Tag Archives | food for thought


The Kitchen Artist’s Whey

A second life for a by-product



If, as editor and essayist Clifton Fadiman once mused, cheese is “milk’s leap toward immortality,” what then of the watery yellow substance left behind? Aside from recalling that Miss Muffet ate it along with her curds, most people have only the vaguest notion of whey, beyond its protein powder form which is routinely added to health shakes.

Whey is the liquid resulting from milk that has been curdled to make cheese or yogurt; it serves as an abundant by-product with which dairy purveyors must contend, so abundant that there has been talk in the past of processing whey into a biofuel. In a world currently embracing sustainable practices and nose-to-tail eating, it’s only fitting that whey should take a turn in the limelight.

The whey from hard cheese and yogurt production is sweet, but the kind produced from making soft cheese like ricotta is more acidic and can cause an overgrowth of algae that is potentially detrimental to aquatic ecosystems if it is dumped into our waterways. So lots of whey is sold, or sometimes given, to animal farmers. The pigs at Raven & Boar in East Chatham are fed grains soaked in whey from local cheese producers, including Twin Maple Farm in Ghent. There is also a growing movement to educate consumers about the taste and nutritional benefits of whey. At last year’s Bitten food conference in New York City, Homa Dashtaki extolled its virtues—rich in probiotics, enzymes, protein and calcium—and vented her frustration that it still has not really caught on with the general public. Her company, White Moustache, makes delicious strained yogurt and now sells its whey, in ginger and honeylime flavors and also as a plain brine in 3.5-gallon buckets for poultry (it’s a marvelous tenderizer).

My Whey

If you make yogurt or soft cheese at home, you won’t need to buy whey. Obsessed with paneer, that soft white cheese used in Indian cooking, and deprived of Indian restaurants where I live in Sullivan County, I had to whip up my own. The process is similar to many recipes for ricotta, though true ricotta is made by curdling whey from milk that has previously been curdled (“ricotta” means “cooked twice” in Italian). When you curdle whole milk with lemon juice or vinegar, you are actually making a kind of fresh cheese that the Indians call “chhenna”: masses of cloud-like white curds that split from the whey.

The curds can be whipped by hand or in a food processor to make a smooth and creamy cheese, or they can be drained until firm—in a strainer lined with cheesecloth or in a hanging bag made from a linen kitchen towel—and you have paneer. More importantly, for the purposes of this piece, you are left with plenty of whey.

Other cultures (Persian, Eastern European) have long appreciated whey as a refreshing and healthy drink. Try it chilled, flavored with fresh lemon and lightly sweetened. Or, as it’s served at El Rey Luncheonette in Manhattan, infused with fennel and tarragon simple syrup in a non-alcoholic riff on pastis, an anise-flavored aperitif. Whey is faintly milky with a wonderfully velvety mouthfeel that translates very well to cocktails, where it imparts the body and structure of egg white but with a silkier texture. This makes it a key ingredient in milk punch, a 17th-century sailors’ recipe that combines pineapple, spices, rum and other spirits into a smooth, potent and amazingly clear cocktail. Whey is also divine shaken with gin, simple syrup, lemon juice, a few drops of orange blossom water and lots of ice in a drink I call the Gin Blossom.


Whey is faintly milky with a
wonderfully velvety mouthfeel
that translates very well to cocktails.


Every Which Whey

Whey keeps in the refrigerator for weeks and has endless applications in the kitchen. An essential component in lacto-fermentation, the naturally occurring bacteria in whey help produce delicious pickles and sauerkraut. A couple of tablespoons added to the water for soaking beans breaks down the enzyme inhibitors and complex sugars that can inhibit digestion. Whey can be used in place of milk or other liquids in baked goods to enhance tenderness, and it’s ideal as a base for smoothies and soups of all kinds.

At Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where chef Dan Barber routinely makes magic with neglected ingredients, thinly sliced onions are slowly braised in whey until they collapse into a soft, sweet heap that’s excellent alongside roast chicken or piled onto a thick slice of grilled bread. Virtually anything braised in whey is enhanced with a smooth texture and savory undertone, including grains, meats and vegetables. Try simmering small potatoes in whey, then tossing them in butter and roasting until crisp. They crackle then melt in your mouth.

On the sweet side, whey can be combined with sugar and cooked down into a caramel sauce or combined with honey and frozen for a hauntingly delicious sorbet. Once you welcome whey into your life, you’ll be crying tears of joy over spilt milk.





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Growing 5,000 sustainable shrimp in Newburgh



Shrimp do not grow in gardens. Nor do they grow in urban basements. Nor has much of Jean Claude Frajmund’s life direction been conventionally linear. Until now.

Born in Brazil to French and Belgian parents, Frajmund, founder of ECO Shrimp Garden in Newburgh, zigzagged through locations like Rome, Paris and New York, doing stints in the film, digital television, culinary and computer industries. Only his unwavering dream, spawned at the age of 16 on the beaches of Brazil, has remained constant. During a three-month trek, he would wade, early in the morning, into chest-high water with a partner to net more than 40 pounds of local shrimp. The fresh, sweet taste of the ocean shrimp was a sensation he would never forget, and he became determined to share such an experience with everyone, land locked or not. This was the path that brought Frajmund’s life circling round to an empty mattress factory in Newburgh—to grow shrimp in his inland, industrial garden.

The diminutive crustaceans in their
spa-like habitat unknowingly carry the weight
of Frajmund’s remarkable dream.

Jumbo Shrimp Problem

The United States is a shrimp glutton. Americans eat, on average, four pounds of shrimp per year—slightly less than the total amount of salmon and tuna consumption combined. Of all the shrimp eaten in the U.S., 94 percent are imported. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. importation of shrimp in 2015 was 585,826 metric tons, or nearly 1.3 billion pounds. The USDA reported an all-time-high imported shrimp haul in 2014, valued at over $6 billion. The demand created from the hoopla of low-priced “endless shrimp”–type promotions and readily available frozen shrimp at supermarket and chain stores has unwittingly caused a tidal wave of endless suffering and destruction for Southeast Asian exporting countries. The ravages are two fold—the mangrove forests and the people.

Mangrove forests are one of the earth’s greatest filters. Guardians of the shoreline, mangroves once covered three-quarters of the world’s tropical coastlines, with the greatest variety inhabiting Southeast Asia. Highly resilient, mangroves thrive in brackish water—up to 100 times saltier than any other plant can withstand. A powerful ecosystem, they hem the shoreline allaying erosion and entrapping many of mankind’s toxins from washing outward into the ocean. Defending seaward, mangroves buffer the horrific effects of tsunamis hurtling toward landfall. Mangroves are renewable food sources; they are, according to the Mangrove Action Project, “fish factories for the 210 million people who live near them and depend on them for food.”

Scientists have dubbed the mangroves “natural carbon scrubbers,” and research shows mangroves “sequester more carbon than any of their terrestrial counterparts.” What has put asunder these stalwart conservators? Shrimp farms.

