For 5 years, we’ve been working on developing a farm in Oak Hill, New York. We’ve got about 6 acres of land, and every year we turn a little more of it over to growing vegetables. This year we’re up to cultivating about 1 1/2 acres–about 110 times the size of egg’s dining room, or about 1/3rd of a Williamsburg-sized block.
The soil in Oak Hill is heavy with clay and littered with rocks, so a lot of the work we’ve been doing has been to improve the soil structure so that it’s more amenable to vegetable life. That means careful crop rotation, rock-picking, tilling, and amending the soil. Our goal is to create fertile, friable soil without bringing in amendments that destroy other environments. So we try to compost scraps from our own kitchen and get manure from our friends at Ronnybrook Farm Dairy. We still have to supplement our inputs with some straw and mulch from other Greene County farms, but we hope to have closed the loop by next summer so that our farm and restaurant form their own sort of ecosystem.
Why have our own farm? After all, New York is awash in great farmer’s markets, and the farmers surrounding the city are all able to grow much better and more efficiently than we can. For us, it’s as much about education and understanding as anything, and it’s driven by a love of food that goes beyond the kitchen to the garden. Once you start growing and harvesting the food that you subsequently cook and serve, you understand food in a whole new way: not only because you understand the labor involved in getting those beets and lettuces to your walk-in in good shape, but also because you also start to understand that flavor begins with the ground your seeds are planted in. By the time vegetables hit the saute pan, a lot of what’s going to make them delicious (or not!) has been determined by the health of the environment they grew up in and the care with which they were harvested and delivered.
The farm has its own website (http://goatfellfarm.com) where you can keep up with the latest news and misadventures.
About Oak Hill: Oak Hill is a town of about 200 year-round residents located 2 1/2 hours north of Brooklyn. It sits on the north-east fringe of the Catskill Mountains, about 45 minutes west of the Hudson River. If you have a taste for Irish kitsch you may know the nearby town of Durham, which sports a number of Irish restaurants and bars, along with an annual Irish festival.
Every July, Oak Hill hosts the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, which features 3 days of luminary bluegrass musicians such as Dave Grisman, the Del McCoury Band, and Hot Rize.