Northeast Farm Tours Let Visitors Connect With the Land
Above photo: A new goat joins the Sprout Creek family. Photo by Marlene McGuire
Story by Anne Roderique-Jones
Anne is a New Orleans-based freelance writer who covers travel, food and lifestyle topics.
People are discovering the origins of their food.
Americans increasingly are showing a deep interest in the origins of their food. No longer content to subsist on processed foods and limp veggies grown in faraway lands, consumers are digging deep to find the roots of their dinner.
I was lucky enough to grow up intimately acquainted with the land and its bounty. Like many residents of the Ozark Hills, my family farmed. My grandparents nurtured a massive garden of potatoes, onions, cantaloupe, cucumbers, green beans, peppers and tomatoes — all of which landed on the supper table. In my own home, we grew an assortment of veggies and — to my infinite delight — large watermelons.
After moving to New York City in my 20s, however, I grew complacent with bodega salads and the occasional farmers market trip. Only recently have I started selecting natural, locally grown items for my grocery list, making me yearn for the farm-to-fork experience of my childhood. Now, I want to taste a tomato straight from the ground or a pumpkin from the patch, which is why I recently took a road trip devoted to farm tours in the Northeast.
My adventure began in Ghent, New York, at Hawthorne Valley Farm, a family-owned property that’s been producing biodynamic and organic foods since 1972. The 700-acre farm is home to dairy cows, vegetables, an organic bakery, a creamery and a sauerkraut cellar. A handy brochure offers a self-guided tour, which I found to be a fine introduction. I stopped for lunch at the on-site natural foods grocery store and enjoyed a fortifying soup made with kale from the farm.
Just 40 minutes west lies Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Guests learn about Shaker-style food and farming practices — such as organic gardening and free-range animal care. Farmer Bill conducts a behind-the-scenes tour that includes a hayride and a chance to bottle-feed newborn animals. The village’s historical buildings, large gardens and hiking trails are open for self-guided tours.
Nearby at Hilltop Orchards in Richmond, Massachusetts, is a 200-acre apple farm owned by the Vittori family. The Vittoris have run the operation for almost three decades, though the property has been farmed for over 150 years. Today, guests can pick an impressive 26 varieties of apples right from the trees. There’s plenty to do — cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, wine tasting — as well as other fun events such as moonlight hiking (best experienced by staying at the on-site bed-and-breakfast).
Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, New York, runs a bustling operation. Just after I visited, a new calf was born, and a goat had triplets. Marlene McGuire, marketing and communications director, says that Sprout Creek is three intertwined entities: a working farm that raises free-range cows, sheep, goats and turkeys; a market that sells award-winning cheeses and farm-produced meats; and an educational center that offers weekend and summer programs that connect young people to the land. Sprout Creek’s programs let people try barn chores, like milking, feeding and caring for the animals. They also learn how cheese is made in the creamery.
My final stop was in Hopewell Junction, New York, at Fishkill Farms, one of Hudson Valley's oldest orchards (founded by Henry Morgenthau Jr., a friend of President Franklin D. Roosevelt). Here, visitors can pick fruit on 40 acres of land. Strawberry season starts in June, cherries and berries in July, and peaches and nectarines in August. The picking season closes in the fall with more than a dozen varieties of New York apples and pumpkins.
The property makes homemade doughnuts and sparkling cider. After a generous cider tasting, I quickly scooped up a bottle and drank with gusto. I've come a long way from the Ozarks, but connecting to the land feels as familiar as can be.
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