The early 1980s saw the beginning of a new industry—highly profitable shrimp farms; outdoor ponds were built where majestic mangrove forests once stood. By 1996, Thailand alone had lost approximately 56 percent of its mangrove forests to such development. Like many poorly thought-out plans executed from greed and lack of foresight, the outdoor shrimp ponds quickly were revealed as unsustainable. Farmed shrimp give off ammonia; unless the water is purified and oxygenated, they die. Bacteria also form in the ponds, promoting disease; accelerated amounts of antibiotics have to be introduced into the ecoculture.

Augmented global demand for shrimp must be met in such a scenario; growth hormones, fertilizers, disinfectants and pesticides become inevitable. Compounding the issue is the fact that these ponds only are sustainable from two to five years. More mangrove forests are eradicated; shrimp are produced that are overdosed, pumped up, barely viable and have become the standard for the world’s dinner plate—a practice Frajmund calls “somewhat Faustian.”

Most agonizing are the human victims, the Southeast Asian people. Across the board, the general population suffers from the shrimp aquaculture because reduced mangroves also mean a reduced source of food, medicine and fuel. There is also a tragic hidden cost; purported to help wild resources recover from overfishing, the “blue revolution,” as it is sometimes called, of outdoor pond shrimp farming has ushered in widespread abuse such as rampant slavery, child labor, human trafficking and death. Migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Burma are bamboozled or shanghaied into lifelong slavery on fishing boats, which drag the sea bottom at illegal depths, producing bycatch of endangered species. The bycatch is not released but ground up as food for the shrimp ponds.

On shore, women and underage children are employed in pre-processing factories or peeling sheds. Here they can be starved, physically abused, overworked and have passports confiscated and pay withheld. In 2011, the Thai Frozen Food Association reported about 200 legally registered peeling sheds. Speculative reports assert there could be between 400 and 2,000 unregistered sheds. The U.S. State Department’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report gave Thailand a Tier 3 rating—the worst designation—in 2014 and 2015.

While unabashed destruction of rainforests and melting polar caps has dominated the news, sadly, awareness by the crustacean-consuming public about wrongdoings and corruption in the Southeast Asian aquaculture is extremely low.

Eco-mastermind Jean Claude Frajmund in his humid lab teeming with thousands of shrimp

Upon entering the doors of the
ECO Shrimp Garden, the
temperature becomes balmy
and pleasantly humid.

Small Hope

It’s no wonder why Frajmund is adamant about his shrimp garden. To him, the very term “garden” connotes good food, while the aquatic variety of the term “farm” connotes bad food. He has spent the last two years actuating a 35-year-old vision. Now updated, he has expanded that goal to encompass current circumstances. Frajmund’s beliefs, integrity and determination convince him that he can help pioneer a three-pronged approach to protect humanity and the environment, provide jobs and produce an artisanal product.

Upon entering the doors of the ECO Shrimp Garden, the temperature becomes balmy and pleasantly humid. There is a constant sound of pumps humming and water eddying. Defying expectations, there is no discernable trace of fish odor from the 3,500 to 5,000 Pacific White Shrimp swimming in the blue-and-white-checked tanks. The diminutive crustaceans in their spa-like habitat unknowingly carry the weight of Frajmund’s remarkable dream.

The first of its kind in the tri-state area, the ECO Shrimp Garden indoor tanks are one of a small but steadily expanding number in the country. The Pacific white shrimp growing here are chosen for their sweet taste, ability to adapt to indoor tanks and potential to reach a desired market size. The 11-day-old babies, so translucent they look like ghosts, develop to harvest size in four to six months. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program gives this shrimp its “Best Choice” ranking. The 24 tanks and four nurseries they thrive in are fitted with an Indoor Zero Water Exchange Systems (IZHEA), a totally closed system. The tap water that fills the tanks is recyclable, chemical free, hormone free and pollutant free. Shrimp in these tanks will never know the hazards of mercury, oil and other contaminants that swirl in the ocean. The saline content in the tanks, perfectly balanced at ocean standards, is achieved with U.S.-produced ocean salt. Unless a tank is being filled, the water usage is no more than the average household. But the essential key to success is a recent development in aquaculture technology known as “biofloc.” Before its introduction, all of Frajmund’s extensive research was dead-ended.… Read More

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Comfort Me with Memories

A visit high on a hill with Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl, at home in Columbia County


My first recollection of Ruth Reichl was as a spy, of sorts. I had read, a few decades ago, about this phantom woman who had previously been the food editor at the Los Angeles Times and then became the restaurant critic at the New York Times, and who, in an effort to maintain her anonymity, would routinely disguise herself with wigs, makeup and other accessories to mask her identity as the person who could make or break a restaurant with a review. For a few years there, Reichl’s pen was mightier than any sword put to use in any kitchen. She went on to author numerous books like Garlic and Sapphires and Tender at the Bone and then, maybe more notably, she served as the powerhouse editor in chief of Gourmet until it was unexpectedly shuttered in 2009. But now, on a day in late fall, Reichl stood in front of me, armed with a smile and a knife, and welcomed me into her home.

Sitting high upon a shale plateau in Columbia County, dramatically overlooking the Hudson Valley, is Reichl’s contemporary home that she shares with her husband, Michael Singer. This is the place where Reichl now conducts much of her life’s work—cooking and remembering. In 2009, when Gourmet met its demise, Reichl was admittedly “devastated” by not only the loss of a magazine, which had a lengthy history before she joined but which she helped shape into a defining voice of food journalism, but also by the loss of her loyal and trusted staff, who were set out on their proverbial asses, just as Reichl was. “They were my family,” Reichl remembers, and she felt not just protective but indebted to them. Reichl has remained in close contact with many of her former staff and has watched them extend their influence into the larger world, but the experience rattled her. With such crisis came inspiration, and in 2015 Reichl published My Kitchen Year (Random House), a four-season cookbook as well as a tender meditation on grief and reflection. One page muses on the perfect fried oysters, while another page addresses the moments of solitary regret about the end of the Gourmet era.

For Reichl, she no longer misses the rush of the editorial deadline, nor the thrill of eating incognito. Instead, she is wholly in love with the act of cooking for friends and family. She equates cooking for people as providing care in the form of food. She views recipes, like the ones in her book, as “conversations” rather than “lectures” and believes that the simple act of cooking should be more of a product of expression than intended result. She likes mistakes, but honestly, her mistakes are probably no less delicious than her triumphs.





Way back issues of Gourmet from Reichl’s personal collection



Items from Reichl’s well-worn collection of culinary writing and recipe notes


Reichl’s oasis: a small writer’s retreat just steps from her backdoor

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Spice, the Final Frontier

Nirmala Narine’s global perspective


Sniffi ng the golden turmeric from the large elliptical glass bottle makes your pores tingle. And it’s not the only spice in Nirmala’s Kitchen Spice Shop, a one-room, well-appointed spice emporium on her Highland farm property, that elicits a physiological response. There is the subtle sweetness from a furled cinnamon bark, the blissful scent from dried lavender—all bringing on a heady moment, exactly what spice is all about.

