Stone Barn Farm sits just 45 minutes outside of New York City on the Rockefeller Estate. The Rockefeller estate was brought by John D. Rockefeller in 1893. The estate sits at around 3,410 acres and over the years Rockefeller added to it by buying houses and land, to rent. The main house which is called Kykuit was built in the 1913 and was kindly leased to the National Trust for historic preservation and continues to be an inspiration for all those who visit. The initial idea for Stone Barns was constructed in 2001 when David Rockefeller came up with a plan to make a completely sustainable farm. He wanted to partner with a chef and create a ‘farm to table’ restaurant where every piece of food could be traced to its origin. After pitching to multiple chefs with no luck, he came across Dan Barber, who at that time had a small restaurant named Blue Hill Farm in the West Village. It’s safe to say the rest is history because Dan Barber is now a Michelin star chef whose restaurant was rated 9thbest in the world last year.
Stone Barns, as we know it, was established in 2003 as a non-profit organization. The buildings which now house the organisation were previously used as a dairy for 25 years and took 200 workers over 9 months to renovate. Shortly after completion, Blue Hill moved in and the education centre was set up. The idea is to show the interdependence between the local community and farming and how to reintroduce agriculture into a society that has lost sight of where its food comes from and how it is produced. Food in general brings people pleasure and happiness and by creating this connection, Stone Barns is hoping people will enjoy learning rather than seeing it as a chore. The organisation now has an ongoing long-term conservation plan with the state of New York to ensure its teaching is amalgamated into towns and communities nearby.
“You want diversity on farms but diversity without proper integration can be devastating” says Jack Algiers, Director of Stone Barns. Mr. Algiers has designed a system that does just that. Every part of the farm has a role to play to make the whole system work. For example, at Stone Barns the vegetable garden sustains the restaurant and also provides food for 150 local families in the area. Mixed vegetables, leaves, grains, garlic and potatoes are grown amongst other produce. The vegetable component of the farm is the most energy intensive and productive and provides half of the overall income. Most of the vegetables are grown seasonally or according to the moon’s phases and the aim is to grow a balanced variety of crops through the greenhouse program. If there is a gap in a bed during a season, the team will plant a new crop in that space. The greenhouse is active all year round and is truly exceptional – each bed usually grows about 5 different crops per year. The soil is churned and re-used for each crop and Stone Barn’s own homemade compost is added to provide key nutrients.
The livestock on the farm brings little revenue but works the land by churning the soil with its hooves and taking away harsh shrubs and plants that might harm the soil or another crop. The goats start the process by clearing the grass and brush. This makes the grass grow faster and makes way for the pigs and the sheep. Cows are normally moved in last and they are regularly rotated to make sure they don’t ruin the grass or over churn the soil. There are also 800 hens at Stone Barn and they roam over 22 acres of pastor to renew the fields. Chickens eat grain and their manure acts as a natural fertilizer by adding additional nutrients to the fields.
Every year Stone Barns host a 4-day conference that teaches local farmers and chefs about their methods. Stone barns is revolutionizing sustainable farming. As a society we have become so disconnected from the food we eat that we don’t know what we are being fed or where it is being reared. Being aware of sustainable farming allows us to take back control and start asking the right questions. For more information about Stone Barns and Blue Hill Farm please look at their website.