another outdoor expedition around the lake house and through the woods, while others caught up on some z’s…

Pizza prep fun with Emma, Yael, Caitlin, and Jojo

JoJo trying to wrangle Thunder for some unrequited snuggles

 Again, we feasted. The CIA students/chefs/food extraordinaires whipped together a bountiful, gourmet supper of homemade pizzas (including a gluten-free pie!) topped with our freshly-harvested-from-the-fields butternut squash ‘sauce’, mushrooms, and assorted veggies, tangy tufts of goat cheese, as well as a ‘meat lovers’ choice for those who crave their carne. Fresh salad, sauteed rainbow chard, broccoli and the elusive chicken mushroom a.k.a. sulphur shelf a.k.a. chicken of the woods a.k.a. tasty substance spotted by Smith’s own Nichole rounded out the spread! For dessert, the CIA masters continued to tickle our taste buds with a baked apple/apple compote/apple reduction- basically an APPLE EXTRAVAGANZA combo of warm, sweet, tart, gooey (plus a hint of lavender!) goodness!!

A well-deserved round of applause for the kitchen crew!

Alicia and Maddie, 20 going on 7?

Tiny hands and pumpkin carving- scarier than Halloween!

After that wonderfully gluttonous dinner, we were invited into the Work Room for some fireside fun! Here we all gathered around the glowing fireplace, sipping coffee, tea, and cider while snacking (YES, more food!) on apple cider doughnuts and leftover pizza. Some of us carved pumpkins with Michael Abbate’s darling children, while others chatted before turning in for the night.

Our masterpieces: Coop's chicken, CIA's pig, Williams' cow, and a classic jack-o-lantern!

-SUNDAY-
We got to sleep in- kind of! Breakfast was served at 9am this morning but something was different this time. A strange, ‘twilight zone‘ feeling was tangible in the air- a transformation had occurred overnight and today we weren’t ourselves…

We were our characters! Everyone arose that morning in good spirits and with an eagerness to take on the roles we had chosen Friday evening, to finally release the artistic personalities we worked so hard preparing, shaping, and honing throughout the weekend.

Breakfast and powerpoints!

The Community Meeting to Identify issues Relating to the Establishment of a Local Food Hub began in the dining room. First, we were welcomed by Burt, our genial mediator, who then handed the floor over to our Mayor Joe Bolatto (Meghan from CIA) to welcome and thank everyone for attending. We then went around the room introducing ourselves (our alter-egos that is!) It was a hoot seeing everyone in their prime acting personas!

The mock community stakeholder meeting continued in the living room. Burt helped us get the ball rolling by prompting us to list both what is working and not working in the current regional food system. We came up with:

WORKING:
  • customer demand (regionally & families)
  • easy to get food one needs
  • producing a diverse spectrum (produce & livestock)
  • farmers markets, etc.
  • growing awareness (fresh, local, organic are important)
  • we have farms!
  • variety of financing mechanisms to support local farms
  • NYC market
  • local population density can support system
  • engaged community
  • community ties, relationships to local farmers
  • large land conservation
  • large open spaces = desirable aesthetic

Burt, the list-making legend!

NOT WORKING
  • smaller farms plateaued in terms of growth
  • not enough collateral; difficult to get financing
  • can’t get quality, service, supple
  • distribution
    • between wholesale and farmer
    • within market area
  • don’t have equipment to distribute
  • labor limited
  • no slaughtering facility locally
  • agriculture not working in general
    • no tax
    • equipment
    • facility
    • distribution
  • economy
    • local economy not stimulated by current regional food ystem
    • unemployment
  • supply not consistent
  • regional system cannot support local population
    • cannot support demand for fresh local food
  • local crops subject to variable weather/climate
  • management expertise
  • space (access to)
  • financing to expand markets
  • seasonal deman difficult to handle (need processing)
  • mechanisms for: partnership, education, relationships, and resources
  • increasing development encroaches on farming, disruptive
  • satisfying demand for diverse populations i.e. low-income families don’t have access
    • cost
    • location
    • education
  • price point- living wage locally/ what customers can afford
  • is demand authentic?

We're a pretty convincing community forum, huh?

After seeing how much is NOT working with the current food system, we moved on to discussing (still in character, mind you!) what the known positives and potential concerns of a regional food hub might be:
KNOWN POSITIVES:
  • connect to resources for new farmers
  • aggregation of local farms to one source
  • enhance economic resources for agriculture
  • centralizes distribution and collection
  • contributing local food system
  • we are “ready” to embrace it
  • marketing resource- communicating/reaching
  • value added goods- diversity products
  • equipment sharing
  • extends season
  • provides labor resources
  • provide facilities that individuals cant provide
  • year-round slaughtering capacity
  • expands to broaden farmers spectrum; rising viability
  • keeps kind in agriculture
  • creative ways to expand local economy (farm business incubator)
  • could provide insurance for consistent quality (pooling risk)
  • liability
  • more variety
CONCERNS:
  • cost to run?
    • who pays for it?
  • how distribution coordinated?
  • how to deal with waste?
    • use of energy?
    • environmental impact?
  • traffic
  • discourages development
  • would we lose identity and distinction of where products sourced from?
  • keep our products consistent?
  • licensing fee?
  • decision process for participation? standards?
  • differentiation of quality and price
  • effect on “competition” could go either way
  • effect of slaughterhouse on local environment
    • slaughterhouse not zoned
  • timeliness/seasonality (storage, freezer space, etc.)
  • maintain values of local farming? type of organization?
  • local law suits
  • how will define “local”?
  • whats too big/small for a farm to be involved?
  • can “we” afford it?

What a room full of characters!

Therefore, we came up with some general topics of issue/concern we all seemed to agree on…

GENERAL ISSUES:

  • zoning regulations- dont let them keep us from changing!
  • food security, quality, safety
  • insurance
  • liability
  • who will actually get this off the ground?
  • consistent quality control
  • economic risk: middleman good or bad?
  • recirculating funds
Walls littered with marked-up flip chart paper, the room buzzed with points and counterpoints. Collectively, there was an air of excitement, building with everyone’s enthusiastic engagement. However, a moment of perplexity- on how to move forward, seemed to suspend us all. Burt then briefly enlightened us about the “box of possibilities” metaphor for understanding the challenges presented before us. Within the box lie our viewpoints, attitudes, history, ethics, standards, laws, judgments, and beliefs. Outside the box is the space where what we know and what we want to know live. The edges of the box consist of what we can’t do, laws that bind us, and what we don’t know. Burt showed us how we can always expand the box, but we are ultimately always conscious of it and confined within it. Expanding this box, however, allows us to better understand what drives us and what simultaneously limits us and how we can deal with this dynamic. Thanks Burt for this inspirational perspective!
Virginia then took over, leading us through a debriefing session. She reminded us of the importance of communication and relationships between groups, organizations, and institutions. She cited the interconnectivity of young people within the food/farming industry as well as the inherent complexity of the issues discussed throughout the conference. Finally, Virginia left us with a few questions to take home:

What have you learned?

What has changed since you arrived here?

How do you get your generation involved?

Who doesn’t care? Who isn’t taking your courses/isn’t in your program?

How do we take our passion and get others in our generation involved and passionate?

Implement courses? field placements? through institutions?

How can Glynwood (vassar and other institutions) help?

Virginia, the debriefing diva!

We finished by filling out contact forms in order to keep in touch with Glynwood as well as the other conference attendees. Feeling utterly empowered, we were revved to utilize all of the potential this newfound network holds. Exchanging cell numbers and farewells, it was time to depart our temporary think-tank and forever friends (but not without a few last minute group pics!)

Emily, lounging in style

Enjoying the views at the lakehouse!

Alicia and Maddie soaking up some rays!

stuffed SUVS and sunny so-longs

Thanks, Glynwood for a spectacular weekend getaway chock full of yummy food, gorgeous scenery, energizing conversations, and inspiring people!

Food, farming, and new friends!

Smiling faces all around!

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Local Ocean: waste not, want not. Fish in the Hudson Valley

The second week of classes found us on the road for a tour of Local Ocean, an aquaculture system in Greenport, NY.  After reading Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish, we were excited to see fish farming in practice.  They are “the world’s first (and only) commercial zero-discharge 100% recirculating aquaculture system”, according to their website and our guide Kate.  In fact, they aren’t even connected to the sewer system and the only water they use is to replace what evaporates.  Biofilters and settling ponds eliminate various contaminants from the system, while hydroponic plants growing near the tanks use some the nutrients that would otherwise be wasted.  Even the fish that die naturally are not simply thrown away; they are collected and sold to a local company for fertilizer.

The process of growing Local Ocean fish begins with the purchase of a changing variety of saltwater juveniles (sometimes including European sea bass, striped bass, flounder, and sea bream).  These fish are then quarantined for 4-6 weeks in large holding units to reduce the chance of disease entering the system.  Since all of the water at Local Ocean remains in the system and the fish are raised in high densities (compared to the ocean), disease is a major problem.  After quarantine, the fish are then relocated to tanks where they will grow for anywhere between ten months to more than a year.  The tanks themselves are behemoths that are either rippling with the movement of thousands of fish or eerily still from the total lack of fish.  Employees work day and night to ensure that the fish remain healthy and well-fed.  And they are well-fed, eating anywhere between five and eight times a day.  The scientists, such as Kate, are essentially on-call twenty-four hours just in case a problem with the fish arises.  When the fish are fully grown, they are harvested and shipped as far as New York City, and maybe in the future, to Boston and Philadelphia.  But no further because, after all, the company is called “Local Ocean” and one of their key beliefs is that fish can be alive in the morning and staring back at you from a plate in the evening.