Tasting deepens that moment, and to Nirmala Narine, an astute and worldly epicurean, taste can be a multidimensional experience measured not just on the palate but in our bodies as a curative force, in our minds referencing a geographical point or stirring the sediment of memory. Each exotic spice in the Spice Shop has age-old healing properties still used in the far reaches of the globe, countries Narine travels to in her passionate wanderlust to trace indigenous foods to the very essence of their cultivation. She has visited over 156 countries, and these journeys often include a visit to her childhood home in Guyana, a small South American nation with strong Caribbean roots. This is where she grew up with her extended family, whose grandparents emigrated from India in the 19th century as British indentured servants. It was a childhood that taught her the bare basics of how to survive on what you could grow and how to make food more flavorful. She expands on those fundamentals in her cookbooks In Nirmala’s Kitchen: Everyday World Cuisine (Lake Isle Press; 2006) and Nirmala’s Edible Diaries (Chronicle Books; 2009), both of which read like travelogues. She has been in the food enthusiast spotlight featured in The New York Times, Bon Appétit, O: The Oprah Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, Food & Wine and making appearances on Martha Stewart, The Today Show, CNN and The CBS Early Show. Her recently published YA novel for children is Ellishiva Cinnamon and the Sixth Element.

Narine teaches the act of tasting as a springboard
from which to expand and elaborate on, gauging
subtle changes with our palates, honing in on
what’s sweet or savory, bitter or hot, like taking
apart a puzzle to study each piece.

Nirmala Narine in her kitchen, which serves as a
staging ground for entertaining as well as instruction.

Narine speaks with a spirited energy when weaving memorable tales of her childhood into her raison d’être. Growing up in the basic, small family cottage on stilts in Guyana to becoming a known expert on global foods and spices has patterned Narine’s life in a steady stream of contrasts. “There was no electricity and the tiny kitchen had no running water,” she recalls, comparing it to her present home, a remodeled farmhouse with a spacious, sleek, state-of-the art kitchen that doubles as a cooking classroom. The adjoining dining room is where she serves her exclusive spice suppers on a long hewn table. She bought the farmhouse eight years ago; the 15-acre former dairy and rodeo farm now serves as her base for cooking classes, spice suppers and the recently opened spice shop housed in a two-story outbuilding. The farm is replete with goats, chickens (who Narine calls “my girls”) and horses, which are boarded there a few times a year. The road sign says “Nirmala’s Kitchen” and, beyond the split rail fence, the grounds are pleasantly anchored by a large horse barn at the far end and the farmhouse in the front. Framed beehive boxes sit near rows of lavender and large, elongated, raised beds, which were constructed to replace a dilapidated garage, now growing various lettuces, including callaloo, a type of Caribbean spinach. The grounds are deceptively informal for someone with such an erudite history.

“People expect to see a state-of-the-art garden, but it doesn’t work that way,” she explains. “When I was a child, we knew exactly what to grow. If we had tons and tons of rain in the previous season, we knew at a certain time of year we couldn’t start planting rice because it would oversaturate the field. Same with sugarcane, watermelon, coconuts.” In Guyana, Narine’s mother and grandmother grew rice and vegetables. “They never wanted their children to become farmers, but here I am. Farming is in my blood.”

Seeding Her Future

Newly purposed visions and ideas often tap into old childhood memories, which play like a background pedal point. When the young Narine was hungry, she knew how to grow plants like shallots to flavor her food, which took only a week or two with the proper soil and watering. Knowing that plants grew fast in the tropical climate actually helped steer the young, eight-year-old Narine toward her entrepreneurial future.

“I used to walk barefoot to school and the other girls would make fun of me, but I would never ask my parents to buy me shoes.” She knew pepper seeds sprouted quickly and the fruit would soon follow, so she planted a bunch of seeds, nurtured them, and a few weeks later she filled a large, cracked white bowl with chili peppers and walked to several villages and sold them all. With her earnings she bought a pair of flip-flops for herself and for her younger brother.

The girl had moxie, she ran with it and is running with it still.

Today, she teaches that same lesson of self-reliance to impoverished children all over the world, a goal of her nonprofit group, Nirmala Global Village Foundation. Because her regular excursions take her anywhere from India to Southeast Asia to Africa, she connects with numerous disadvantaged youngsters and teaches them how to survive. Narine went to a Nepal compound that housed girls rescued from sex trafficking and who, because of their past, were shunned by the rest of Nepalese society. “I showed these young girls how to grow marigolds in just a few weeks,” Narine explains. “They laid out a growing plan, learned when to water and kept diaries of how to do everything. They had responsibilities.” When the flowers bloomed, Narine taught the girls how to wrap the marigolds in burlap because, as she told them, “We are going to sell them.” She had the girls dress as businesswomen and took them to one of Nepal’s more famous hotels, introduced them to the manager and told him she was teaching the girls how to start a business. A deal was struck. “All of a sudden, when I looked at these girls who have been terribly abused, here they were and their faces were lit up; it was their moment to shine. They now knew how to negotiate and felt proud and empowered.” That night, brightly colored marigolds appeared on hotel guests’ pillows with notes that read: “Grown by Sita, age 10.”

Helping those less fortunate is compassion Narine learned as a youngster helping her grandfather, a sought-after Ayurvedic healer in Guyana. “We used to have sick villagers from all over coming to my grandfather, and he would prepare poultices and tonics using spices from ancient India. I would pound up the barks, leaves and roots on the masala brick. I tasted everything.” He was, as she called him, her “Payo,” and he took her under his wing, teaching her yoga when she was three and how to speak and read Sanskrit and learn the Vedic Sanskrit hymns in the Rig Veda, one of the four sacred Hindu texts or Vedas.… Read More

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The Inconvenient Farm Stand

A new chapter begins for Montgomery Place Orchards



On a Tuesday morning this past July, chef Nick Suarez places a routine call to Montgomery Place Orchards to begin a new week of menu planning for his restaurant, Gaskins. Farmer Talea Taylor pauses the jam-making process underway in her kitchen to answer.

“Any idea what you’ll have this week?” the chef inquires. “Plenty of snap peas and a tsunami of black raspberries,” Taylor replies.

With that report, the week’s dishes for Suarez start to take shape. The snap peas are so sweet, Suarez won’t need to blanch them. He will prepare them with pistachios, olive oil, crème fraîche and a sprig of mint. Black raspberries he envisions on top of a lemon polenta cake. If supplies last, maybe they will flavor the ice cream of the week, too. When he swings by the farm stand on Route 9G in Red Hook to pick up his order, Suarez is sure to find another surprise or two that he will add to the menu at the last minute. This is the nature of fieldto- plate food in the making and typifies an exchange, while often improvisational in spirit, advantageous for both farmer and chef.

Nurturing in Insecurity

Yet despite a loyal clientele of retail customers at their seasonal farm stand and numerous local restaurants purchasing wholesale, like Gaskins, farm life has been precarious for Talea and her husband, Doug Taylor—for reasons that have little to do with the whims of Mother Nature. The Taylors have worked the land on this historic estate for nearly 30 years, but for most of that time, they operated under short-term contracts with Historic Hudson Valley, the nonprofit educational organization that ran the estate from the 1980s until just last year and currently runs Kykuit, a former Rockefeller estate in Westchester. When you specialize in heirloom fruits, like Montgomery Place does, that take years to develop, a commitment to just one growing season at a time is a difficult way to go about the business and doesn’t yield a lot of long-term security.

Earlier this year, however, the uncertainty of the past gave way to a more promising future when Bard College, in neighboring Annandaleon- Hudson, purchased the 375-acre Montgomery Place estate from Historic Hudson Valley for $18 million. Soon after the purchase was completed, the new owners offered the Taylors a contract to run the orchards privately for the next five years. It was as though a dark cloud lifted and the prospect of living with the longstanding uncertainty of season-to-season farming was no more.

“You learn through adversity,” Talea Taylor says of the new situation. “We’re feeling cautiously optimistic.”



Part of the Past

The land surrounding Montgomery Place has been continuously farmed since the mid 1700s, and the Taylors feel a strong connection to this agricultural tradition. In 1802, Janet Livingston Montgomery, widow of the Revolutionary War hero Richard Montgomery, bought a 242-acre farmstead from a Dutch apple grower named John Van Benthuysen. The land already was producing enough fruit and grain to supply the family with a surplus to sell to New York City markets, but Montgomery had a bigger vision for the new estate. Exotic plants were her passion, and Montgomery decided to start a commercial nursery to sell fruit trees, berry bushes and vegetable seeds to other farmers in the Hudson Valley. By 1813, the nursery was advertising dozens of varieties of apple, peach, cherry, pear and other fruit trees for sale.

As later generations of the family inherited the estate, the focus shifted away from commercial agriculture toward designing Romantic- style landscapes and protecting the Sawkill Creek from industrial development. But when John Ross Delafield inherited the property in the 1920s, he saw potential to revive the orchards. With the purchase of an additional 147 acres, he incorporated Montgomery Place Orchards. And in 1935, Violetta White Delafield designed the Wayside Stand as a model for a more beautiful roadside display than the ramshackle wagons that were typical of the era.

In the 1980s, the Delafield family sold Montgomery Place to a nonprofit organization that later became Historic Hudson Valley. It was then that Doug Taylor responded to a 1987 ad in American Fruit Grower magazine for a farmer to run the orchards.

Over the next two decades, Historic Hudson Valley focused intermittently on historic preservation of the home and gardens, while the Taylors figured out how best to run the orchards. By the early 2000s, the number of visitors to the historic property, which includes a stately home overlooking the Hudson River, was on the decline and it became clear that management was struggling to come up with a viable long-term plan for the estate.

Meanwhile, a frenzy of farmed-food appreciation and enthusiasm started to take hold in the Hudson Valley, and the Taylors’ roadside farm stand took off. “We were the tail wagging the dog,” Doug Taylor recalls.



Organized Chaos

Common wisdom says fleeting inventory, in the form of dwindling peaches and haricots verts, should be bad for business, but Talea Taylor has made it a selling point. She refers to her market as the inconvenient farm stand, and customers love her for it. You don’t show up with a shopping list—you pop in to see what’s there. “Our farm crew makes eight trips a day from the fields to the market,” she explains. “If we are out of green beans at 10am, we could have more by 2pm. And when we do have them, they will be the freshest green beans you can get.”

Talea feels an energizing urgency to get produce out of the back of the pickup truck parked behind the farm stand, sorted, on display and into people’s stomachs as quickly as possible. The vibe is contagious, and employees routinely sample a cherry tomato here, a leaf of baby kale there. “I think we celebrate our produce more than other farms. It never feels boring,” she says.

Patrons know that treasures can appear under the stand’s signature red and white striped awning any time of day. Depending on the season, there may be still-warm strawberries, fragile donut peaches or fresh cherries from a neighboring orchard. In the fall, dozens of varieties of apples fill wooden baskets, many of them antique heirloom varieties, like Starry Night, Hidden Rose and Esopus Spitzenburg that originated in the Hudson Valley centuries ago.

Part of the original Wayside Stand is incorporated into the presentday market, in the same location where Violetta Delafield first set up her shop. Today, Talea is proud to continue the tradition of the beautiful roadside display. She embraces the idea that presentation makes a difference when it comes to selling produce. Customers seem to wholeheartedly agree.

“Everything is beautiful at the market—it’s all so alive” says Sarah Suarez, co-owner of Gaskins and wife of Nick. “I always get something extra that I haven’t ordered, and I often run into someone else I know.”

The question on everyone’s minds, of course, is whether anything will change at Montgomery Place Orchards as Bard College gets more involved and assumes the duty of landlord.

Owners and farmers Talea and Doug Taylor at the farm stand

“We need
institutions to
connect with
local farms and bring
them into their
and most importantly,
into the cafeteria.”


College Bound

Across the Sawkill Creek, which divides the two properties and empties into the Hudson River, Bard College administrators saw a one-of-a-kind opportunity when Montgomery Place came up for sale.… Read More

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Continuing an ancient African
rice-growing tradition in Ulster Park

Farmer Nfamara Badjie with a handful of his rice harvest


“I told him, ‘You’re crazy, we can’t grow rice here!’” says farmer Dawn Hoyte with a self-deprecating grin. She’s standing in the grass next to one of Ever-Growing Family Farm’s many rice paddies, the hot sun beating down and the slender, green rice plants reaching up from the water to wave in the welcoming breeze. Not surprisingly, Hoyte has since conceded that her initial assessment was wrong and her husband, Nfamara Badjie, was right. The evidence surrounds her in the couple’s small farm in Ulster Park.

The couple purchased the property in 2013 with the intention of farming it. “But it was so wet—like a swamp,” says Hoyte. Fortunately, Badjie, who grew up growing rice in a tiny village in Gambia, was far from discouraged. Although most farmers would eye the marshy, clay-laden soil with doubt, Badjie knew it was a blessing—a perfect place to grow rice.

Armed with a traditional, long-handled shovel called a “kajandu,” Badjie, his three sons, Malick, 23, Modou, 15, and Abibou, 12, and his good friend and farming partner Moustapha “Tapha” Diedhiou began the process of digging down into the heavy soil and building up a berm to create the paddies. The work was intensely demanding, but it was work they knew and loved. The Badjies and Diedhiou are all members of the Jola, a tribe of master rice growers in the Casamance region of West Africa that spans parts of Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau. “It’s like rice is in their DNA—they can tell what kind it is and how long it’s been stored just by looking at it,” says Hoyte.


“If you haven’t eaten rice, you
haven’t eaten,” is a common
saying in parts of West Africa.

