Story and photography by David Delozier
A lot of restaurants are experimenting with the Farm to Table concept, where the kitchen seeks to add locally grown vegetables, meats and cheeses to complement it’s menu offerings. This growing trend is great for all concerned. The restaurant patrons get the freshest possible food from nearby farms; the farms have a place to sell their products that are nearby to them, and the restaurant itself gets kudos for showing its love for local food. This helps keep the local farming scene vibrant and alive.
The chefs who prepare the delicious Farm to Table entrees really love the opportunity to showcase the local flavors. But what if the farms themselves were part of the dining experience? That opportunity came to fruition in June when I had the opportunity to join a Family Farm Tour being hosted by Chef Dave Hunt of the Generations Restaurant and the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort in Lake Placid.
Chef Hunt has been working to integrate as much local sourcing as possible into his kitchen. In the process, he’s established a strong bond to the local farmers who provide such wonderful ingredients. So he thought, why offer a special opportunity to showcase the farmers and the food. Chef Hunt discussed the idea with Jenn Holdereid whose family owns Generations and the Golden Arrow next door. Jenn was thrilled with the idea. So they made the arrangements with the farmers, and set about promoting the event for the weekend of June 15-17.
Of Horses, and hors d’oureves
The tour began on Friday evening, with a gathering at the hotel lobby. Carpool arrangements were made, and the caravan was off to the first stop – the Snowslip Farm on Riverside Road, just outside of town near the Olympic Ski Jumps. The Snowslip Farm was hit hard by the flooding of the Ausable River from Hurricane Irene. Because of this, they are in rebuilding mode. Instead of seeing fields of veggies, the group was treated to an equestrian show featuring American Saddle bred and Friesian Horse Riding exhibition. The horses and riders danced in the long shadows of the late evening light. It was quite a spectacle – an unexpected treat. Speaking of treats, an hors d’oureves table was set up with an amazing array flavorful snacks, all crafted from nearby ingredients. Chef Dave Hunt proudly described the different ingredients and their source, paying homage to the farmers whose labor produced the products featured. A quiche made from Asgaard Farm cheeses and Fledging Crow veggies; Kilcoyne Beef Tenderloin with mustard greens on Conroy Bakery Crustini; Atlas Farm sweet and sour meatballs. There was a display of North County Salmon and trout, as well as a wonderful cheese array provided by the Clovermead Farm in Westport. The combination of great food and beautiful horses on display had everyone chatting up a storm. The waning light of the evening created a tapestry of color over the nearby High Peaks; it was one of those “pinch me am I dreaming?” moments.
The second part of the Farm Tour began the next morning at 9:00 with a gathering at the Generations Restaurant. Chef Hunt gave a brief description of the farms we were to visit – The Asgaard Farm in Ausable Forks and Fledging Crow Farm in Keeseville. The third Farm on the schedule, Clovermead, had to cancel, so there would just be the two. No problem, there was still plenty to see. Again, carpool arrangements were made, and off we went, this time to the north and east. The drive to Ausable Forks took us through the Wilmington Notch and past Whiteface Mountain. I was awestruck by the beauty – the Adirondack mountain slopes plunging down in to the churning West Branch of the Ausable River; but not a good place for farming, I thought.
Asgaard Farm – pastured perfection in the Ausable Valley
The hill bottomed out in the town of Jay, where we crossed an old rustic bridge over the East Branch of the Ausable. Here the landscape relaxed into a gentle roll of hill and dale. A large field opened up and there it was, the Asgaard Farm, a large expanse pasture with a tree lined entrance road. We see cattle and goats grazing in the open fields; the High Peaks off to the West providing a majestic backdrop to the scene. I have to pinch myself again. We are greeted by co-owner Dave Brunner. He is in the middle of chores, finishing up cleaning the cheese making equipment. Dave walks us into the cheese room and continues his task, while explaining the process to the eager group. Asgaard, Dave tells us, means "farm of the gods" in Norse mythology, and is the name given this beautiful place by Rockwell Kent, renowned and controversial artist, writer, adventurer, political activist and farmer. Asgaard was established as his home in the early 1900's. He and his wife Rhonda arrived in 1988. It was a defunct dairy farm, and somehow they knew they would be called to bring it back to life. It started with a couple of goats, and that’s all it took for the Brunners to get smitten by the farm life. They now operate a fully integrated animal farm with each species working synergistically with each other. Dave walks us through the various fields and describes what is going on. Their primary product is goat cheese, but they also raise cattle, pigs and poultry, both for eggs and meat. All animals are pasture raised, and assist each other. The cattle eat the tall grasses, and are then followed by the goats, which will eat the browse that the cattle leave behind. The chickens follow the goats and eat what’s left, and fertilize the ground some more. The pigs are sent to areas that need clearing and tilling, and they seem to do a fine job of removing weeds and other undesirables. Everybody is happy, living the life they were meant to live. And the view is breathtaking. Dave explains that he and Rhonda are in their “semi-retirement.” And he noted, it’s the hardest work they’ve ever loved. They’ve found a way to bring back to life this beautiful farm in Adirondacks, and to supply restaurants like Generations with some outstanding food. What’s not to like. The tour ends with a trip the store, where we sample some chevre and a special treat, homemade caramels made with the goats’ milk. OMG! Talk about a taste sensation. Those things are to die for. They, like the Asgaard farm, are a slice of heaven.
