story and farm photography by David Delozier
food photo by StockStudiosPhotography.com
The Doctor is out..standing in his field
“We were not born farmers,” explains Melanie Mason, in contrast to her neighbors in the scenic Hoosick River Valley countryside of northern Rensselaer County. “We had to learn it the hard way, making mistakes and correcting ourselves along the way.” Thus the long lessons, and the subsequent naming of the farm that today constitutes 450 acres of lush green pastures, woodlands, and scenic vistas looking north upon the hills of neighboring Washington County.
Bob and Melanie Mason were living what many would consider the American Dream - living in suburban Stony Brook, Long Island, on a 3 acre mini-farm where they had a few horses. Bob was a vascular surgeon, the guy that would be called if your aorta burst open. Saving lives was his daily work. Melanie raised a family and tried to keep up with the demands of being married to an in-demand surgeon. The schedule was rigorous, and Bob was on-call pretty much all the time. Vacations and time off were a rarity. “It’s not like he could just say “today is Saturday, I can’t come in;’ it doesn’t work that way,” said Melanie. Because of the constant demands on their time, when they did get a chance to get away, Bob and Melanie wanted to get AWAY! Away from phones, beepers, TV... everything. They opened up a map and drew a circle representing a 5 hour drive from Stony Brook. That line on the map, and a phone call to a farm realtor, lead them to a 67 acre tract near Buskirk, New York. They fell in love with it immediately, and decided that this was the place. There was no house, and they did not want a house, initially, just a place to get away from it all for a week or so. The Masons would spend the first few years just camping out - one tent for the girls, another for the boys, and a third for Bob and Melanie. The horses came too, and they were just turned out into the fields. Everybody loved it. The neighbors referred to them as “those crazy Long Islanders.”
Green Acres - a love story of barns and fields
A house did finally get built, and the Masons began to experiment with the farming life. It started with cutting hay and selling it to nearby farmers. They fell in love with a handsome old barn on adjacent property, owned by the Pratts. When the Pratt family decided to sell the property, they offered it to the Masons, who jumped at the chance. “By that time we didn’t have any money, but the kids had a college fund, so we used that,” chided Melanie. That parcel more than doubled the size of the farm. With all the newly acquired field and barn, the Masons decided to add cattle to expand their farm income. The decision to feed the cattle only grass was a no-brainer. The expanded farm was primarily open pastures, and was perfect for grazing cattle. And by this time, they had gotten a handle on making hay, so instead of selling it, they’d use it for their own cattle.
Several years later another adjacent farm owned by the Marpe family, became available, as the Marpe’s were looking to divest of their land. Again, the Mason’s stepped up and bought it and expanded their farm to what is today. The path from suburban hobby farm to full-scale cattle farm was realized. It has been a journey that has been filled with it’s share of trials and tribulations, but also has been an immense learning experience for the Mason’s. “We knew nothing going into this,” exclaimed Melanie. “I didn’t know what a hay rake or tedder was, a round baler or a square baler, what’s the difference? I had no idea.” She continued, “We’ve learned that you can get bulldozers stuck in the mud. We’ve learned you can get tractors stuck, too. We’ve learned all about calves, and bulls, and steers.” Cows don’t come with an instruction manual. But observing them, handling them, moving them between fields, they quickly tell you want can and can’t be done. “Finding the right way to do something after doing it the wrong way is the long lesson,” she quipped.
Where’s the Beef?
The Mason’s initial goal for raising beef was for seed stock, or breeding animals for genetics. They chose the Angus breed for their cold-hardiness and their value as breeding stock. The market for breeding stock turned out to be more complicated and less profitable than first thought, so the Masons began to seek out a market for the meat. Fortunately for them, the demand for local, grass-fed meat was growing. Farmers Market patrons and local restaurateurs were seeking local grass-fed meat sources, as news of the poor conditions within the huge confinement animal feeding operations (CAFOs) got into the mainstream consciousness. Also in their good fortune, there was a custom meat cutter in nearby Eagle Bridge who had recently converted over to a USDA inspection facility. The mature animals travel less than five miles for processing into the chops, steaks and ground beef that the marketplace wants.