Rice is Life

It’s impossible to overstate how important rice is to the Jola, an egalitarian tribe whose people believe they were born to cultivate rice. They view their labors in the fields as their half of the bargain they’ve made with their primary deity, Ata Emit, who is known as “The Master-Owner of the Universe” and rewards their hard work with rain. Rice defines every aspect of Jola life—culinary, social, economic and religious. It’s eaten at every meal—sometimes it is the meal. “If you haven’t eaten rice, you haven’t eaten,” is a common saying in parts of West Africa.

While Badjie and his sons were busy slicing out chunks of heavy, wet earth from the farmland with the kajandu and stacking them to form the sides of the fledgling paddy, Hoyte read everything she could find about rice farming. “Everything I know comes from a book. None of the guys have ever read a word about it but they’re like encyclopedias of rice farming,” she says.

One of the biggest surprises to the family was the discovery that procuring rice seed proved far more challenging than creating a place to plant it. “Rice is a commodity, which means that the government controls it—it’s not like buying tomato seeds,” explains Hoyte, who wrote to the USDA to request some of the precious seed. “They sent us about two tablespoons—that’s not very much,” she says with a grimace.

Perhaps more discouraging, most of the growers they met at rice conferences were not inclined to share information and had an unpleasant tendency to talk down to Badjie whose English is heavily accented. But things turned around when they met Erik Andrus of Boundbrook Farm—110 acres of gloriously soggy clay bottomlands located in Vermont’s Champlain Valley, where he and his wife, Erica, grow rice and raise ducks in a fascinating integrated system that traces its origins to Japan. Unlike the other more circumspect growers, Andrus was friendly and generous with both his knowledge and his seed.

The first year, the Ever-Growing team built and planted two paddies, saving every bit of the rice they harvested for seed. The second year, they built two greenhouses in which to start the seedlings and added several more paddies. After flooding the paddies, they planted four varieties of rice: Akitakomachi and Koshihikari, two high-end, short-grain varieties from northern Japan; Duborskian, a sweet, nutty, short-grain rice from upland Russia; and last but not least, Ceenowa, the pretty, red heirloom rice that the Jola have been growing along West Africa’s aptly named “Rice Coast” for centuries. When cooked, the Ceenowa grains turn a beautiful, light purple.

Ceenowa and other varieties of African rice (Oryza glaberrima) are a different species of rice from the many varieties of Asian rice (Oryza sativa) grown around the world. Independently domesticated in the Niger Delta roughly 3,500 years ago from a wild rice that still grows in Sub-Saharan Africa, it has been quickly declining in recent years. Well-meaning NGOs and global market forces have combined to push Asian rice, which tends to mature more quickly and produce higher yields, albeit with a lower protein content than its African counterparts. The Jola are the primary guardians of Oryza glaberrima at this point, although many of them have also switched to growing the Asian varieties. Back in Badjie’s village, his parents were strict believers in the superiority of their native rice. “If you were cooking that rice you buy in the store (from China or Pakistan), my father could just smell it and he’d say, ‘I don’t want it—it’s not healthy,’” says Badjie.

Badje (second from right) and Hoyte (center seated) with family and friends on the farm.

Harvest, Jola-Style

In late September, when the rice was ready to pick, the family invited their friends, CSA members and neighbors to the farm for a harvest party. Badjie and Diedhiou donned their colorful Jola costumes, got out their drums and proceeded to teach everyone how to harvest rice to the beat of their traditional rhythms. “This way we have more fun, and the singing gives us more energy. It’s also a competition— nobody wants to be left behind, so everyone works harder and faster,” explains Badjie, showing me a video of the harvest on his phone. If I squint my eyes and ignore the teenager with the blue hair, I can believe I’m watching a harvest filmed in Gambia or Senegal. Once the rice is cut, it has to dry. Finding enough dry places where the birds could not pilfer the harvest was a bit of a challenge.

Eventually, rice covered every available surface on the property, including the interior of the house. “You should have seen our living room, it looked like it was covered with a fringe,” remembers Hoyte. When the rice was dry, they separated some to use for seed the next year, loaded the rest into the car and drove it up to Boundbrook Farm in Vermont, where they paid Andrus a small fee to use the rice milling machine he had imported from China. They experimented with various degrees of milling, sending some of the rice through the machine once to create brown rice, preserving the hull and bran layer of the grain, and some through three times to create white rice as well as milling some of each variety twice to create what the Japanese call “haiga mai”—a half-brown, half-white rice that some studies indicate may be even more nutritious than brown rice because the nutrients are easier to digest.… Read More

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A love story

Writer Laura Silverman scratching the surface of the forest floor


Foraging always came naturally to me. During my Northern California childhood, I would climb over our back fence into an empty lot, pick great misshapen lemons off a tree that grew there and eat them sprinkled with sugar. Walking home from school, my chums and I snacked on wild blackberries, chewed juicy “sour grass” (a type of wood sorrel) and sucked drops of sweet nectar from the purple flowers of a creeping vine that covered our path. I don’t recall how we learned to do this—maybe it was innate—but I do know that I made a deep connection to nature at an early age that lay dormant during the decades I lived in New York City. It wasn’t until I started exploring the Catskills in 2003 that I began to forage again.

Though it’s gaining momentum now, at a time when slow living, “authentic” experiences and environmental awareness have captured the imagination of information-saturated millennials, foraging is not new. Once upon a time, humans survived in the world by roaming widely in search of food and provisions. This ancient practice taps into something deeply primal in all of us, and when we reconnect with nature, that lizard brain stirs. But head out into the wilderness armed with nothing more than a desire to find something edible and you will be at a loss. Depending on the season, the choicest tidbits might be in plain sight or nearly impossible to discern. Unless you know the difference, the delicious can easily be confused with the deadly.

Black trumpets

Digging Texts

Foraging responsibly requires a strong connection to the landscape, including how it’s affected by the weather, and knowledge of botany. A reliable reference book is essential. The first one I picked up was Euell Gibbons’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus, published in 1962 and widely considered the first word in foraging texts. The foreword, written by John McPhee, whose New Yorker profile of Gibbons from 1968 is well worth tracking down, tells the story of how Gibbons headed into the New Mexico hills to forage for food to keep his family alive when his father couldn’t find work during the Great Depression. They managed to survive for more than a month on puffball mushrooms, piñon nuts and prickly pear fruits. Gibbons went on to live off the land wherever he could and developed a rather sophisticated wild cuisine (former New York Times restaurant critic Craig Claiborne called him “an excellent cook and a naturalist who lives by the pen”) that still holds up. With Gibbons’s book as my guide, I ventured into the mountains and forests but also into the “abandoned farmsteads, old fields, fence rows, burned-off areas, roadsides, woodlots, farm ponds, swampy areas and even vacant lots” that were designated in the text as some of the best foraging sites.

While books are a great place to pique your foraging curiosity, eventually you have to get outside. My initial forays proved both fruitful and confusing. I thought I recognized certain plants or mushrooms, but at the moment of truth I often balked at actually putting something in my mouth. This is where a flesh-and-blood mentor proves invaluable. As Gibbons himself said in a fascinating 1972 interview with Hal Smith in Playboy, “It would be extremely difficult—in a book—to teach someone to distinguish between a head of cabbage and a head of lettuce. Yet anyone who’s raised a garden or has become acquainted with supermarket produce recognizes the difference quite easily.”