Fledging Crow Farm – Obsession with veggie perfection
The next stop on the tour was a little further down the valley to Keeseville, home of the Fledging Crow Farm. A rather unpretentious piece of real estate from the road, but like a box of Cracker Jacks, the surprise is inside. We are greeted enthusiastically by Ian Ater, co owner and ambassador for the Fledging Crow Farm. He and his partner, Lucas Christenson are leasing this 6 or so acres of land in their first solo venture as a vegetable farm. It was basically a fallow dirt patch that they’ve converted into an organic veggie oasis. Using old fashioned grit and determination, and a little help from friends and foodies, the two young men produce enough high quality tomatoes and salad greens to supply a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and a growing list of the areas top restaurants, including Generations. Ian’s enthusiasm is infectious as he takes us through the hoop houses and fields.
The tomatoes are well on there way, and should be ready to harvest in a few weeks. Rolling out in front of us are rows and rows of veggies; mixed salad greens, kale, chard, and huge balls of cabbage. These boys have the green thumb, no doubt. Ian walks up through the rows, explaining the watering and weeding process. They do not use chemicals; all weeding is done mechanically or by hand. They use cover crops such as buckwheat to regenerate the soil. And they’ve expanded the fields using pigs as the roto-tillers. The pigs fatten up on all the great forage, and become winter food for the farm when their job is done. Ian points to the bee hives in the rear; again, dual purpose animals. The bees do a great job pollinating the cover crops and the veggies, and the honey is harvested as a crop as well. It’s another symbiotic relationship. The tour ends with a lunch of Panini sandwiches that Chef Dave has brought along. Ian is joined by his daughter, Amaya, and the two of them charm and entertain the group. Who new that farming could make young people so happy?
Fantastic Finale – the Farm Table Dinner
The Farm Tour finished back at Generations Restaurant with Chef Hunt and his team going all out to prepare a multi-course meal of all local ingredients and flavor infusions. The first course was a chive blossom tempura with homemade Adirondack Kimchi. The chives were harvested from the Green Roof that adorns the Golden Arrow Lodge. Then came the Salad Course – featuring arugala from the Fledging Crow Farm that we had visited earlier, adorned with apples from nearby Peru, and the delicious Asgaard chevre, and local strawberries. Crazy good! Then came the main entrée, a choice of Atlas Hoofed It Farm Braicola beef over locally made fettuccini and vegetables, or a Long Island Black Bass served with braised green and local Tucker Farms mashed potatoes. Or a Coleman Farm chicken breast with wilted spinach and red flannel hash. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, the dessert of Strawberry Shortcake on a buttermilk biscuit with whipped cream hit it out of the park.
Each course was introduced with great fanfare and enthusiasm by Chef Hunt. He proudly noted the sourcing of each ingredient, and it made the already fantastic meal all the better. The group of strangers that had joined together earlier in the morning were now chatting like best friends, sharing the joy of great food, great people and great times. Seeing the farms first hand, meeting the farmers, and then savoring the food produced by them and other in the Adirondacks, it all made for a memorable day. It’s what happens when you make the effort to go local!
The Golden Arrow and Generations Restaurant are planning another Farm Tour for September 7-9, 2012. You won’t want to miss it. Call (518) 523-3353.
Generations Restaurant is located at 2559 Main Street, Lake Placid NY 12946
Last Updated (Monday, 16 July 2012 15:29)