Farm Camp

Mark and I just returned from Farm Camp, a weekend near the Adirondack Mountains in New York, spent with other people from the culinary world, hosted by the wonderful Jen and Mike, owners of Flying Pigs Farm. Mary Cleaver, owner of Cleaver Company and The Green Table, a pioneer in the sustainability world and also the most inspiring boss I’ve ever had, sent a number of her staff up to meet the producers of the food we sell every night at the restaurant and at every catered event.

There are few specific times in my life that I can look to and know that was a time I was profoundly moved or changed. Farm Camp is now on that list. I went up expecting a tourist’s perspective of where our food comes from (due mostly to my own juvenile excitement) and instead was met with farmers, cheese makers, dairy men and women, maple sugar producers, not to mention the other “campers” and I got to see into the soul of food in the most spiritual way.

Now, I was already pretty far down this path. I grew up raising chickens and honeybees with my family and I get the living of the land thing. But my experience was in my own backyard to provide food for my family and our family friends. The people that I met this weekend are producing food for the population of New York City, Boston and Montreal. There was conversation regarding accessibility to “boutique” farming and when you go to the Farmers Market and a chicken costs $25, yes, the issues of accessibility  arise. What I can tell you from my experience is that no farmer is living a posh lifestyle. We were up on day two and at a milk bottling plant at 7am. The farmer had been there since 1am. Another dairy farmer reported that he expected his farm to lose $400,000 this year because of the crashing price of milk. When asked what we could do back in our restaurants and on our blogs he said “Get people to pass up the energy drinks and have a glass of milk instead.”

I documented this experience in pictures and some of them will bring you very close to where your food comes from. If you are not interested in an up close glimpse into the local food systems and where your food comes from, including the slaughter of a chicken and the castration of a boar, I’d encourage you to navigate away now. However, I took these pictures with absolute respect for the dignity of the farmers, the land and the animals. I will never waste another bit of chicken, or pork or beef for that matter ever again and I think that is a good lesson to walk away with, in addition to seeing the beauty of the land and your local food system.

*Clicking on any of the links will open the farm pages in a new window, so you won’t have to navigate back to this page.

Welcome to the Flying Pigs Farm…

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…where all the animals are happy.

Chickens are raised for meat...

Chickens are raised for meat…

...and eggs. That's Krupa.

…and eggs. That’s Krupa.

This is a male piglet.

This is a male piglet.

If left intact, they become violent and aggressive, tearing through electrified fences to kill other males.

If left intact, they become violent and aggressive, tearing through electrified fences to kill other males.

These are dairy cows.

These are dairy cows at Battenkill Creamery.

So are these.

So are these.

Every morning the milk is bottled, beginning at 1am.

Every morning the milk is bottled, beginning at 1am. Not any easy lifestyle, but absolutely delicious.

This is a Maple Syrup house.

This is a Mapleland Farms Sugarhouse. New York is the #2 producer of maple syrup which is only produced in the Northeast of North America.

These are vials of maple syrup illustrating the wide range of colors the trees can produce. I'm fond of the light syrups myself but most people prefer the dark amber.

These are vials of maple syrup illustrating the wide range of colors the trees can produce. I’m fond of the light syrups myself but most people prefer the dark amber.

…Now is your last chance to click away…

Then it was time to process chickens at Garden of Spices farm. I took a moment with some young oxen while waiting for my turn.

Then it was time to process chickens. I took a moment with some young oxen while awaiting my turn. (Now is the part where you want to click away if you are disturbed by blood.)

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Then we went to Consider Bardwell, where they make goat cheese.

Then we went to Consider Bardwell, where they make goat cheese.

See the green on her back? They've got one stud in with the ladies and he has a green crayon secured to his chest to keep track of who has mated.

See the green on her back? They’ve got one stud in with the ladies and he has a green crayon secured to his chest to keep track of who has mated.

These are wheels of goat cheese in the cave.

These are wheels of goat cheese in the cave.

And this is the cheese maker turning the curds.

And this is the cheese maker turning the curds.

Next we went to a brand new USDA slaughter facility. This is a big deal because not enough of these exist in the Northeast and are booked a year in advance, thus forcing local producers to ship their animals to the far away for slaughter.

Next we went Eagle Bridge Custom Meats, soon to be a brand new USDA slaughter facility. This is a big deal because not enough of these exist in the Northeast and are booked a year in advance, thus forcing local producers to ship their animals far away for slaughter, negating much of the effort put in to eating local in terms of a carbon footprint for shipping. A USDA inspector must be on-site to oversee all slaughter operations and hopefully Eagle Bridge will be getting their very own, interestingly a man trained as a veterinarian.

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Temple Grandin’s approach was used in planning the kill floor and an animal behavioral specialist is on staff.

The aging room.

The aging room.

Then things start to look familiar again.

Then things start to look familiar again.

The leftovers are sent to the rendering plant to make pet food.

The leftovers are sent to the rendering plant to make pet food.

We returned to the farm and ate cheese from Nettle Meadow.

We returned to the farm and ate cheese from Nettle Meadow, where all 250 goats have names and treated as individuals.

I left there transformed.

I left there transformed.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for coming on that voyage with me. Let me leave you with a few points to think about. For one thing, I love animals and I hope that comes through. I also love to eat meat, pork and chicken in particular. By raising rare breeds of pigs, Flying Pigs is perpetuating a bloodline that would have long gone extinct were it not for us omnivores, so in a way, vegetarianism is bad for pigs. So is factory farming. I’m not a vegetarian and have no plans on becoming one. However, this opportunity and a few before it have led me to choose only happily raised animals by farmers who also really love them. I’m looking forward to hearing your comments.