Unless you know the difference,
the delicious can easily be
confused with the deadly.

Wild grapes

The first guided plant walk I went on was led by Richard Mandelbaum, a practicing herbalist since 1997, who is based in Forestburgh, New York, and Brooklyn, where he is the co-founder of ArborVitae, a school of traditional herbalism. It was pouring rain that afternoon and most of our small group was kitted-out in high-performance gear. Almost at once we came upon a beautifully ruffled, bright-orange mushroom: a chicken of the woods! It’s hard to describe the thrill of that eureka moment but, for you urbanites, it’s something akin to finding money on the sidewalk or a Prada jacket in your size at half off. I have felt faint when stumbling upon a vast patch of ramps (wild leeks) and fallen to my knees in ecstasy before a flush of black trumpet mushrooms, a funnel-like mushroom that grows in clusters.

Mandelbaum’s winning combination of encyclopedic knowledge and childlike wonder was just as inspiring then as it is now, and I still regularly look to him for herbal remedies as well as plant lore. But what I remember most from that day was another member of our group, a man who, despite the torrential downpour, was roaming the forest in simple sandals and a wool sweater, rain dripping from his long beard and even longer hair. Occasionally, he would dart silently into the trees and reappear with a mushroom as though it had been calling to him. He seemed to be one with nature. This was Nathaniel Whitmore, a local herbalist and wildcrafter, and the founder and president of the Delaware Highlands Mushroom Society.

Growing up on his great-grandfather’s 100-acre farm in Damascus, Pennsylvania, Whitmore loved to wander alone through the fields and forests. He remembers his grandfather taking two mustard-smeared pieces of bread into the field in early spring to make a sandwich with young dandelion greens. As a teen, he befriended Taterbug Tyler, a local mountain man and moonshiner who introduced him to wild edibles and taught him to make tinctures, syrups and decoctions. Whitmore went on to study botany, mycology and ethnobotany, as well as Native American medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, American folk medicine and Ayurveda and now regularly offers walks and classes about botany, mushrooms and herbs.

A plant-focused omnivore, most of what Whitmore eats comes from the wild, including nuts, seeds, buds, flowers, leaves, stalks, shoots, roots, tubers, berries, fiddleheads and pollen. He attributes his good health to a diet rich in variety and from an essential connection to the earth that simply makes him feel good.

“Eating natural foods taps into something ancient, something universal, an experience that’s part of everyone’s archetypal psyche,” he explains. “Our bodies are following a trajectory set in place by our ancestors and it just feels right.” He sees the growing interest in foraging as inevitable and, without irony, gives credit to the Internet for facilitating conversation around this topic and for making plant identification more accessible.

As a full-time resident of Sullivan County, I live according to the seasons, marking the passage of time by what’s growing at local farms, in my garden and out in the wild. By the close of winter, I am checking daily for the first sign of stinging nettles, hotly anticipating the fortifying soup I will make. Summer means fermented elderflower cordial and milkweed buds in miso butter. Fall brings mushrooms— to eat and to preserve for their highly medicinal properties. I’m after that soul-satisfying connection to the earth and what Euell Gibbons called “that wild taste.” It’s in my blood.


Wild Mushroom Soup



Fledgling foragers are advised to carry a reliable field guide, consult an experienced mentor and heed the trusted aphorism, “When in doubt, throw it out.” It’s best to eat only a small bite of wild food that is new to you as everyone responds differently and allergy or indigestion are both possibilities.… Read More

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Pantry Portrait

Backyard farming in Rhinebeck


Sarah Hutchings with homemade prosciutto


My city friends always say, “‘It must be so quiet in the country,’” says Sarah Hutchings with a laugh. It’s actually a little hard for me to hear her over the din made by her flock of roughly 50 chickens, punctuated by the crowing of half a dozen roosters and one very vocal guinea hen. “I started out with 12 guinea hen eggs, but she’s the only one who survived, thank God!” says Hutchings. “She likes to climb onto the roof early in the morning and scream just outside our windows.”

A small woman in her early forties with long dark hair, hazel eyes and a wide smile, Hutchings is dressed in jeans, shirt, black down vest and well-worn Muck boots. When I arrive on a warm, sunny morning, she’s in the process of feeding the animals spread throughout her property.

The rocky slope surrounding her home in Rhinebeck is covered with animal dwellings—I count at least three chicken coops of varying sizes, a pen with two Nubian Dwarf goats, beehives and a pair of hutches that hold her latest experiment—two Champagne d’Argent rabbits with silvery fur and black-rimmed ears. Across the road, a larger pen houses three black and white piglets that her children—a boy of 11 and a girl of 14—are raising for 4-H to show at the Dutchess County Fair this summer.

“If I had more room, I would have a cow for milk,” says Hutchings. As she walks around, making sure everyone has food and water, she checks for eggs, finding them in places both likely and unlikely, thanks to her Bantam hens’ tendency to lay in hidden spots. She tucks them into her vest pocket as she goes. “Usually, I remember to take them out, but every once in a while, I will be in the village at five o’clock in the afternoon having a drink with my husband and realize I have a pocketful of egg yolk,” she says.


Hutchings was born in Cognac, France, a town celebrated for Brandy production, and was raised in a series of francophone African countries, including Algeria, before her parents returned to France when she was 12, settling in a small village near Nice. Her upbringing is apparent in her accent, her devotion to fresh, well-raised food and her no-nonsense approach to parenting. “We have always eaten dinner together and it’s just one dinner for all of us—I would never make a separate meal. If the children don’t like it, they will have a good breakfast tomorrow,” says Hutchings.

It’s clear that her family has been influential in her appreciation of food. In addition to spending summers on her grandparents’ farm near Bordeaux as a child, she credits her uncle with awakening her lifelong love of mushroom foraging, a topic that makes her face light up with pleasure. “Ever since I was a little girl, my family would go mushroom picking. In the fall, we’d go on vacation to places where we knew we could pick mushrooms. Even as a teenager, we would sneak out of class when it was the season,” says Hutchings.

She practically glows as she details the many types of mushrooms that can be found on her property. She mentions pheasant’s back—a shelf mushroom that is typically the earliest to appear in the spring, and morels, which tend to come out at the same time as wild ramps.

“I like [morels] with shallots and bacon in a cream sauce over homemade pasta with a pork or veal chop. I also like to dry some so I can think about them in the middle of the winter.” There’s also milk caps, which appear in June and July, boletes and black trumpets, which she finds in abundance. “In France, when we don’t have truffles, we use black trumpets—they’re very flavorful. When you arrive in the forest, you can actually smell them.” She says giant puffballs appear in the fall. “They’re amazing—you peel and slice them and prepare like you would for chicken Parmesan—dipped in egg and bread crumbs and fried and baked with mozzarella. Those were a great discovery—we don’t have them in France,” says Hutchings.

pantryPortrait3A sampling of the many preserved bits of Hutchings’ life.


