Sunday, August 1, 2010

Intern swap: Stone Barns for a day

Darien and I, last December at Blue Hill

Light rain and gray clouds could not diminish the beauty of Blue Hill at Stone Barns. As we slowly drove down the driveway, with mobile chickens coops on the left and Angus cows on the right, the gardens came into view. We rounded the corner and the stone buildings with their attached stone silos tower over us in an awe inspiring way. I love this place. It's enchanting with its combination of beauty, agriculture and haute cuisine.

I will disclose that I have eaten at Blue Hill, located in Pocantico Hills, Ny, three times over the last couple of years. The first two times my husband and I were living in New York City and were desperate for a country experience. We are also food enthusiasts with a passion for local food. This restaurant, while a bit pricey, far surpasses those expectations. When we moved north of New York City, and finally got a car, I applied to be an apprentice in the greenhouse at Stone Barns, Stone Barns is the agricultural side of the of the equation, growing food for both the restaurant and market, but was told the position was already filled. But I lucked out and got a position at Glynwood.

Me, in front of the greenhouses last year for my Birthday dinner

Dayna and I pulled up to the expansive greenhouse. It was 8 am and we were ready to begin our day of work as interns at Stone Barns. Two of their employees were at Glynwood replacing us. The morning was sticky and warm, a foreboding sign of what lay ahead. In the greenhouse I met with Sara, the greenhouse apprentice. We spent the morning cutting lettuce, varieties like totsoi, speckled trout belly, and arugula. They mix the cut lettuce and sell the mix at the weekend market they have on site. I asked jokingly if they washed and dried their lettuce by putting it in a mesh bag and swinging it around like we do. Alas, they have a washing machine and they put the lettuce through the spin cycle.

At 11:30 am a man named John working in the compost department asked if we wanted to see how they made bio-char. Of course we did. The wood was cut into small pieces and placed inside a re-purposed gallon drum which is then placed in another drum with wood pieces shoved tightly in between the two. Dayna and I were tasked with splitting the wood into small pieces. A half an hour later my right bicep was throbbing. After packing the drum with wood we started a fire using some hay, biodiesel, and regular diesel then placed the smoke stack on. Bi0-char can be used in the garden and the charcoal was being used by the chefs in the kitchen.

After lunch I "helped" harvest potatoes. I say this rather loosely because the only thing I did was dig out half a dozen potatoes. Stone Barns harvests potatoes a little differently then us, they used a tractor with an implement to dig up the potatoes and they had about 20 eager kid volunteers to pick through the soil. Sure beats using a pitch fork. What took them five minutes on the tractor would have taken us an hour. They are big into education, hosting many school tours for kids of all ages, and they run a farm camp in the summer. Before the potato harvesting began though me and another farmer were serenaded by the children. One of the counselors played the ukulele and the kids sang a song about potatoes.

At 4pm it was quitting time, an 8 hr work day! We were invited to have dinner with them. Every Thursday the restaurant invites the farm staff to participate in family meal. I almost feel guilty walking into the kitchen in my dirty clothes. A bowl of steaming pasta with tomato and eggplant is placed next to toasted baguettes slices with a pesto on a stainless steel table. I try to quickly scoop up the pasta and move on as the line behind me grows longer by the second. A big bowl of mixed fresh cut lettuce is placed on another table. On a terrace overlooking the garden the restaurant staff and farmers congregate, separately, and hungrily eat their meal. The clean, crisp uniforms of the restaurant staff contrasted with the dirty, sometimes painfully fashion challenged, interns and apprentices.

Nena, the woman who helped organize the intern swap between Glynwood and Stone Barns, introduced us to the crowd. A few other workers spoke provided updates from the different areas of the farm. I thought it was great that they were trying to keep the restaurant staff in the loop. As the greenhouse manager was speaking I spied out of the corner of my eye Dan Barber appear out a side door, dressed in his immaculate chef whites. I had secretly hoped all along I would catch a glimpse of the sustainable food god. He didn't say anything and quickly retreated back to the kitchen when the speeches were finished.

I really enjoyed working with the Stone Barns crew and found everyone to be really enthusiastic and an absolute delight to work with.

1 comment: