Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Farmer Chic buys a farm

It's the moment we've been waiting for since we placed an offer back in August, we are now officially land owners. The night before the closing, the reality of this huge commitment sunk in. I started to get a case of cold feet. Just as the wrong shade of napkins can set-off a bridezilla ( I said periwinkle not powder blue!) the site of mouse dropping in the camper trailer triggered an avalanche of emotions. And the conversation quickly went from I am not staying in this camper to I am not sure if I want to buy this farm.

We hadn't been up to the farm since mid-December so it is really no surprise mice found their way inside the camper. Mouse turds were in the sink, in the drawer, on our bedding, and on the bench. The idea of some rodent running all over my bedding and pooping on my blankets is not only unhygienic it just creeps me out. And to be honest, I have never been the trailers number one fan. So we booked a night at our favorite hotel, the Inn at Stone Mill. As it turns out the timing was perfect, we got two feet of snow over night.

To be sure my anxiety had less to do with mice and more to do with buying and renovating an unlivable house along with clearing the land dotted with rusted equipment, collapsing buildings, tires, weeds and dead trees. Everywhere I look another item is added to the to-do-list. And the list is getting very, very long.

As Darien and I drove to Lowes to pick-up mouse traps and other supplies we had a heart-to-heart. He had me list out all my concerns so we could address them one by one. A few of them were: How long we will have to stay in the camper? How much money is this going to cost us? and, Do I really want to live in this area?

Darien reassured me that we will make it our goal to have at least one room finished, that we can stay in by the end of the year. As for money, he reminded me again that at the end of the day whether we use the farm as weekend home or the site of our future home, it is an investment.
It's hard to imagine moving upstate because I am very comfortable where I am now. Of all the places we've lived, this is my favorite. Close to the city but still has lots of nature and a rural feel. I am also pretty involved in the local food movement here. It's hard starting all over again and in an area that may not be as open to sustainable agriculture. And quite frankly, the dining options are paltry. There is an abundance of chains, McDonalds, Denny's, Dunkin Donuts, and Pizza Huts, but few independent restaurants and no fine dining. But the reality is land is not affordable where we live. So, as Darien pointed out we will have to meet new people, and bring the sustainable food movement with us.

If you're someone who believes in omens, I do when it's convenient, we discovered a newly opened BBQ restaurant in a nearby town. The pulled pork, hand-cut thick french fries, pork ribs, and potato salad were served in large quantities and at a good price. This is one place where quantity and quality are actually on par. The owner told us he grinds the beef and makes everything from the sausage, soups to salad dressing. He is interested in serving local food but has to find a way to make it cost effective.

The pulled pork smothered in bbq sauce soothed my jitters. Darien, the farm, and I would make this relationship work.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Update: Organic food and butchery

The Hunt for Organic Food in Washington Heights
Ten stops on the 1 train from Columbus Circle is all it takes to experience the different worlds of the haves and the have-nots. One minute I am in Williams and Sonoma's, shiny copper pots and $12 goat milk soap, talking with Brent from Beekman Boys about goats and farming. Twenty five minutes later I am in a "deli" in Washington Heights that sells beer, milk, and sad shriveled heads of lettuce.

I spent Saturday afternoon, and the past five days, doing research on organic food availability. I have a list of 250 stores through out Manhattan that I must visit over the next two weeks. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, my class did a research project to assess the availability of local and organic food at groceries, delis, outdoor food carts, and other establishments that sell fresh food in Manhattan. The first phase was to establish where the establishments are. The second phase, which I am working on now, is to determine what products are sold, such as conventional or organic, milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese, meat, and a select variety of fruits and vegetables.

What I found in Washington Heights was depressing. The stores each had a particular funky odor to them, the sanitary conditions were questionable, and the selection of fresh fruits and vegetables was limited and often looked weeks old. Out of thirty stores only a handful sold organic milk and one supermarket sold organic eggs. I can't say I am surprised at all. Its hard enough to find good quality fresh produce let alone organic food.

Back at Columbus Circle there is a supermarket that specializes in fresh good quality, and organic, produce, with its time-controlled misting on the so-fresh-you-can-smell-the-dirt vegetables. Of course you prices are higher but is it too much to ask that residents in the 160's have vegetables that aren't on life support?

Who needs health insurance when you can self-medicate?
I come from Canada, and we love our beer just as much as Americans do (except for me, I don't really like beer.) But the last time I checked a Canadian pharmacy you couldn't pick up a six pack to go along with your Prozac. In any New York City Duane Reade you can. Whether I think pharmacies should sell booze is irrelevant. Most retail stores all sort of blend together, the lines that distinguish one store from another have been blurred. Every store has become a one-stop-shop; liquor, drugs, food, and cheap goods from China. What I find truly amazing is the long aisles Duane Reade has dedicated to beer, sometimes even local craft beers. And yet the dairy section is marginal. No organic milk, yogurt, or eggs, the only option is some industrial crap.

I am looking forward to truths and ironies I unearth next week.

Duane Reade advertising its wonderful beer selection

To some this may sound creepy, but I am fascinated by how meat is broken down into tiny neat cuts called culottes, loins, and butts. Since I have mastered the art of breaking down a chicken I have been eager to expand my repertoire.

A few weeks before Christmas I went to Dickson's Farmstand Meats for a trial to see if I want to do an internship there. I spent the whole afternoon vacuum sealing various lamb cuts, pork cuts, and beef cuts. My head spun as I tried to remember all the names of the cuts, most of which I have already forgotten. But I really enjoyed trying to remember them all. The least pleasant part of the job was trying to muscle my way in between hanging split sides of beef and pork, sometimes crouching underneath them, in the walk in cooler to put away the cut in their respective bins.

As I furiously packed meat into bags and sealed them, I stole glances of the two rock-star butchers breaking down pork and beef right behind me. The skill and strength required to break the animal down is impressive, you don't need to be a ravenous carnivore to appreciate the art of butchery.

It was a good experience and I may see if I can return in the future. We will see how well I remember what I learned the first time. I do remember that when I went to bed that night visions of meat cuts danced in my head.