Hutchings met her husband, Jacob, an American photographer and film production manager, in France, where they lived together for a decade and had their two children. Then, out of the blue, Hutchings was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007. When Hutchings finished treatment roughly one year later, she found that her priorities had shifted, “I was okay but I did not want to go back to work—I just wanted to spend time with my family,” she says. At the same time, her husband received a job offer back in the States and it was time for her daughter to change schools. It seemed like a good time to make a big move. They already knew Rhinebeck from visits to Jacob’s parents who had moved there after September 11. “We’d come here for vacations and loved it. So we thought, maybe we need to move here, it’s a really nice place. And there were tons of mushrooms!” says Hutchings.

After settling near Rhinebeck, Hutchings had her first experience with ticks. “They were going to come and spray the lawn but I’m a cancer survivor and my kids were very small and I felt like there should be another option—I did not want to be afraid to go outside because I was paranoid about the chemicals. Around the same time, I went to Agway to buy flowers and they had baby chicks. They told me that chicks eat ticks and the next thing you know, I had 12 of them.”

In the roughly six years that have passed since then, Hutchings has taken her family’s food production largely into her own hands, starting with those 12 chickens for fresh eggs—the gateway livestock—and expanding to include meat chickens, turkeys, pigs, bees, meat rabbits, and a small garden where she raises greens, herbs and tomatoes. “We have three large chest freezers,” says Hutchings, who trades some of her pork and chicken with friends who raise lamb and duck. Her large flock of egg-laying chickens includes Bantams, Marans and Easter Eggers (a breed recognized for their ability to lay eggs along the color spectrum from blue to pink) because she likes to have a variety of colors. The hens lay enough eggs to allow Hutchings to deliver eggs to seven families in the area on a weekly basis in the summer.

In addition to the superior taste and freshness, the desire to remain healthy is a primary driver of Hutchings’s devotion to raising her own food. “I already went through one bout of cancer, I’m going to try to avoid another one. And I want to give my children a chance to have a healthy life,” says Hutchings. “I try to eat things with very few ingredients. If there’s something on the package that I can’t read, I probably won’t eat it.”

As is common with children who grow up surrounded by something, Hutchings’s kids appear to have absorbed her philosophy on an elemental level.… Read More

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A Castle for the Cows

A Rockefeller Center for dairy



Graceful stone arches and gothic traversing vaults conjure up ideas of medieval royalty. When those same architectural bastions are used in a modern dairy barn, there is a dramatic shift in perception about farming, from what it was to what it has become and to what it could be.

The new Churchtown Dairy in Claverack has one such barn, a great vaulted dome built as a stunning accent on a vast, pastoral landscape. From afar, this white spherical structure with its variegated, subdued gray roof arching up to its modest cupola holds a graceful simplicity that redefines the allure of the American farm.

“I wanted the Churchtown Dairy to be spectacular, to be beautiful,” says Abby Rockefeller, who owns the land and built the dairy. Rockefeller, part of a long line of philanthropic Rockefellers in the State of New York, is a longtime champion of sustainable agriculture and unprocessed food. “I wanted a place that would feel good for everyone, a place for people to come together and talk about the issues facing agriculture today, the good and the bad.”

Rockefeller often cites an inspiring quote from A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity, by William Coperthwaite, author and yurt-building enthusiast, which says, “Where there is no beauty there is great danger.”


The Churchtown Dairy is on 250 acres of what was, for years, vacant farmland, purchased by Rockefeller’s mother, Peggy, also a strong advocate for the return to tried-and-true farming methods. That purchase included another 2,500 acres of abandoned dairy farms in Columbia County. That New York dairy farmers were forced from their livelihood strongly resonated with Abby Rockefeller and, in the family tradition of preserving farmland and supporting sustainable agriculture, she established the Foundation for Agricultural Integrity in 2010, a small nonprofit group that manages and revives farmland.

“There is a different economy today that has driven milk farmers out because they can no longer afford to produce milk, and that’s not okay,” Rockefeller says. “Farms went under because deliberate pricing became a governmental policy [this is referring to the policy of government regulation setting the price of milk, rather than the competitive market]. There’s something wrong here and it goes very deep.”

The concept for the Churchtown Dairy was on the drawing board years before the first shovel hit the ground in 2012. Rockefeller hired architect and close friend Rick Anderson to help her design the farm. “Abby contacted me and said, ‘I want to build this farm. And it has to be beautiful,’” Anderson recalls. The directive was right up Anderson’s alley, who for years has traveled around the country dismantling and collecting old barns of faded beauty, especially the rare round ones. For Anderson, the opportunity to create a structure on a 250-acre parcel of open meadows was like having a large blank canvas where his imagination could take off.

Finally the vision for Churchtown Dairy was realized in 2014. Its circular barn with a main floor and a loft is the center point of the milking barn and farmhouse, the major components of the complex. Every structure was built to support biodynamic dairy farming, whose sustainable methods limit the number of cows on a farm to how many can be fed from what is grown on the farm.

“There’s always the question of scale when it comes to dairy farming,” Rockefeller explains. “If you have too many cows it throws off the whole pricing system because you need more people to run the farm. It’s that piece of the economy that has driven human beings away from farming. There has to be a balance.”

A synergistic wave seemed to ripple out from the round barn’s aura reaching the nearby Triform Camphill Community less than a mile down the road. Triform would supply the first few cows of what would become a 28-cow herd at Churchtown. There are 100 Camphill communities worldwide and 11 throughout the U.S., all practice biodynamic farming as part of their program to train adults with developmental disabilities. Triform Camphill was founded in 1979 and has about 90 residents living on its 450-acre campus that runs a working dairy farm, a bakery and has a community center, an auditorium and classrooms.

“Abby’s vision for the Churchtown Dairy was very close to what we are trying to do with our farm,” says Ben Davis, director of operations at Triform and who ran a biodynamic raw milk dairy farm for 12 years in England. “She was interested in a small, raw milk dairy with a real emphasis on the quality and health of the animals.”

When Churchtown Dairy was ready to receive cows from Triform early last spring, Davis says it was a day he will never forget. Escorting six horned bovines down the road required a portable, roped pen held by several people as they walked the cows to their new home. “I laugh when I think about it,” says Davis. “It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever done. Folks were singing as we walked and it was truly amazing. It was a stellar moment of how the community came together and could celebrate the simple things.”

Since last June, the herd has grown to about 28 cows with 18 new calves. In the winter, the cows reside inside the round barn where a clean layer of straw is spread on the circular floor to absorb the waste and then collected into what’s known as a bedded pack, a biodynamic practice known as the “deep litter system.” Eventually the composted straw becomes a rich fertilizer for the farmland, completing the cycle of the many sustainable practices. In the spring the cows are released to the pastures outside to graze in a rotational pattern. With the cows outside, the round barn is magically transformed into a space for human use. Placed eight inches over the hoofed turf are 70 concrete slabs weighing 300 pounds each, supported by a flat platform attached to special pipes. This transformative floor converts the round barn into a place where people can come together. Last year Rockefeller held an open house at Churchtown Dairy in May where a large crowd attended to celebrate the dairy’s official opening with food and drink, wagon rides and a performance by a bell choir. A few months later Scenic Hudson, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and protecting the Hudson Valley, held its fundraising gala there, and in September, four regional Camphill communities came to celebrate Michaelmas, a Christian feast and celebration held in late September, by performing a play in a barn that doubled as a theater in the round.

