Field Trip: Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture

stone barns center

I love living in Brooklyn, but I crave open, outdoor spaces (I mean I did grow up in Western Pennsylvania and my family lives on 13 acres of woods), so I was so so SO excited when Matt’s parents said they wanted to take us up to Stone Barns in Westchester. I learned about the Center when I worked at Inhabitat, and since then, it’s been on my Must-Do list.

stone barns center

Stone Barns is a sustainable 80-acre farm in Tarrytown, NY. It was originally part of the Rockefeller estate, and the stone barns (it’s an aptly named place) were originally used as a dairy farm by John D. Rockefeller. It fell into disuse in the ’50s and the Rockefellers used it to store their car collection, but in the ’70s, David Rockefeller’s wife Peggy began cattle breeding on the farm.

stone barns center

After Peggy died in 1996, the farm was turned into the Stone Barns we know today by David and their daughter. When we visited, our tour guide told us that David, now 96, still lives on a different part of the estate, and he often takes horse-drawn carriage rides through the farm. Amazing, right?

Today, Stone Barns is a four season, educational farm that uses all organic practices (although they are not certified organic) for growing produce, and they raise, pigs, chickens, turkey, geese, and sheep using humane methods closely aligned to the animals’ natural habitats. When we visited, the veggie fields were mostly frozen, but there were a few hearty rows of kale holding steady, along with a few tented beds. They use a giant greenhouse that our guide described as a giant robot to grow veggies year round. They also use the greenhouse to do fun things like experiment with cross-pollinating purple snap peas and regular snap peas to try to create a delicious purple pea.

stone barns center

Even though not much was growing, they still taught us about the fields. They operate on a strict rotation of crops and grazing animals so that no pasture gets the nutrients sucked out of it and they all get equally fertilized. Much of the food on the farm goes to the on-site restaurant, Blue Hill, and all of the scraps are composted. This ultra-rich compost is also used to fertilize all of the vegetable fields. One day, when I find buckets of money, I will dine at Blue Hill, but for now, I will just dream about the food, which is served as a special tasting menu only, with the cheapest meal being $108 per person, before wine.

stone barns center

Speaking of wine, the restaurant’s wine cellar is an earthen cave that the Rockefellers used as their cold storage.

stone barns center sheep

The best part of our trip, obviously, was getting to see the animals! We first stopped by the sheep house (usually they are out in the fields, but not during the winter). The sheep are constantly accompanied by two beautiful (and massive) guard dogs called maremmas. They are Italian sheepdogs and damn are they good at their job. A couple in our group brought their cute little dog, and the maremmas started barking at it from 50-feet away. I am extremely glad they were locked up with the sheep and didn’t come charging at us. Stone Barns breeds lambs, and to keep track of which sheep have been impregnated, they attached a belt with a blue crayon to the rams so they know which sheep they have mounted! Several sheep we saw had blue spots… how scandalous!

stone barns center chickens

We saw the egg-laying chickens, too. The phrase “ruling the roost” took on a whole new meaning for me because there are actually chickens who are more powerful and do rule the roost. Apparently chickens can be quite viscious to each other and peck each other until they die! We saw quite a few that had bare butts. The egg-laying chickens at Stone Barns live for about a year, then they become stews, soups, and stocks. The meat chickens are killed at a much younger age, or else the meat gets tough. All butchering happens on site.

stone barns center pigs

The most entertaining animals we saw were the pigs. Even when they were just eating from their feeders, they were adorable. Pigs are so smart and love to play with each other. They kept squealing and chasing each other around. A lot of the pigs were in houses like you see above because it was so cold, but they are much happier when they are out in their mud pit in the woods.

stone barns hog

The male hog, on the other hand, is the opposite of adorable. He’s quite beastly. He had massive teeth, and he weighs 800 pounds! He’s actually getting too heavy to mount the ladies, so he’ll soon be turned into sausage.

stone barns geese

We also saw the geese, which the Blue Hill chef Dan Barber has been experimenting with ethical foie gras. I really dislike the taste of foie gras, but I dislike how foie gras is made more, so this is pretty awesome. It’s cause a pretty big uproar in the food industry, but it’s also incredibly revolutionary. You can learn more about it here, here, and here.

Even though it was freezing cold, it was one of the best day trips I’ve had in a long time — and the first time I was ever in Westchester! I can’t wait to go back when it’s warm. Hopefully in April to see the newborn lambs!

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