Sitting among the soft rolling hills of Tarrytown, New York, resides Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture – the rural outpost of Dan Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant and the nonprofit educational farm where some 450 students spend part of their summer here each year. Now in its eleventh season, Stone Barns Farm Camp offers kids in grades first through eighth the opportunity to explore the food that fuels them on farm-to-table adventures and interactive activities in food and agriculture.
The camp’s aim to inspire future food leaders resonates with us here at Butter Beans. At Butter Beans Food & Garden Summer Camp we are continually seeking innovative examples of food education, and opportunities to share best practices in the field. With this vision in mind, and inspired by the Farm Camp’s online brochure, I reached out to Stone Barns to arrange a visit to camp. A few e-mail exchanges and some minor schedule changes later, and I was on my way up I-87 headed north, out of the bustling traffic of New York City to Tarrytown. I pulled into the gravel driveway that led up to the Stone Barns Center at 8:45 AM. Though only an hour’s drive north of midtown Manhattan, the tranquil, misty fields lining either side of the drive painted a bucolic scene, evoking images of a simpler time when the pace of life ebbed in rhythm with the rising sun and changing winds.
A bit further up the drive, the scene before me told a more nuanced story of this verdant setting. As I walked to the Center’s entrance, two school buses pulled up to the sidewalk, opened their doors, and out piled two dozen city kids, unabashed smiles and visible excitement adorning their faces on today – their first day of camp. The day of my visit was the first Monday of the final session of Farm Camp 2015, and both new and returning campers filed into the main hall to decorate their farm journals in preparation for the day ahead.
Walking among the tables of Sprouts, Growers, Farmers, and Foragers (apt names for the various age groups), I listened in as the counselors drummed up excitement for the day’s activities and fielded the numerous questions of curious campers. The groups gathered in the Center’s stone courtyard for an official welcome to camp and then set out for farm adventures.
I followed Camp Director Jason Hult to address the first item on the agenda for the Sprouts – turkey herding. Most of us are familiar with the relationship of shepherd and sheep, but as the campers and I learned that morning herding is an equally important task for turkeys given their lifestyle at Stone Barns.
One of the farm’s operating principles is happy animals. As Dan Barber illuminates in his book The Third Plate, animals that are cared for and respected during their life in turn produce a superior meal, both in terms of nutrition and flavor. For Stone Barns, part of this means that the turkeys are moved between their indoor and outdoor homes during the day, and given plenty of space to move about.
After an engaging explanation and demonstration from Jason (in which Jason and I played the turkeys for the kids to practice their herding skills), we set off down the path to the turkey house and met one of the farm apprentices to shepherd the turkeys to their outside paddock. Some of the campers had trepidations as we started down the dirt path with the flock – a justifiable feeling given that some of the campers were not much taller than these confident heritage turkeys. But with the guidance and encouragement of the camp counselors, the campers gracefully saw to it that each turkey made it to its outdoor home.
Throughout the morning as I listened to the exchanges between campers and counselors over garden beds and grassy pastures, I was reminded of the unique community that grows from a shared excitement for food. Whether you’re sowing seeds or herding turkeys, it’s hard not to get excited. Every way you approach it, food is an opportunity for engagement. It is the universal language that binds us, regardless of age, ethnicity, or professional pursuit.
The students who come through Butter Beans Food & Garden Summer Camp and Stone Barns Farm Camp give us hope for what the future of food holds when we empower youth with the tools to grow, cook, and pause to consider the food on their plate. As a farmer sows seeds in the soil and awaits that first flush of green to burst forth from the ground, so too does an educator sow the seeds of innovation that will grow a mindful community of global food citizens.
Special thanks to our friends at Stone Barns for their gracious hospitality and abundant energy!
Written by Kelly McGlinchey, Director of Food Education