Saturday, August 25, 2007

Farm Out!

As much as I love my farmers' market, I realize that I don't have a complete appreciation for all that the local farmers do. Without a car, I haven't been able to visit any of their farms (though I hope to remedy that soon) and see how they raise their produce and get it ready for market.

I know I could easily remain city-bound and not venture out, but that's not my style. I grew up with a family-wide appreciation for the countryside and the roadside farm stands that made our weekend outings more interesting, and I still want to head out from time to time on the country highways, driving over the rolling hills, with fields and farmhouses lining the road.

Recent posts over at the Ethicurean have reminded me of that deep longing, and an email this week from the American Farmland Trust provided a link to a report on the loss of farmland due to development, making me even more eager to get out of town and get back to my roots.

Happily, I had the perfect opportunity today as local farms hosted the Annual Mohican Valley Farm Festival -- and I persuaded Persephone (and a friend of hers) to join me for the outing.

We headed out of town, reveling in the beauty of the day, the lush greenness of the fields of corn and soybeans, and the abundance of farmhouse gardens along the road. We stopped first at Mohican Gardens to pick up some fresh Amish-grown produce, to browse the greenhouse, and to enjoy the lovely setting.

After that, we wound our way down country roads to Tea Hill Organic Farm, where we had a
quick tour of the poultry processing plant. I had read about how chickens are harvested -- graphic details and all -- in The Omnivore's Dilemma, and though I'm a vegetarian, I didn't find it disgusting because the process described took place on a small farm.

The operation at Tea Hill is presumably larger, as it has been certified organic and processes a respectable number of chickens and turkeys each year, but it's certainly not in the big leagues. It looked and smelled clean, and it was evident from the young woman's description that they run a tight operation with great care. Persephone picked up a couple of chicken breasts for her dinner, and I bought a dozen eggs, knowing that we had actually seen and approved of where the chickens lived (and died).

While there, we also walked across the road to visit the turkey flock, made up of the traditional Fresh White turkeys and some robust-looking Bronze Heirlooms, all of whom proved to be very friendly and interested in company:

Our final stop was the local vineyard, a place I have long wanted to visit. The owner and vineyard manager himself gave us a tour of the winery, explaining the equipment and process he used for the different kinds of wine as well as some of what he's learned about the terroir and the grapes over the years. (Something I didn't know: the press used for the white and red wines uses a gentle 4 lbs pressure and manages to squeeze the skins dry and produces a large quantity of juice, while the special press for the ice wine uses many tons of pressure since it's pressing ice-bound grapes and releasing only a small amount of liquid.)

After the tour, we headed out to visit the animals (goats, a donkey, potbellied pigs) on the way out to the vineyard. Some sections have been stripped bare as the manager noted that some varieties have not fared well in this area and need to be replaced with those that do. But the vines we saw were amply loaded with small grapes in large clusters (concentrating the sugars and the flavors), a promise of a good harvest to come.

We returned to the tasting room for samples of some of the wines, and I ended up buying five different wines so that I can restock my "cellar": the White Menagerie, the cherry wine, the Farmers White and Red wines, and my big splurge, the Chambourcin ice wine.

After that, we headed home, content with our outing and our finds, and more than eager to head out again sometime. (I discovered at the market this morning that the Herb Lady is hosting a Harvest Festival in a few weeks, so we'll see if we can make that!)

When knowing where your food comes from gives you so much pleasure, why wouldn't you want to spend a day at the farm?


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