Bio-diversity that is.
Stone Barns Center (SBC we’ll call it – I don’t think they do…) works hard to keep the land natural. Therefore, a huge amount of their land is actually woodland because that is the typical habitat in Pocantico Hills, New York. While this means less room for growing veggies and raising animals, it helps maintain the biodiversity, which means the farm produces healthier, more nutritious food.
Another part of promoting biodiversity is a 7-year crop rotation program. They rotate the crops in each field each year to maintain the soil’s nutrient content (planting milky oats and clover also helps with this) and to keep pests off the plants. It’s harder for the pests to find the crops they like when the crops keep moving!
Ladybugs are another form of pest control! They are higher on the food chain than the pests that often plague farms and keep the pest levels in check.
Birds and bees offer another form of biodiversity – pollination. Plus, the bees in the apiary provide the farm with honey. While some bee-growers take all of the honey away from the bees and feed them sugar water instead, SBC leaves enough honey for the bees to eat. This is better for the bees and better for the honey you get to eat as a result (taste and nutrition-wise).
SBC’s “livestock is in transition” (according to my great tour guide) as they try to figure out how many animals the farm can handle. They do currently have some sheep and 400 egg-laying chickens on the farm. There is plenty of food, space for walking, clucking, hanging out, and inside the storage container the chickens have a special place to lay their eggs. Not to mention – it is surprisingly warm in these barns!
The first lambs are expected to be born a week after my visit. The farmers hope for twins from each yew, but I don’t know how often that actually happens.
SBC also raises pigs, turkeys, geese, and other chicken, but these animals were in transition, so I did not get to see them.
Just like Stuart Family Farm, the sheep are guarded by Maremma Sheepdogs to protect them from coyotes.
The sheep and chickens are kept in these areas just for the winter. During the other months, they graze in the fields (and the chickens have an “egg laying mobile” to take them to different areas to hang out), but even the way that is done is for biodiversity. I’m happy to explain further if anyone else is nerding-out, but I’m worried it is probably just me this far into the post, so I’m going to move on to a few other details you may find more interesting:
- The average age of the farms at SBC is 57. That is old. SBC is hoping to inspire younger generations to start farming in order to create and maintain “a healthy sustainable food system”. Otherwise, there simply won’t be enough people to work the land and grow the food! So, SBC likes to say they are “growing farmers”. They do so through their apprenticeships, school programs, and other workshops.
- 1 teaspoon of honey is 12 bees’ lives worth of honey – crazy!
- SBC has a strong relationship with Blue Hill, a restaurant basically on their farm. Apparently the dining experience at Blue Hill is amazing – a 3 to 4 hour affair! (And expensive). If you’re looking for something less crazy expensive, you can eat at their bar. Blue Hill does source some, but not all, of its food (veggies and meat) from SBC. Whenever Blue Hill wants to do something unique (which is often it seems), they talk to the farmers at SBC about making it happen, such as creating buttercup squashes. At one point, SBC tried naturally developing non-force-fed foie gras (trying to give the geese fatty livers through natural consumption). It was not effective, so they stopped.
- Because SBC is a four-season farm (so they are growing food all year round), the greenhouse is super important. They use it as a backup – it is a controlled environment so the farmers can be sure they grow the plants they want.
- Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) reduce biodiversity. With GMOs, each species’ genetic makeup is almost identical, making these plants less resilient to pests. This means that one type of pest could take out almost an entire crop because their genetic makeup is so similar! SBC does not use GMOs.
Interested in buying some eggs, poultry, or lamb from SBC?
Well, I certainly recommend the eggs and poultry! The egg-laying hens appear to be treated quite well and the farmers “harvest” (their term) the poultry on the farm. As my tour guide mentioned, it is sad how disconnected we are from the meat we eat. She used to be a vegetarian, but now that she has been involved in the “processing process”, she feels much more connected to the animals and comfortable eating the meat.
Warning! It’s about to get graphic regarding the slaughter. Stop reading and skip to next paragraph if you want to avoid that. In SBC’s poultry processing area on the farm, the animals are hung upsidedown, which renders them unconscious quickly. Their arteries are then cut and the animals bleed out quickly. I just started reading Game of Thrones – yes, I’m super far behind – and I love what Eddard Stark says to his son, Bran, about killing another human and I think it applies here as well. He says, “If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die… A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is” (16). I am not sure I could kill an animal, but I agree with Eddard that we need to be closer to those we kill, instead of as disconnected as we are today. That disconnection has led to a much worse fate for animals than what we actually want for them.
The larger animals are taken off-site to slaughter houses as close by as possible. However, slaughter houses have been closing, so it is hard to find one that is close and that has the capacity to take your animals. Therefore, I have some work to do checking in on those slaughter houses before giving SBC the okay for all animals.
In the meantime, you can happily enjoy the veggies, eggs, and poultry from SBC’s shop on site. You can also become a member of their farm-share program and get veggies, and even chicken and eggs with an add-on.