“When you have this unique and beautiful building, why would you let it sit there all summer?” says Anderson. “We have a great space for farm-related educational talks, cultural events, musical and theatrical performances.”


“Farms went under because
deliberate pricing became
a governmental policy.

There’s something wrong here
and it goes very deep.”


Key to the Churchtown Dairy is how the cows are cared for and nurtured. In the cold month of November, Triform residents ushered the cows into the round barn, newly carpeted with hay to bed down in their wintertime home.… Read More

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Women on the Edge

The virtues of herb farms

womenEdgeLauren Giambrone of Good Fight Herb Co. sorting dried herbs


In the preface to Euell Gibbons’s seminal 1966 book, Stalking the Healthful Herbs, Elizabeth C. Hall, then the associate curator of education at the New York Botanical Garden, wrote: “In all parts of the world, native plants exist that possess or have been thought to possess virtues that appeal to the cook, the medicine man, and the witch doctor. Despite the fact that most wild herbs are of small economic importance in our modern civilization, nevertheless, they supply pleasure to an increasing number of people who study these plants and their fascinating lore.”

The book that follows sets out to reveal many benefits beyond mere pleasure. Gibbons believes wild herbs must be learned, hunted, picked, gathered, smelled, tasted and used for food and medicine wherever possible. Though his obsession might have been remarkable at the time, he freely admits to be following in the footsteps of the ancients. Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine are among countless indigenous systems in which plants have long played a central role in maintaining health.

Fifty years have gone by since the publication of Gibbons’s book and we find ourselves in a time when the healing power of plants is once again in the spotlight. Eating local and organic is one way we let food be our medicine. Many people have become disenchanted with Western medicine and are seeking out natural, plant-based remedies. The prevalence of farmers’ markets and CSAs are creating a customer base for small growers who want to focus on more specialized and fragile crops. So it’s really no surprise that there are an increasing number of herb growers and healers (often one and the same) bringing herbs, both cultivated and wild, to a receptive audience in the Hudson Valley/Catskills region.

Some of the four herb farmers featured below grew up loving plants and some were drawn to herbs because of health issues, but they all express a deep respect for the land and an almost mystical connection to the many healing varieties they grow on it. Like all farming, cultivating herbs is laborious and time consuming. The rewards, while immense and often life changing, are rarely bankable, though, as demand increases, that may evolve.

womenEdge2Stinging nettles bagged and waiting


When the medicine Jordan Schmidt, a vegetable farmer, was offered for her chronic asthma, allergies and digestive issues failed to provide a cure, she turned to herbs. Schmidt went back to school in 2014 to get certified as a nutritional therapist, a technique used to evaluate personal health history, locate core imbalances and provide guidelines for a whole food and herbal diet. Schmidt continues to grow the herbs that she integrates into her practice. “I see a lot of people who are not finding the answers they need in our existing medical system and are looking for more holistic, land-based options,” she says.

Jordan’s two-acre plot is part of Chaseholm Farm, a dairy operation in Pine Plains that she co-manages with her life partner. The herbs she grows—“a hybrid between wild and domesticated foods”—are classic culinary varieties, like rosemary, dill and thyme, and those more closely associated with traditional herbal medicine, like yarrow, comfrey and feverfew. Schmidt finds a lot of crossover between medicinal and culinary herbs. “Many of the culinary herbs are highly medicinal and I suspect that’s why they have always been integrated into daily food,” she explains. She encourages her nutritional therapy clients to eat more herbs as part of their regular diet. Her line of dried culinary herbs packaged in jars is for sale at the farm store and at several other local venues. Among her diverse clientele, she also counts a number of herbalists and practitioners of Chinese acupuncture who believe that sourcing plants locally enhances their medicinal value. Those that are dried immediately after harvesting are more potent and of higher quality. Schmidt is also part of a growers’ co-op experimenting with cultivating Chinese medicinal herbs in the New York area.

womenEdge3Claudia Abbot-Barish of The Herbal Acre


Kelley Edkins has had a long love affair with plants, but it’s the bees that really stole her heart. After apprenticing with an herbalist more than 20 years ago, she learned to identify and study “weeds”— what Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to as plants “whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” She put this knowledge to use when creating gardens for clients in Sullivan County, unearthing old heirlooms and introducing native plants and endangered species to support the dwindling honeybee population. A master gardener with extensive knowledge of sustainable permaculture, she now specializes in woodland gardens filled with diverse plants, many of which—Solomon’s seal, goldthread, St. John’s wort, borage—are healing herbs.

“I’m the farmer,” says Edkins, “but the bees are my teachers.” She maintains two hives on her 10-acre property, Honeybee Herbs in the Catskills, and monitors three others in the wild. It was through careful observation of which plants the bees were pollinating that she was inspired to blend certain herbs for her teas. “The honeybees are really my formulators,” she explains. “I follow the combinations they put together.” In spring, this might mean lilac, coltsfoot, dandelion and nettle; in summer, anise hyssop, mint, sage and lemon balm. The teas often have specific healing benefits, but Kelley does not prescribe to her customers. Instead she simply describes the properties and characteristics of the individual teas and lets people decide what they need. “I feel that people are ready for new modalities,” she says, “especially the open-minded seekers.” Her customers include men and women of all ages, many of whom feel abandoned by the standard medical system.

In addition to herbal teas, Kelley makes beauty products. For her soothing balms, infused oils and healing salves, she uses virgin beeswax, honey and herbs, plus organic coconut, jojoba and sunflower oils. She also sells pure propolis, the potent botanical resin that bees use to seal their hives, which is anti-inflammatory and very healing. Only occasionally does she harvest and sell honey from the bees, and only if there is a surplus after they have survived the winter. Her products are available at Pepacton Natural Foods and the farmers’ market in Roscoe; at Main Street Farm in Livingston Manor; and from her online shop, which features a photo of her covered with bees, clearly in a state of rapture.


Lauren Giambrone discovered herbal medicine on a quest to heal herself. After working two full-time jobs in New York City. “The candle had burned at both ends,” she remembers, “and I collapsed in the middle.” Depleted and frequently sick, Lauren knew her life was unsustainable. Intuition told her that a trip to the doctor was not the right solution. Instead, she sought answers at the health food store, looking for ways to build her immunity.

Around that time, she discovered the Rock Dove Collective, a community health exchange connecting people, regardless of their financial situation, to unconventional wellness offerings and exceptional health practitioners. Giambrone joined the collective and met an herbalist on their roster. Shortly thereafter, she applied to the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine and was admitted to their apprenticeship program.… Read More

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