However, Local Ocean is always improving and expanding.  Every time they have built a new tank system, it has been better than the last in one way or another.  Recently, they have received approval for a cold-water algae system (all of their fish are currently warm-water species).  Many of the employees are scientists, researchers, and engineers who work to make fish farming even more sustainable.  After visiting Local Ocean, we have some perspective on the fish industry and local, in-land fish sustainability.  Hopefully next week’s lecture and discussion with Paul Greenberg will lend even further insight into this branch of farming and food!

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First Days in the MLLC: The Retreat

There’s nothing like a road trip to break the ice, invite discussion, and learn from the source.  Visiting food and farming related sites throughout New York State gave us the framework to begin navigating the relationships, questions, and themes that will shape our semester of cooperative exploration. Stops at Cornell Agricultural Plant Genetic Resources Unit (Geneva, NY), Hardie Dairy Farm (Lansing, NY), DuMond Corn&Soy Farm (Union Springs, NY), Moosewood Restaurant (Ithaca, NY), and Apple Pond Farm and Renewable Energy Education Center (Catskills, NY) provided the fodder for four fast paced days of debates, inquiries, and altered assumptions.

Starting small, we began our journey with seeds at the USDA funded Agricultural Plant Genetic Resources Unit at Cornell University. Through a tour of the facilities, including the 0°anteroom where the seeds are stored, we learned about the ways in which you use plant germplasm to preserve genes and crossbreed. Tomato, apple, and grape tastings of both wild and domesticated varieties gave us a sense of the vast diversity of genes they are trying to conserve and the rich history of each domesticated food plant.

tomato tasting

Tomato tasting yummmm

wild and domesticated tomatoes

The wild tomatoes were actually sweeter than most domesticated breeding lines!

Students being given tour of the anteroom

The anteroom where seeds are stored for distribution and safekeeping

Our guide, Thomas, shows us the detail tag of one of their breeding apple trees.

tasting the different apple breeds

making a disgusted face

many wild breeds were very bitter

grapes

Emma enjoying the grape selection

group pic

Food for thought and the road!

The next time we piled out of our Vassar van (driven by the fearless genius Mark Schlessman) we were greeted by friendly family dairy farmers, Skip and Holly Hardie. Their wholesome kindness and eagerness to show us their state of the art equipment, milking procedures, and feed growing/storing operation had us all entranced. Discussion surrounding their use of RBST (a bovine growth hormone), cow comfort—they had waterbeds, fans, and custom blended feed—and their Guatemalan immigrant employees opened our eyes to commercial farming. Although we all loved milking a cow, Hardie Farm’s status as a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) remains a hot topic of discussion in our house.

Skip Haride shwoing us cow feed

Skip Hardie explaining the careful recipe of his feed

feed

Cut hay is stored under airtight plastic to prevent mold and moisture.

baby cow

Maddie bonds. Baby cows are separated from their mothers at birth.

mechanical milking

a stress ball cow

Our souvenir from Debbie, the rep. from the American Dairy Association. SQUEEZY COW, our new house mascot.

Our next stop was a similarly commercial farm, DuMond Farm, which focused on corn and soybean cultivation. We were astounded that Todd Dumond managed to plant and harvest three thousand acres with only two full time employees and six part time. In comparison to Hardie’s thirty person staff, the mechanization of agriculture was clearly demonstrated on this farm. In addition to mechanical technology, Todd talked to us about the latest advances in agricultural science related to soil composition, fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.

grain storage tanks

Grain storage tanks

Todd Dumond explaining his multi-million dollar machinery and soil evaluating machine

After so much intense talk of the economics of agriculture, state and national policy changes, and minimizing inputs while optimizing profit, we were all ready for some fresh, local, home cooked food. That’s just what we got at Moosewood Restaurant, one of the first vegetarian, local, and health food focused restaurants of its time (1973). It was inspiring to talk to one of the original founders and conceptualize how nineteen people cooperatively and sustainably run a business focusing on all things natural and good. We walked away with satisfied tummies and a signed edition of Moosewood Restaurant Cooks for a Crowd.

Our new book!Inspiring people and food.

Inspiring people and food.

Our final night was spent at Apple Pond Farm, a haven of renewable energy, small farm pride, community activism, and self-sustainability through creativity. Dick and Sonja welcomed us into their home to live a day in the life of a small farmer. The diversity of tasks contrasted sharply with the meticulous routines of the commercial farms we’d seen previously. Watering the chickens, harvesting eggs, catching adolescent turkeys, grooming the draft horses, milking the goats, and picking and cooking fresh vegetables from the garden were among the many chores we completed. Apart from the active experimentation, we spent hours picking Dick and Sonja’s brains about their beliefs on solar/wind power, political interests, diversifying products, and keeping it simple. We left Apple Pond Farm with hope for small farmers, ready to seek out answers to the infinite questions food and farming practices provide.

haybale yert

The hay bale yurt.

milking a goat

Ruth, one of our lovely hosts, supervises Maddie and Alicia milking Oreo the goat.

milking into the mouth

Jojo gettin down and dirty

Discussing farm policy, practice, and ideology.

Our inspiring host Dick and his horse buddy Bill teach us the secrets of draft horses.

From garden to plate.

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