The Local Connection
As the term locavore has entered the lexicon of our language, some restaurateurs are now offering a ‘farm-to-table’ dining experience, where much, if not all of the meal is locally sourced. The Masons and their grass-fed beef have been embraced by local chefs Kim Klopstock at Fifty South in Ballston Spa, Max London at Max London’s Saratoga Springs, and Tim James at The Local Pub and Teahouse, also in Saratoga Springs.
In the case of The Local, the discovery of Long Lesson beef came when co-owner John Hines had gone to lunch over at Max London’s on Broadway. He ordered a hamburger, and was so impressed with the flavor, and thought to himself, “I’ve got to get this for The Local! He went back to his executive chef, Tim James, and said, ”get a hold of these folks and get some of their beef.” Long Lesson beef in now the featured lunch special on Mondays, as an eight ounce hamburger plate. It started off slow, but as word got out about how the good it was, an otherwise slow lunch day of the week has become very popular. The feedback from customers has been terrific. “People love the burgers, and I’ve many people ask for us to put it on the regular menu item,” said Tim. He said he’s been tempted to do so, but he likes the idea of keeping it as a once a week special, because it is just that. “If we had it every day, then it’s no longer special,” he said. “We want it to be fresh, too. We don’t make up a whole bunch of them in advance and refrigerate leftovers. When they’re gone, they’re gone.”
The Long Lesson burger is a great complement to The Local’s menu, which Tim has tweaked to give local food top billing. Locally sourced items like the Long Lesson burger are specifically mentioned by the servers and identified as such in the menu. “We are big on advertising local, which is where we get 90% of our products. We are proud to be able to promote our suppliers whenever we can and they are proud of the fact that we sell their stuff as well,” said Tim. The Local, from its inception, has been cognizant of the importance of supporting the local suppliers. Even when items are sourced from larger companies, they seek out the family owned operations.
It’s really changed me, working here, said Tim. “I look for the local, now. Once you get over the ‘oh, that’s hard to do’ mentality, it’s actually pretty easy. I shop the farmers’ markets now, and for the quality you get, it’s well worth it.” He continued, “The price point on the Long Lesson is a bit higher than our regular burger, but the flavor is significantly better, so it’s worth it. And it sells out every time it’s offered. And it helps the local economy around here. Anytime I can buy locally we’ll spend the bucks to make it happen.
What comes around, goes around
It’s all about relationship. It builds a network of interconnectedness. When the product that The Local and other restaurants buy from Long Lesson Farm, they’re not only helping the Mason family, they’re also helping nearby Eagle Bridge Custom Meat who does the processing, who in turn can support other local family businesses who create jobs in their community.
We can be the beneficiaries of this relationship, when we, too, choose local first. By simply choosing that Long Lesson Farm burger for lunch, it supports a whole series of actions that have occurred prior to your order. Cattle are raised on a small family farm, thriving on native grass and sunshine, handled with respect their entire life, processed humanely into ground beef, and delivered with pride by the farmer to the restaurant, where it is then hand-formed as a hamburger, cooked to perfection and served to you with a smile, for your enjoyment and nourishment. Bon Appetit!
Long Lesson Farm is located at 444 Goosen-Regan Road, off route 67 in Buskirk, New York. Tel: 518-753-0356,or go to www.longlessonangus.com Long Lesson Farm is also home to North Country Daylilies. www.northcountrydaylillies.com
The Local Pub and Teahouse is located at 142 Grand Avenue in Saratoga Springs, New York. Tel: 518-587-7256 or go to www.thelocalpubandteahouse.com
Last Updated (Wednesday, 13 June 2012 17:47)