Behind The Scenes: Stone Barns Center For Food And Agriculture

Exploring the farm in one of the country's most respected farm-to-table.


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Stone Barns’ sheep gear up to have their weights and body conditions checked. They are rotated to fresh pasture every few days; the pasture is interchanged with geese, hens, chickens, turkeys, and pigs. Every spring, Stone Barns hosts a sheep-shearing festival, one of its most popular events.

Photography by Ken Stabile

From your perspective, the farm-to-table movement is probably more about the “table” than the “farm”—it’s more of a stamp of assurance on your dinner menu than an agricultural experience. The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, however, turns that notion on its head.

Stone Barns’ 80 acres provides much of the ingredients for Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the much-lauded gourmet farm-to-table restaurant helmed by Chef Dan Barber. And though ostensibly that’s the farm’s purpose—much of Stone Barns’ revenue (the farm is nonprofit) comes from Blue Hill’s purchases (the restaurant is not)—there’s a lot more at stake here. In fact, Stone Barns’ integrated farm/restaurant model, plus its educational programs for young farmers and schoolchildren, makes it a pioneer of the country’s local, small-scale, anti industrial farming movement.

So this December, we braved gray skies and 30-degree temps to experience the operation firsthand. Up close and personal with a flock of sheep? Check. Deep into the chicken coop? We went there. Dinosaur kale in the greenhouse? Wouldn’t miss it. 

The exterior of Stone Barns’ converted barn, which houses Blue Hill. In a previous life, this was the dairy barn of John D. Rockefeller Jr. 


Education Volunteer Meghan Angell teaches schoolchildren from Austin Road Elementary School in Mahopac the basics of sustainable farming.


Popcorn sprouts pop up inside the greenhouse. Seeds are often pre-planted in a propagation bay before being transferred into the ground. 


Dinosaur Kale is one of many kale varieties grown in the 22,000-square-foot greenhouse. (left); Stone Barns is a four-season operation. Krisan Chistiansen poses with fresh-picked winter spinach. 


Livestock Operations Manager Chris O’Blenness with French geese brought to Stone Barns as part of an experiment to see whether geese will feed naturally on the fatty foods required to make foie gras (as opposed to being force fed). The project was unsuccessful, but the geese are great to have around. 


Farm Director Jack Algiere uses a battery-powered rechargeable tilther, developed by Stone Barns’ Slow Tools Project, which is engineering open-source farm equipment to fill the market gap in powered farm tools for small-scale producers. 


Beekeeper and Livestock Experimentation Manager Dan Carr builds a scale that will attach to the underside of a beehive. Carr tracks the hive’s weight and sends the data back to NASA, which is conducting a national study on the effects of climate change on nectar flows. 


Students prepare a meal using ingredients they harvested. Since 2004, more than 75,000 children have participated in Stone Barns’ educational programs; 30 percent receive need-based scholarships.


There are about 800 chickens in the chicken coop.


Compost Manager Sarah Groat turns a windrow of compost using a tow-behind Sandberger turner, adding oxygen to the pile so that it can continue to decompose.

 

 

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